Rainbow Family member attests to the professional care at Barrett Memorial Hospital


To the editor,


On June 25, 2013 I flew from Anchorage to Seattle and Seattle to Spokane. I took a taxicab to Idaho, stuck out my thumb and caught a ride clear to the National Gathering of the Rainbow Family, my destination. I’ve gathered with the Family since meeting them in 1978 but this was my first National and I was very excited.

 The morning after my arrival at the upper bus village, I slipped on a cow patty walking down to Main Meadow, took a tumble and hit a tree with my back, breaking six ribs, puncturing a lung, partially collapsing that lung, and causing internal bleeding.

 Tom from C.A.L.M., a Rainbow medic, climbed to my position, examined me, and said there was nothing wrong, just some deep tissue bruising. I told him the ribs were broken, he re-examined me, and said I was wrong. He and two other brothers helped me up the hill, back to the bus I rode in on, and told them I was hurt, but it was nothing to worry about, I’d just be sore for a week.

 The next day he came to visit me again, and again said there was nothing wrong with me. I told him my urine had turned “black” overnight, but he said that was just my kidney putting out toxins from the shock of the impact. He said blood would turn my urine pink, not black. He told me to take it easy, stay in camp, eat well, and I’d heal in time for prayer circle on the Fourth of July.

 I tried to sleep but the pain was too much. I tried to eat, but every day the pain was getting worse. When he came a third time to examine me, he said perhaps I had cracked a rib or two, but called the Dillon hospital a “rinky-dink” hospital, telling me it would take a very tricky X-ray to spot cracked ribs. He said I’d have to fly to Missoula for an X-ray, and that they wouldn’t treat me anyhow. He gave me aspirin for the pain, and told me to rest.

 A second medic came to my camp to examine me, name of Matt. Matt echoed Tom’s diagnosis, telling me nothing was broken. He said it was apparent to him that I was getting better because the injured side wasn’t swollen very much compared to the good side. I believed him, same as I believed Tom and hung out in camp until the Fourth.

 July Fourth I hiked down the hill for prayer ceremony with Roger and Gale of The Way Kitchen. I hung out down there for a few hours until the pain became unbearable. I hiked back up the hill, and begged them to take me to Dillon the next night when I heard them say they were leaving in the morning for Salt Lake, their home.

 Fortunately, Roger insisted I go to the ER at Barrett Hospital, where they laughed when I told them the Rainbow medic called it a rinky-dink hospital. The ER doctor told me my urine turned black due to the presence of blood, and ordered various medical tests, including an X-ray. After nine days of hearing from Tom and Matt that the pain was all in my head, I was relieved to learn I had broken six ribs, etc. The nurses and doctors told me I’m a tough man, not a crybaby, for enduring the pain so long.

 I don’t know what locals think of Barrett Hospital. I can only tell you they saved my life. One liter of blood was removed from my chest cavity, and they started me on pain medication. Seemed like everything Tom and Matt told me was 100% wrong. I had wonderful care at Barrett and except for a couple of nurses who seemed to resent my presence, I was treated kindly and professionally, despite having only Medicare for insurance. Far from being rinky-dink, Barrett was modern, fully equipped and staffed by competent professionals.

 Julie from Barrett’s social services department arranged with another employee for me to rent a room at the Creston Motel at a price I could afford. Since then, I’ve walked all over town and must say I’ve never been treated better in my million miles of travel than I’ve been treated in Dillon, Mt. The Rainbow Family warned me not to tell anyone I’m from the Gathering, saying the townspeople hate us, but it’s been my experience that the locals defend the Family, they don’t attack it. They tell me it’s about ten percent of the Rainbow Kids causing all the trouble for the rest of us. While I might put that percentage higher, their kind words made me feel right at home. 

In Alaska, I was told I’d hate Montana and the Lower 48 since 9/11. It’s my first time out of Alaska in fourteen years. Supposedly, Alaska is the last nice place in America. NOT! Montanans in general, and the people of Dillon specifically, are second to none for kindness to strangers. That’s been my experience, and I’m very grateful for the warm welcome I’ve received in my  walks about town.

 This was going to be a 400-word letter to the editor, but it’s too long to count words, or edit. My ribs ache as I sit in the library typing, and I have to get up and walk now. I just wanted someone to know that Dillon has been good to me, and that Barrett saved my life.


Robert Heitman

Trapper Creek, Alaska