Nearly-fatal fall leaves arborist recovering in Mount Angel
When his friends showed him the outpouring of well wishes online, Robert Nibler was touched.
"He looks at the comments people have left online, and he's very humbled," Laura Harryman, of Gervais, said, referring to thoughts posted on a GoFundMe page. "I think he's wondering 'Do I deserve this?'"
Page creator and overseer Dawn Rogers is certain that he does.
"He's had a lot of people rally around him, because he's a great guy," said Rogers, a friend and neighbor. "He's done a lot for people."
A month after Nibler fell 20 feet onto pavement while trimming a sweetgum tree on Oregon Way in Woodburn, the 63-year-old Gervais arborist is slowly recuperating at Providence Benedictine in Mount Angel.
The process is slow because the list of injuries is long. Moreover, setbacks due to ensuing complications delayed therapeutic procedures aimed at recovery — he battled a bladder infection, internal bleeding, pelvis problems, E. coli virus and had a hip replaced.
"I can't do anything until I can walk on this leg," Nibler said from his recovery room after the Oct. 9 accident.
The injuries alone, and his survival, are almost unimaginable: shattered bones throughout his right leg; broken hips; a right arm rendered dysfunctional and donning a metal brace to limit the range of motion while it heals from where doctors had to cut the tricep.
"You don't have to fall very far (to get hurt) when you fall on concrete," Nibler said.
"The doctor says my X-rays were trophy class," he quipped, rekindling his sense of humor amid the difficulties saddling one who is accustomed to nimbly moving about.
"You have no idea: being so weak that you can't get out of bed by yourself," he said. "I'm at least more lucid now, not taking as much medication, and the oxygen tube is out."
Nibler has been making frequent use of a machine that works out the lungs.
"You don't want to be coughing when you have broken ribs," he said.
But he knows he will recover, and the sooner the better.
"It'll eventually heal," he said. "Next week I get these staples out of my legs, and hopefully I'll be on my way."
He salutes Woodburn Fire District and the first-response rescue workers: "A good bunch of guys; they had to cut the climbing harness off me."
Nibler has worked on trees, thousands of them, for 30 years, and he spent 15 years as a logger prior to that.
His work in the mid-Willamette Valley is everywhere; right outside the window of his recovery room is a flowering magnolia that he recalls trimming about 20 years ago when it encroached on the Benedictine roof. He'd actually done a bit of work on the foliage of the pristine grounds where he now recuperates.
Nibler still does not know what happened on Oct. 9. In 45 years of working around trees, his only serious injury was a broken rib; three broken ribs are among a current long list of current injuries.
"I don't know. I'll have to look at the gear to see it. I was hanging on a rope and it just let go," Nibler said of the mechanical failure. "I've spent a lot of time thinking about it."
Harryman added that the sweetgum Nibler was working on at the time was the third tree he'd trimmed on Oregon Way, where branches had drooped as far as 10 feet and needed at least a 15-foot clearing to meet city code.
Meanwhile, Nibler is quick to stress how grateful he is for friends during this recovery period, among whom are Harryman, Rogers and Robert Hunt, all friends, neighbors and well wishers visiting him in Mount Angel.
Nibler also has photos of his family in view on a bulletin board, and Rogers said visitors have turned up from Idaho, Montana and Alaska, among other places, to wish him a speedy recovery.
Rogers cited the GoFundMe page as a means of having virtual visitors, revealing many points of appreciation.
"Bob did great work for us on several occasions and we wish him all the best in his recovery," one comment from Robert Congdon says.
"We're sending good thoughts and prayers for you from Tennessee Uncle Rob. So sorry to hear about your accident! We pray you heal well," said Rose Pile.
"He is a wonderful, kind man," said Mary Dayton.
"Why do bad things happen to good people? Maybe to get the rest of us together to help them. Hugs (gently) to you, Bob," wrote Anne MacArthur.
Finally, Laura Belleque Beyer summed it up for all the well-wishers with: "We care about Robert!"
Those and many other shared thoughts warm Nibler's heart as he negotiates through the most trying time of his life.
"He's an avid canoeist, he likes to fish, he used to hunt — and he will do it again," Harryman said.
To support Nibler or to check out updates, visit www.gofundme.com/robert-nibler-falls-30-ft-from-tree.