AT – day 44 – the unposted story 

[I still had one story written on the trail saved in my phone.  This was the day that started it all. I hiked another entire day after that one with belly pain before deciding it’d probably be wise to exit, especially since the rotten egg burps and frequent runs to the woods I had expected never came.]

Some days, I fly 20 miles up and over steep rocky mountains. Others, I drag my sorry ass 10 miles on almost perfect level terrain of soft easy pine needles. I guess it’s called balance. 

This all started last night. I knew a big storm was coming,  and I knew a nearby trail angel offered hikers dry space in a barn and breakfast in the morning. But I was enjoying my solitude in the Vermont open forest so much that I made a conscious decision to stop short a mile from town and brave whatever storm came my way instead of facing yet another crowd of new hikers. 

The storm came, and what a storm! Vermont went from drought to flood warning in a few hours. The rain was so heavy and thick that it collapsed my tent immediately. I had feared this would happen. I had pitched the tent stakes at an angle through a few inches of leaves over a solid bedrock of granite. In dry weather it probably would have held,  but in that storm, not a chance.

I got out in the downpour and dragged my tent to an area with thicker leaves. There were no loose anchoring rocks anywhere in sight, but eventually, after the n-th collapse, the tent finally stayed up. I was soaking wet by then, and still needed to hang my food bag up in a tree. Lighting crashed just over the next hill. I quickly coiled my bear line for the throw and found a worthy tree. The first two branches broke under the weight of the wet food bag – a nice full bag replenished that morning in Hanover – but the third one held. I was very pleased with myself – I can take care of myself in the wilderness. Yay! – and crawled back into my then still dry home.

I slept on and off,  woken up often by some of the loudest thunder I have ever heard. The clashing traveled from one side of the sky to the other, creating shock waves that shook the ground under my sleeping pad.  I had to contend with the usual tent leaks, and kept count of the time between lightning and thunder to gage the storm’s proximity. The closest it got was 3 seconds,  so still about half a mile away.  I don’t worry until it’s less than 3. I felt safe, in spite of the situation.  

I awoke this morning to clear skies, a dry pad and quilt (my sleeping bag is off to Western Mountaineering for refluffing of feathers – that’s another story). But, by my feet, my pack swam in a inch-deep indoor lake. The area had been level and dry the night before, but leaves cannot be trusted to hold up weight. Everything aside from my pad, borrowed quilt and the electronics in a ziplock bag was dripping wet. I sat up to assess the damage and was immediately shot back down by a sharp pain in my lower right belly. 

My brain quickly ran through its experiential files. Period cramp? Nah, too localized. Muscle cramp? Nope, too internal. Well then, I guessed I was in for some fun times ahead – rotten egg burps and frequent runs to the woods. I have a pretty good guess which of the water sources did it too. The stagnant one below the beaver dam, right after the steep uphill where I lost half my own body weight in sweat,  and 9 miles away from the next water source. That one.

This isn’t my first sick belly rodeo. I don’t filter. I treat my water by loving it. It works 99% of the time. I have long ago accepted the consequences of my unusual choices.  

So I started the day in pain,  with a pack heavy with wet gear. My pack belt occasionally unsnapped, forced open by the growing girth of my bloated belly. I just walked slower and focused instead on the beauty of rural Vermont, its sugar maple forest,  little barns and open fields of wild flowers. I was slow and bloated, but not unhappy … Until I climbed down the bank of a stream, slipped on rocks and landed smack on my tail bone. 

That pain was so intense that I laid right where I fell for a minute, with tears in my eyes and both shoes in the river – damn it, those were my dry socks! A moan escaped my lips, the polite emissary of a rising flurry of curses. I kept them all in. A family of day hikers with kids was approaching. 

“Are you alright?” The mom yelled down from the top of the bank.“I don’t know yet.” I crawled back up to her on all four and asked her to look down my pants. Nothing broken, she said, just a bit of blood from a cut right on my tail bone. “You’ll probably have a bruise.” Yep.  I expect it. 

I slowed down even more after that. Bruise in the back, bloat in the front. The forest was still beautiful. I was still mobile.  

A few painful slow miles later,  I came upon Sweet Toots, Monster and their dog, Beast, in a river. 

“It’s only going to be a 9 mile day,” Monster said,  “but we’re going to camp right here.  Look! There are pools where we can bathe!”

Good enough for me. The water was frigid, but it was nice to get the sweat and blood off my body. 

Sweet Toots (the man of the couple) built a fire,  and Monster (his wife) recounted how they met in China, where she once ran a sex toy import business. I was full of questions, and, in the back of my mind, grateful to the slow miles for the opportunity to camp with these two.

So, overall, I think this day still comes out in the positive. Now, I’m not sure how I’m going to sleep. My belly wants me on my back, my tail bone won’t have it. Also, there are mice here. I haven’t had to deal with mice in a while. 

Should be another interesting night. 

Lights out. 

Xox.

The Bobcat. 

Vermont, the beautiful. 

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AT – Off trail day 4 – Dr Mustard, in the kitchen, with the …

Good morning world! Its sunny, bright and warm in the room at the end of the hall,  on the 5th floor of Rutland Regional Medical Center. 

The IV was moved again – my hand couldn’t take the amount of substances injected, especially after the spine-arching painful dye for the CT scan traveled through. The IV is now on my left forearm  (4th location!) and my right hand is free again for writing. Yay. 

Yesterday, I had 2 CT scans (for a total of 3), 4 more blood cultures, 2 more blood tests of other kinds and  1 stool culture. I now have 3 doctors working on the case, including the general surgeon (because if the antibiotics fail, I’m going under his knife) and a newly hired specialist in infectious diseases, in case I have something of the sort. 

The CT scan shows a large inflammation in the lower right corner of the abdomen.  “The kind that would cause massive pain” the doc said – why yes, that would be the kind. Behind that,  a bit of the appendix pokes into view and it looks fine. Usually, with appendicitis, the whole thing would be inflamed, so it doesn’t look like appendicitis, but they can’t rule it out either, because they can’t see it. If it were an inflammation of the colon (forgot the name), the antibiotics should have cleared it by now, so it might not be that, but they can’t rule it out. If it was cancerous, an abscess or tumor, the sides of the inflamed area would have a definite line,  and they don’t see that, but they can’t rule them out either. I could just have an atypical one of any of those.

The blood cultures show nothing yet, but they’ve only been brewing some for a day, some for two, so nothing in there yet, or at all. Same with the stool culture. 

My blood count is normal,  vital signs of a healthy person,  still no other symptoms except for a bit of diarrhea – but then my last solid meal was roasted corn on the cob, cooked over a fire in a lookout cabin on the AT, 5 days ago. 

If it’s Giardia or another water-borne diseases, I’ve got none of the symptoms. It’d be a very atypical one, but again, they don’t rule any of them out.  

So, that’s that. Until they know, they feel the best course of action is to keep the drip of antibiotics going and keep looking. 

Meanwhile, I am actually doing much better.  I can sit up by myself,  move around, and no longer need help to the bathroom. Talk about an exercise in vulnerability and trust. Nothing like a bit of pain to drop all “I can do it myself” pride. 

The nurses and nurses aid have all been exceptional angels of love, respect and patience. Each comes with a precise unique mix of qualities they all possess. All are professional, efficient, caring, comforting, etc. but draw on these qualities in various ways. In short bursts of visits to change IV bags or take vital signs,  I get glimpses into their world.  Here, it’s all about the patients,  but outside, they are mothers, wifes, girlfriends, mountain hikers, motorcycle riders, maple syrup fudge recipe inventors, travelers, with a whole spectrum of adventure dreams and plans. My surgeon is a mountaineer and climber, waiting for his kids to be old enough to become his rope guns. I imagine not everyone gets to find out all these juicy bits, but I’m curious, and my backpack with all my gear (brought to me from the Yellow Deli Hiker Hostel by Trail Angel Tom yesterday – thank you!!!) sits on the chair reserved for visitors,  first in view when you come in the room. It’s a great conversation starter, that’s why I leave it there. 

I see the nurses the most,  but really, everybody that has come into my sphere has been absolute top-notch personel, from the transport-technicians who gives me bed rides down to the CT scan room, to the cleaning ladies, to the handsome green-eyed maintenance man who came to unclog my toilet – right, because I totally want to meet handsome men while wrapped in a saggy hospital gown, with dreadful fever bed hair! Luckily, he was also very efficient,  and out of here in two flushes. 

I’ve also had the visit of the hospital dietician – how cool is that? This hospital has a dietician! She came to enquire why my tray of mostly sugar and high fructose corn syrup water was returning to the kitchen intact. I told her that it seemed to me the last thing my body needed right now, it the midst of this epic fight to heal itself,  was nutritionally empty substances I don’t trust or usually consume. Now my tray comes with hot water, herbal tea, wedges of fresh lemon and chicken broth. 

So, overall, I’d say life is good and getting better!

Thanks again for the deluge of love and support. I am sure it’s helping, in one way or the other. 

The last solid supper – the night before I got off trail.  

AT – off trail day 3 – the mystery thickens 

This will be a short post.  They’ve moved the iv to the top of my right hand,  which makes doing phone things difficult.  

A doctor was just in here. The massive antibiotics they have me on seems ineffective (so far). Still in pain, but better than yesterday – yesterday was epic! Now I’m spiking fevers. So,  they don’t know what I have. But kudos to the doctors here for how hard they are working on it. They’ve checked for tick-born diseases,  bacterial infections … several blood tests, urine tests, etc. and now back to the CT scan in a few minutes.  I have no symptoms aside from the pain in the one spot in my belly.  

I’ve just been sleeping a bunch. I even finally befriended the incessantly beeping iv machine. I’m hurt but not unhappy. Just having a very different kind of experience than what I’m used to. Also, I can see mountains out the window (I’m on the top floor). And the moon was full last night and hovering right there.  The outside world is not too far.

Thank you for all the love making my phone buzz like mad whenever I turn it on.  

Xoxoxoxo 

AT – Off trail day 2 – The facts. 

WordPress alerted me that a whole lot of you have visited my site, looking for info, I surmise. 

I’ll write the full story when I’m in less pain and have a little more perspective.  This is just a bottom line of facts.  

I got off trail two days ago because of increasing pain in my lower right abdominal area.  I figured I’d better be in town if the apendix was the problem. I landed at the Yellow Deli hikers hostel, in Rutland VT, and slept for about 18 hrs before deciding to go to Urgent Care.  Urgent Care took one tap at my appendix and sent me to the Emergency Room. Nice people too, didn’t charge me for the visit (I have no health insurance), and the doctor gave me his cell number in case I need anything. 

I spent all afternoon yesterday in tests. CT scan, blood,  urine,  etc. The verdict is that it is most likely not the appendix,  but an inflammation of the lower colon.  Pain is the same, and the usual method is also surgery.  The doc said that, at this point,  if he was to perform surgery, he’d have to remove a big chunk of my colon,  so instead, he’s bombarding my body with antibiotics for a few days and hope that does it.  The pain is pretty intense. I think my pain scale went up a notch. I get morphine at night. 

Silly and Long Spoon, two nobo hikers I just met, and Angel Tom “plans too much” have been visiting me.  And my friend Brian’s mom, who happens to be a nurse here (what are the chances?) visited too. Tom said he’ll come back later with Miss Janet. Not how I thought I’d meet the famous Angel Miss Janet, but pretty cool still. Trail family is the best! Thank you all, trail family or not,  for your love and support!

The doc said I’ll be here a few days. I don’t know how long.  I talked with the financial dept. They said they’ll work with me to get me the most financial assistance they can. 

I’ll decide what to do about the AT when I’m back on my feet.  

That’s all.  The iv machine is beeping again,  driving me bonkers! 

Love to all. This is just an experience among many. I’m feeling good mentally. Xoxoxoxo 

The beeping nemesis.