"There's nothing to be sorry about." She reached for his hand.
"I don't have my gift for you," he said. Her birthday had been two days earlier. Earlier in the trip, he and Jenna had bought her some photographs of the Grand Tetons at an art fair in Jackson, Wyo., but they were in the truck and the truck was in Montana.
Marilyn started to cry. "You are my present."
The nurses left the room.
"Is Jenna OK?" he asked.
"Yes." She didn't want to worry him.
"I was fighting for her," he said. "I tried to protect her."
"It's all right," she said.
The emergency room staff brought in a heater blanket, known as a bear hugger, and gave it to Marilyn. She wrapped herself in it and continued to hold his hand.
I'm safe now, he thought. It wasn't until 3 a.m. that he was rolled into an operating room. The surgery lasted eight hours. Wherever the bear had bit him, the surgical team assessed the damage and, whenever possible, removed traces of contamination and cleaned the edges of the wound, cut away dead tissue, cauterized blood vessels and, most important, left his wounds open for daily monitoring and cleaning.
Afterward, a plastic surgeon consulted with Marilyn. He warned her again about the risk of infection.
She broke down. On the way from their home to the airport the night before, she had seen on the side of a freight train a sketch of the grim reaper. It was an image she wouldn't forget.
AS Johan lay on his back in intensive care, wet bloody gauze on his head, saline rolling down his neck, he thought through a haze of helplessness how much he wanted to be normal again. He wanted to run, stretch his legs and feel his body working in easy motion.
He knew the first obstacle was his fractured neck. Every time he was moved — for X-rays, for surgery — he feared the worst. Please be careful, he said.
He had a fracture of the second cervical vertebra, often called a hangman's fracture. It was in the same part of the neck that Christopher Reeve broke. Johan's fracture had five distinct breaks, the probable result of the bear shaking his skull. He also had a fracture of the sixth and seventh cervical vertebrae that was even worse. On film, it looked as if someone had tried to push one vertebra onto the other, causing a misalignment that could irreversibly damage his spinal cord.
For such fractures, there were two treatments: fusing the bones in a surgical procedure or wearing a halo. From the beginning, Johan insisted on a halo. He had worked with patients with upper spine fusions. He had seen how limited their range of motion was. He considered it nothing less than a lifelong disability.
But a halo gave him hope. Fractures could heal, scar tissue could serve as cartilage and, in time, if it worked, he could be himself again. His orthopedist agreed. Fusion would be their fallback position.