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Betsy Smith

In the ER, doctors got to work right away, making a long incision in Smith's left wrist to relieve the pressure. Her plastic watch with a metal back had melted into her skin, cutting off some circulation to her fingers. She also had to make a quick, life-changing decision whether to try to save or amputate her right index finger that had been blow out during one strike. To keep it would have just been for aesthetic reasons, doctors explained, as the finger itself was already dead. Hearing that it would have no function, she opted to have it cut off. Her other injuries—third-degrees burns all over her body, especially her shoulder and elbow—were surgically repaired, whlie her left wrist required a skin graft.

But none of it, not even the nightmare experience, kept her and Kline, who had lots of small burns himself and a punctured lung that filled his chest with almost-fatal compressed air, from returning to climbing.

After Shock
Soon after the horrific incident, Smith and Kline moved from Montana to Connecticut to be closer to his family and work on their recovery. Sitting around and waiting to heal was something this active couple couldn't do, so they signed up to help Kline's sister and husband open an ice cream shop. At the same time, Smith continued to go to physical therapy, where she practiced everyday movements such as picking up small items and moving them from one place to the other.

“It's funny to think back at how hard simple tasks, like opening a hair clip, were for me in the beginning,” says Smith, who remembers doctors telling her that they had no idea how much flexion she'd get back considering her nerve damage and all of her skin grafts. The first two or three months were the hardest. “I was in a lot of pain and had to go to doctor appointments often. I was on pain and anxiety meds. I couldn't sleep and became depressed,” she recalls. “Keeping myself busy and focusing on the major goal of getting our life back and having fun again was the only way I got through it.”

By October, Smith was feeling better and growing antsy to go out and play. Tired of waiting for the doctor's okay, she went out to New York's Shawangunk Mountains with a friend. Her patched up elbow wasn't quite ready for a rock climb, so it kept breaking open and bleeding. But Smith didn't care. She was so happy to be back, reaching new heights in the great outdoors. Kline, who continues to work as a climbing guide in the northeast, shared this sentiment. He was out climbing two weeks after the Grand Teton event (though Smith found out after the fact).

“I think we came out of it closer, which I like,” says Smith, who married Kline in Manhattan's City Hall on July 19, almost three years to the day of the lightning storm. “And I wouldn't change for the world, the insight I got about patient care and nursing,” adds the newly certified registered nurse of her experience in the Wyoming hospital. “I never look back and think, 'Oh man, I wish that hadn't happened to me.'”

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