It’s day 4 of my epic 4-month road trip in my “new” 1982 VW camper van. I’ve just hiked 10 miles in Glacier National Park, and as I get back to Van Go I feel like a 90-year-old with arthritis.
I can’t turn my head left or right without a sharp, knife like pain shooting into my back.
I slide open the door with as much care as possible, but still the pain is crushing, so I get down on the floor of the van in Childs pose to give myself a bit of relief and give in to the tears that start to come.
I’m alone here in Glacier.
I’m at the beginning of my trip.
I’m in massive pain.
I cry for a few seconds, and as I do the muscles in my back spasm and grip on the nerves. More knife like sensation.
“Diane,” I say to myself, “You can’t cry now. It’s too painful. You have to suck it up here. You need a plan. Just pause and think of a plan.”
I’m a 45-minute drive from my campsite on the other side of the park where I’ve left a chair to hold my spot. I can tell that I’m not going to be able to open the driver door and get in the van. I need help.
“Ok, ok,” I say to myself. “Just breathe gently. You need help. You need someone to close the van door for you. And there’s NO way you’re going to be able to camp tonight.”
I step out to look for someone and find a 40 something man and blurt out,
“Hey, do you think you can help me close my van door. I’ve injured myself and I can’t slide it shut.”
He flashes a modest smile and says, “Sure.” “Wow, is this your van? This is awesome. Can I take a picture of you in it?”
I climb in, and grit my teeth through the muscle spasms. Usually I love sharing the Good Van Go Vibes, but this time I’m thinking, “Seriously? I’m in so much pain, I just want to get the fuck out of here.” But the nice girl in me says, “Sure.”
He backs up too take the picture, and as he does his wife and son, who’s about 11, appear.
“This is so cool. Where are you going?” they ask.
I try to breath gently, sit for the picture and get through the spasms.
“Well, right now, I just want to drive out of the park to my friend’s house, but I’m hoping to go across country and to the national parks this summer.”
Before they leave, I hand them some postcards, thank them for sliding the van door shut and wedge my way into the driver seat.
I’m suddenly overwhelmed by the simple tasks ahead.
I have to make a U-Turn on this main road in the park, and I don’t have power steering. All I can think of is the shooting pain, the cramping muscles and the fact that I still want to cry.
I drive a short distance down the road and find a turnout that gives me enough room to make the turn without having to crank the wheel as hard as I can. I’m on my way.
Shifting into second is easy enough, but when I reach my right arm forward to move into third searing contractions seize my right side and I start to breath out my mouth like a pregnant woman in labor.
“OK, Diane, what ARE you going to do?” I need to flesh out the plan.
Let me put this all in context for you. Aside from seeing the National Parks, this whole trip was oriented in my mind around embodying the inner masculine – that side of us that takes care of the hard stuff. You know, taking care of those things that we often associate with the masculine – like the logistics, the mechanics, the directions. The idea was to really learn, in a deep way, to care for myself on all levels.
I feel like I’m getting the explosive, short version of the lesson.
“Alrighty! You’re going to call Lisa (who lives just outside of Glacier) and ask if you can come back and stay at her house for the night.” Mind you, I’ve JUST re-connected with Lisa, and she is a new friend. It’s not like I’m calling someone I’ve known for years, so this is another edge. Yes, I think, that’s what I’ll do. I will go to Lisa’s. Just then I shift into third for the second time.
“Ouuuuuuuuch!” More short breaths out through the mouth. People along the road give me the thumbs up, smiles waft my way. I turn my head to the left to acknowledge someone and another stab of pain slices into my right side.
“Ok, is THIS an emergency?” I ask myself. “You can’t even turn your head, your muscles are clamping down on a nerve. You are stuck in the driver seat and can’t get out of the van. Yes, I think it qualifies.”
It dawns on me as I make the drive across the park that this truly is an emergency. Being someone who doesn’t like to impose on people, the idea of actually having to take myself to an emergency room seems fairly dramatic.
I get Lisa on the phone and she tells me there is a hospital with an emergency room not too far out of the park and on the way to her house.
I still have to get my chair, that I paid $79 for at REI.
When I get to my camp site, I’m hoping I’ll see someone I had talked to in the last 24 hours. Nope. So I pull right up to some strangers, a middle aged man and his two teenage kids.
“Hi there.” I say in a lilting, upbeat voice. “Hey, can you guys do me a favor? I can’t get out of my van and I need to get that chair over there in my campsite and get it into the van. Can you help me do that?”
The teenage boy hops to the task while the father and daughter meander over to the driver side window to chat with me.
“Yeah, I did something to my back. Can’t get out of the van.”
“Awesome van,” the daughter says with a long teenager drawl. I smile. Meanwhile the teenage boy opens the sliding door and throws the chair in.
“Thanks so much. Hey, if you open the front door, there are some postcards you can take…” One of my plans for the trip was to hand out postcards along the way to spread the love.
As I drive out of the park, I can’t believe what’s happening. I’ve been prepping for this trip for almost 2 months. I’ve had a slew of feelings ranging from excitement to incredible fear, and here I am immobilized on day 4.
I notice I’m surfing between feelings of disappointment, to joy because of the possibility of relief coming in the form of drugs, to simply navigating the moment to get to the hospital.
As I drive along the 4-laned road out of the park, at one of the intersections a beat up old Toyota truck turns into the left lane beside me. The truck begins to slow to match my speed, and the woman in the passenger seat is waving her arms at me, pulling out her camera and shouting over the din of car noise. “Cool Van Lady.” I can see her out of the corner of my eyes, her enthusiasm insistent that I turn towards her for the picture, which I try to do and feel the blazing pain kindled again in my back. Her stringy hair blows in the wind while trying to snap the photo. Looking straight ahead, I plaster on a grin, put my left arm out the window with a thumbs up and hope for them to move along.
More short breaths blowing out the mouth.
“Almost there. Almost there.”
I’m so focused on getting there I blow right past the “North Valley Hospital” sign on my right.
“Damn it. That’s it.”
U-Turn. I pull into the parking lot, turn off the engine and brace myself for the scorching pain I will feel as I get out of the Van. Relief is on its way. I grab my day-pack, make the twisting move to descend out of Van Go as I breath out of the mouth and walk the long hallway to the Emergency Room letting out involuntary yelps along the way.
As I register in the office, I am down on my knees, looking over the desk at the receptionist. “How long is the wait?”
“About 2 hours.” I brace myself again.
By midnight I’m out of the hospital, doped up on Valium, Hydro-codone and some other drug I’ve been administered. Lisa has appeared like an angel, and drives me and Van Go to her home, where she and her husband Chris have given me their bed with a temporpedic mattress to sleep in. I groggily make my way to bed and hit the pillow so hard and am out until mid-morning.
Though it’s not the trip I was imagining, I felt graced and blessed and held beyond measure. The trip took a turn and is still happening, just in a way I had not imagined.