For being alive. For having the opportunity to enjoy life in a gorgeous setting. For time with his wife, family and friends.
Five surgeries and five months later, Nic Patrick still carries the scars, but feels no animosity toward the grizzly sow that nearly bit his head off June 20 on the South Fork.
Patrick, 65, admits he felt at first like shooting the bear, but has since accepted the fact that he was attacked in grizzly country and he should have taken more precautions. In fact, he said during an interview at his home Tuesday, he is no longer angry at the bear that nearly killed him.
Patrick was seriously injured in the attack. He looks like he went too many rounds against Mike Tyson. Thick skin on the right side of his face resembles a huge welt running just under his eye to his mouth.
That is the result of a skin graft from his shoulder blade to his face. He has a pug nose now, with only one nostril that is about twice the circumference of a soft-drink straw, but he’ll soon have a prosthetic nose.
While Patrick declined to have a photo taken for this story, he said folks don’t really stare when he’s out and about.
“All I’ve noticed are people are a lot nicer to me,” Patrick said. “I know people probably wonder, ‘What the hell?’”
“I didn’t lose anything I couldn’t live without,” such as family members or his life.
“It’s just surface damage,” he said.
It happened at what he calls “Grizzly Junction,” where four or five game trails converge near the South Fork of the Shoshone River on his ranch.
Patrick was opening the head gate on his irrigation ditch when he heard his dog scream. Assuming the dog was fighting a raccoon that frequents the area, he walked around the corner and shouted, “Hey.”
That’s when he saw the sow with two little cubs. She was 25 yards away. In 2.5 seconds, the sow was on him. He smacked her in the head with a shovel as the sow charged.
“Then it was like being in a cement mixer with razor blades,” Patrick said. “I don’t know how long.”
The bear backed off. He grabbed his cell phone from his belt to call for help. No service.
She wasn’t done. The griz was huffing and puffing.
“I could hear her coming,” Patrick said.
He was on his hands and knees when the bear returned for a second round, then on his stomach when the bear jumped on him. Twenty seconds later she left, Patrick said.
Although he was seriously injured, he walked the quarter mile to his house. His wife, Joyce, daughter, Jessica Treglia, son-in-law, Brian Treglia, and four grandchildren, Cassie, Lexi, Tori and Zach, were in the house. He stopped in the shed before entering the house to cover his face with a rag.
“So I wouldn’t scare the hell out of them,” Patrick said.
Jessica called 911, and Joyce got him into the car to head for town. The ambulance met them about five miles south of Cody. “Next thing I knew, I woke up in Denver,” Patrick said.
That was the University of Colorado Hospital in Aurora, Colo. He spent 14 days in the ICU.
He suffered leg and arm injuries, but the worst was his face. The sow came within one-fourth inch of taking his eyes, Patrick said.
He has endured five surgeries to rebuild his face. How many more operations?
“It kind of depends when I say it’s enough, but I suspect three to four,” Patrick said.
A new nose could be fabricated from his skin, but it is complicated and would take two or three years of surgery to build. And, at his age, he doesn’t want to spend years in the hospital. Instead he will opt for a prosthetic nose of silicone held in place with magnets and studs.
“It just lays over and snaps on,” Patrick said.
Initially he asked, “Why me?”
Patrick even blamed himself for being complacent and not taking more precautions. He had seen grizzly scat in the area the day before. Later, he realized he was “damned lucky to be alive,” Patrick said.
Motion-activated cameras have recorded the sow and the now larger cubs’ return in September and October. “She probably grew up here,” Patrick said.
A Greater Yellowstone Coalition member, Patrick advocated protecting the grizzly and the ecosystem for 40 years. His very near brush with death has not changed his stance, he said.
“I want somebody to learn something from it,” Patrick said. “No matter what you’re doing, pay attention.”
Pack bear spray. Check the expiration date and know how to use it before heading into the field. People can even practice with inert canisters to learn how the aerosol works before squirting it at a charging bear.
“It’s a pretty steep learning curve when you need it,” Patrick said.
He is not opposed to delisting the grizzly as long as the ecosystem remains intact and is healthy enough to support grizzlies and other wildlife. What is key is protecting the wild places animals inhabit from development for future generations of humans to treasure, Patrick said.
If grizzlies are hunted in Wyoming, licenses should be priced to help cover the cost of managing the bruins, he said.
“What would people pay to hunt a grizzly bear?” Patrick said.
Bears and other big predators are taking down elk, but elk are adapting as they did for hundreds of thousands of years. “It’s part of what keeps elk healthy,” he said.
Elk won’t disappear. “The system will balance itself,” Patrick said.
Healthy before the incident, Patrick is back on his feet and said he is not in pain.
He commends the medical staff for his care, his children for running the business and staying with him at the hospital, and his neighbors for putting up the hay in his absence. He praises his wife of nearly 40 years most for remaining at his side throughout the ordeal.
“She basically saved my life,” Patrick said. “I couldn’t have made this recovery without her support and encouragement.”
Patrick shows some footage of a fine mule deer buck sampling the grass in his back yard. He is thankful to live in such a beautiful place.
“Life isn’t about what you get, but what you make out of it,” he said.