A Leisurely Morning at the University of Arizona Medical Center

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Early in the morning a doctor walks into a hospital room at the University of Arizona Medical Center to give an update to a patient.  I have been admitted for severe dehydration and beginning stages of starvation.  After four days of illness at Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument I drove myself to an emergency room in Tucson, Arizona.  What I thought was a simple case of dehydration turns out to be a stomach virus that caused me to become dehydrated and threw my body into starvation mode.  The doctor informs me that after receiving IV fluids for about 18 hours, my blood counts and blood pressure and all other body functions appear to be operating at appropriate levels.  I am told if I can keep down a liquid breakfast and a regular hospital lunch I can be discharged.  I think if I can keep down a hospital lunch I should be discharged with an award.

About mid-morning, a staff person arrives with a yummy tray of liquids.  I examine it carefully and realize I am STARVING (literally).  Using a spoon, I take a small sip of a yellowish broth and it is delightfully delicious!  Dropping the spoon, I pick up the bowl and drink every drop of the salty, hot, tasty soup.  I truly believe that broth was the best tasting food I have ever had.  The  kitchen staff at the University of Arizona Medical Center should have their own cooking show.  I move on to the next item on the tray, Cream of Wheat.  With no hesitation I swallow every bite, scraping the sides of the bowl for more.  Not being a fan of Jello, I give a little pause, but the Jello is soon devoured.  Having greedily eaten my first meal in four days, I now have enough energy to take a shower.

A nurse appears to remove the IV and to ask if the truly delicious breakfast of liquids has remained in my belly.  I happily reply yes and ask for permission to take a shower.  She agrees that this is an excellent idea (probably because I haven’t bathed or washed my hair in three days and no telling what I smell like).  The nurse shows me a small bucket with a few toiletry items like shampoo, body wash, a toothbrush, and toothpaste.  Even though I am so weak I can barely raise my arms to wash my hair, I manage to take a 15 minute shower without having to sit.  And I feel rejuvenated, revived, and exhausted.  I dress in the beautiful, tie-in-the-back, hospital gown and climb back into bed to await the arrival of my beautiful husband.

Arriving at the Tucson airport after an early morning flight from Dallas, Stephen takes a taxi cab to the hospital.  Upon asking for my room number, he is told I am not there.  He is at the correct hospital, wrong campus.  He calls for another taxi and finally arrives at my bedside. I am so ecstatic to see him!  My hero has come to rescue me and take me home, promising to drive the entire 952 miles from Tucson to Dallas.  I am very grateful to have a precious husband that loves me so much that he encourages me in my independence and yet does not hesitate to step in when I truly need him.  We really are a perfect match!

By now the “regular” hospital lunch has arrived.  This is the last obstacle to my release from hospital lock-down.  The challenge is to eat as much as I can and not throw it up.  I remove the cover and Stephen and I stare at the overcooked roast beef with jiggly gravy, the frozen green beans, and the blob of mashed potatoes with more jiggly gravy.  He encourages me with “come on, I know you can do this” but his eyes exhibit doubt.  I gently approach the potatoes first.  Not that bad; soft, not too salty, I can eat this!  Next,is the roast beef.  I manage half a slice.  The green beans will remain neglected on the plate.  I cannot abide frozen vegetables.  I give Stephen the chocolate chip cookies.  Having now eaten a liquid meal and a normal meal without regurgitating, I am good to go!  

No longer starving or dehydrated, with excellent blood pressure and very good blood counts, I am finally discharged and free to leave Tucson, Arizona.  Stephen bundles me into the passenger seat of my Toyota Camry, adjusts the drivers seat for his long legs and the long drive home, and asks the navigation system how to get to I-10 and Dallas, Texas.

Mean Little Stomach Bug

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Waiting for my name to be called in a Tucson, Arizona hospital emergency room, I reflect on the past several days.  How did an Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument solo camping adventure turn into a solo camping misadventure.  What did I do wrong?  How did I become so very sick?  Did I not drink enough water while hiking the trails?  Did I not drink enough water prior to arriving at Organ Pipe?  Does getting lost in the Sonoran desert for 20 minutes have an effect on hydration?  Fortunately I do not have to ponder for long.

I follow a nurse to a small room where I share my sad saga of sickness.  My vitals are checked, blood is drawn, I’m settled into a large, lounge-type chair with lots of warm blankets, and hooked up to a much anticipated, much appreciated bag of IV fluids.  I sit back to watch a Pawn Stars marathon and wait for the elixir to work its magic on my body.  I am anticipating a full, energetic recovery in a couple of hours so I mentally plan my evening.  Upon discharge I will find a restaurant that serves soup, eat my fill, and then check into a hotel where I will take a shower and sleep comfortably through the night.

A doctor approaches and informs me the results of the blood work indicate severe dehydration and I will require several bags of fluid.  After consuming three large bags, I am feeling decidedly WORSE!  I tell the nurse as she replaces the third bag with the fourth that I do not feel any better.  In fact, she witnesses the awful, humiliating dry heaves that have been plaguing me for three days.  She takes my vitals once again and discovers that, sure enough, now I have a fever.  This is a real matter of concern because I did not have a fever two hours ago when I arrived at the hospital.  The nurse draws more blood from my arm and reports my current condition to the doctor.

After reviewing the blood work, the doctor determines my body is in the beginning stages of starvation.  Her diagnosis is a mean stomach bug that got out of hand because I have been camping in the desert and not able to eat properly.  I have not been able to keep food or water down for three days.  With pity in her eyes, the doctor gently informs me that she is admitting me to a room so I can receive glucose fluid intravenously all through the night.  Without it, my body will continue to shut down.  Visions of soup, a shower, and a peaceful hotel room quickly become a reality of IV glucose, a third day of dirty hair, and a night of interrupted sleep in a Tucson hospital.

I have been texting my husband often while in the emergency room, keeping him updated, reassuring him that I am fine and will be on my merry way in just a few hours.  As I wait for the orderly to take me to my home for the night, I call Stephen and ask him to please…come and get me.  My wonderful, loving husband has already booked a flight from Dallas to Tucson arriving at 11:30 in the morning!  With only a few interruptions from a caring nurse named Gabby, I spend a comfortable night dreaming of a tall, handsome knight arriving to take me away.

Highway to the Hospital

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Driving east on Highway 86, I have said goodbye to Organ Pipe National Monument and I am going to Tucson, Arizona to find a clinic to be treated for dehydration.  I have not been able to keep food or water down for three days and I am exhausted and very weak.  The park rangers in Organ Pipe, where I have been camping, checked my vitals this morning and suggested I go to a clinic to receive IV fluids.  If I felt better and wasn’t on the lookout for possible places to pull over to exercise my over-exerted stomach muscles, I would certainly enjoy the two hour trip passing Native American communities and iconic Arizona/Mexico scenery such as border patrol checkpoints and dozens of border patrol cars.  As I travel down the road I spot a small market.  I drive past but visions of cold drinks begin to cloud my focus.  My throat is raw from days of vomiting.  I can’t resist the temptation and I turn the car around.

After parking the car, I sit for a moment to muster the energy to walk inside the store, locate something to drink, pay for the beverage, and walk back to the car.  I manage to slowly make my way to the door of the store.  I go inside and look around.  I spy the refrigerated section in the back of the store.  Now my confused, liquid-deprived brain can’t make a decision.  I am not a soda drinker but the idea of a cold, carbonated beverage sliding down my parched, raw throat into my empty, sore belly is really appealing.  I choose Sprite and head over to the cashier.  I cannot think straight so I drop several coins on the counter.  The cashier counts out the correct amount, I say thank you, and start for the exit.  At the door I remember to turn around and ask if the Sprite was regular or diet.  He looks at me funny and says it is a regular Sprite, not diet.  I thank him again, exit the store, and return to my car.  I can’t help but laugh as I glance in the rear-view mirror.  I have not showered in two days and my short hair is unkempt, my face is pale, and my lips have no color.  I’m sure everyone in the market thinks I’m some kind of crazy-looking nut that can’t count money or read a label.

Back on the road, I open the bottle of Sprite and take a tiny little sip.  Delicious!  Cool and crisp and oh so good!  I take another sip and not five minutes later I am on the side of the road regurgitating every bit of the teaspoon of fizzy bliss next to a very thirsty cactus.  And fifteen minutes later, I am again attempting to offer a liquid blessing; but this cactus is not as lucky. I’m trying, but I have nothing else to give.  I continue my journey leaving the nearly full bottle of Sprite nesting in the cup holder.  Arriving in the western outskirts of Tucson, I keep my eyes peeled for a medical clinic.  Not finding one, I turn into a random parking lot and phone my husband.  Stephen strongly suggests I quit messing around and go to the nearest emergency room.

The best and most favorite feature of my 2010 Toyota Camry is the navigation system.  I love it! Not only does it help me get where I need to go, it also directs me to the nearest Starbucks. The nav system clicks down the miles to my destination and even estimates how long it will take to get there.  I ask Nav to direct me to the nearest hospital and she quickly complies.  I am navigated to the University of Arizona Medical Center where I stagger into the emergency room, sign in at the admission desk, and huddle down in a chair to await my date with an IV needle.

Rangers to the Rescue

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January 9, 2014

Organ Pipe National Monument is a place of quiet desert beauty.  It is a showcase that protects a small piece of the Sonoran Desert and its many plants and animals.  Organ Pipe National Monument is a place of extreme temperatures with little rainfall.  Summer temperatures can reach as high as 118 degrees fahrenheit.  But I am visiting in January with daytime highs in the low 70s and nighttime lows in the upper 30s.  Organ Pipe is a perfect place to visit when the rest of the country is under winter advisory warnings.  Yet it is kicking my butt.  Getting the best of me.  Wearing me out.  Waking up on the fourth day in the park, I’m not sure I can leave my tent.  I muster some energy, get dressed, and start for the shower house.

Although the shower house is  a very short walk from my campsite, I can’t make it.  I am sitting on a rock that is lining the path as Caroline, my campsite neighbor, is returning to her camp.  I tell her I can’t make it to the bathroom.  She becomes very concerned.  Caroline makes a cup of tea which I sip while she goes for help.  She quickly returns with the camp hosts who have called the ranger station.  Shortly, two national park rangers appear.  This is the second time for me to be rescued in as many days.  First Dave finds me when I am alone and lost in the Sonoran desert; and now park rangers arrive to take my vitals and assess the situation.  We are having quite the party at Caroline’s campsite:  two rangers, two park hosts, Caroline, and me.  And I’m the sole entertainment.  As I try very hard not to throw up the tea Caroline made for me, I explain my sad saga of woe.  I assure everyone present that I am just very dehydrated and, really, all I need are some fluids.  Nonetheless, no one wants to be near me.  One very brave ranger approaches to take my vitals.  Blood pressure good (a little high for me but I did not tell him), no fever, no emergency.   Because I have been sick for three days, the ranger suggests that this may be more than just ordinary desert dehydration.  It could be a stomach bug or something else.  He suggests three options:  ambulance to hospital (NO!!!), drive myself to clinic in Ajo,  or he can give me one bag of IV fluids.  One bag will not be enough but that is all he has.  I choose option number four.  I will slowly take down my tent and load my car and go to the clinic.  But, still thinking I am just really dehydrated, I secretly plan to go to a clinic in Tucson, a two hour drive northeast of Organ Pipe. I thank the rangers, thank Caroline, and thank the park hosts for their concern.  All offer to help me with the tent; but sometimes I can be independent and, I confess, stubborn.

The party disperses and I return to my site.  After throwing up the tiny taste of tea, I begin the process of taking down camp.  With very little energy, I slowly roll the bedding, empty the tent, pull the stakes, take down the tent, and load the car.  Because I have to rest every five seconds this takes about two hours.  Caroline has said goodbye but we will keep in touch and the park hosts have checked on me two or three times.  Finally I am sitting in the drivers seat of my Camry looking at a deserted campsite.  Promising to return some day to this very site (Site 198), I say my goodbyes to Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument, plug in my cell phone, and call my husband.

Stephen is truly the best husband in the whole wide world.  He is encouraging, loving, and caring.  I have talked with him several times during the last four days and he knows I do not feel well.  He has called me frequently to be sure that I am OK.  Before I leave Organ Pipe, I phone Stephen to inform him of my plans to drive to Tucson, find a clinic, obtain IV fluids, feel better, find a restaurant that serves soup, find a hotel, sleep in a bed, and feel even better.  Tomorrow I plan to go to Nogales, Arizona, the beginning of the Juan Bautista de Anza National Historic Trail.  He agrees with the plan and I point the car towards Tucson.

Driving and Dry Heaves

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January 8, 2014

With nothing in my belly except for the water I continue to drink, I spend a miserable night in a tent in Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument.  After throwing up all afternoon, I continue to be sick at least every hour until the sun just begins to give a little light to the very early morning.  Only now it’s just painful, gut-wrenching dry heaves as I have given up on the water.  I feel like a cat trying to spit up an enormous fur ball.  I stay in bed and assess the situation.  Originally this was the day I had planned to leave; but since I did not finish the Ajo Mountain Scenic Drive, I make the decision to stay one more night in the campground giving me the opportunity to take it easy all day and rehydrate.

I muster the energy to leave my warm, cozy nest of sleeping bags and blankets and wander over to Caroline’s campsite next to mine.  Because of my misadventures the previous afternoon, I tell her my intention to stay another day to complete the Ajo Drive and do a little more exploring.  Caroline is planning to spend the day in Mexico with a ranger friend but she recommends the 4.5 mile round-trip Victoria Mine trail if I’m feeling up to it.  She says it is a very easy hike with benches scattered along the way and ending at an historic mine.  This sounds like the perfect afternoon activity after spending the morning resting and recovering from dehydration.

Breakfast consists of nibbling off various items in the food bags.  A bite off the edge of a honey bun, a nibble off a blueberry  breakfast biscuit, a taste of a granola bar.  Nothing tastes appetizing but at least its staying down.  I drive to the kiosk in the campground, pay another $12 to stay one more night, and return to the Ajo Mountain Drive.   Without stopping at Stops 1 thru 11 and passing by both the Arch Canyon and Estes Canyon trailheads because all was completed the previous day, I arrive at Stop 12.  By now I am feeling much better.  No headache and the tiny amount of breakfast I managed to eat has not been rejected by my fickle stomach.  I spend an enjoyable hour slowly completing the scenic drive while reading the guidebook at Stops 12-18.  The leisurely experience has improved my attitude and I decide to try the other scenic drive that is offered at Organ Pipe.

North Puerto Blanco Drive is a there-and-back 10-mile round-trip graded gravel road similar to Ajo Mountain Drive.  Just about any car can take the trip; four-wheel-drive is not necessary.  The views are not as spectacular as Ajo Mountain Drive, but it is a good opportunity to see the Sonoran Desert’s biodiversity.  There are a view stops with placards that describe various facts about the desert.  As I begin the drive, I start to get just a little bit tired.  Knowing that after five miles the road ends at a picnic area turn-around, I choose to forego stopping at the teaching stations and drive straight to the picnic area.  I will read all the signs on the return trip.  I just want to get to an area to rest and  try to eat a little lunch.  When I arrive at the picnic area, I am really exhausted.  Instead of eating, I recline my car seat and take a nap.  I sleep for an hour and still feel weak and, oh no, sick again.  I bless the desert plants on the North Puerto Blanco Drive with the little bit of breakfast that I had managed to eat and drive right back to camp; without stopping to enjoy the organ pipe or saguaro cacti, the ironwood trees, or any of the beauty of the desert.

Back at Twin Peaks Campground, I give the solar shower a try.  Since I have not showered in two days I’m thinking this will brighten me up and make me feel better.  Even after a barely lukewarm (better than cold!) shower, and even though my hair and body are clean, I continue to throw up.  Well, there is absolutely nothing in my stomach so really I just continue to have very painful feline-like dry heaves.  At this point I just want to go to bed so I crawl into my tent at 4:30 in the afternoon and bed down for the night.

Lost and Found and Another Mishap

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January 7, 2014

My rescuer Dave and I continue the fairly difficult 1.5 mile climb toward Bull Pasture, an actual pasture which early ranchers used for their cattle.  Very soon I begin to struggle.  I’m thinking my adrenaline is dropping from the fright of being lost in the desert.  I’m quickly out of breath and a little tired.  I tell Dave I need to stop and rest a minute, drink a little water, and get my heart rate back to normal.  He complies even though we had really only progressed a few paces.  We both drink water and chat for a few minutes.  I’m feeling much better so we begin again.  Immediately I am struggling again.  I just feel weak.  The trek is difficult but I have hiked much more difficult trails.  In September, Stephen and I completed a four-day backpacking trek in the High Sierras of Yosemite.  Just a few months ago I hiked to a glacier in Great Basin National Park with my 22-year-old son, Phillip; and kept up with his youthful legs just fine.  I tell Dave I don’t think I can make it all the way to Bull Pasture and encourage him to go on without me.

Dave leaves me on the trail and I just sit there trying to decide what to do.  I have no energy to return to the trailhead.  Plus I am not a quitter.  I know better than to push beyond my limits; but this is not above my abilities.  I really want to accomplish my goal and sign the book at Bull Pasture.  The decision is made for me because suddenly I feel very nauseous.  I scramble behind some cactus and proceed to loose my breakfast, picnic snack, and lunch. I tossed all of it.  And felt so much better!  Yay!  It was just nerves caused by being lost, confused, scared, and subsequently rescued!  I can continue the trek!  I can sign the book and let the world know that Ruthi made it all the way to Bull Pasture in Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument!  And this time I will stay on the trail and not follow a wash.

With eyes focused on the trail, not on the scenery, I pick up the pace.  Maybe if I hurry I can catch Dave.  After a while I begin to get a headache.  Oh no!  Dehydration!  That’s what it is!  But I have been drinking and drinking and drinking.  I refuse to turn back now so I take two Advil and keep going.  I continue to drink water thinking my headache will eventually subside.  I make it to the spur for the ascent to Bull Pasture and, after a series of steep switchbacks, I arrive to find Dave, a spectacular view of Mount Ajo, and the sign-in book.

A few pics later, we begin the return 2-mile downhill trek to the trailhead and our vehicles.  My headache is not getting better, but it is not getting worse.  We hike for quite a while before I tell Dave to continue because I want to stop and throw up.  He moves down the trail and waits while I toss up the water I have been drinking.  He asks if I am ok and I tell him I think I am just dehydrated; although I have been dehydrated once before in Big Bend and the headache was a lot worse.  And I have been drinking plenty of water.   The entire return trip continued with this routine:  Dave moves down trail and waits, I throw up the water I  ingested the previous 15 minutes, Dave asks if I’m ok, and I tell him I am dehydrated, I’ll be fine once I get back to camp.  This sequence occurs four or five times until we reach the trailhead and our cars.  I thank Dave from Oregon for finding me when I was lost in the desert near the Mexican border, listening to my chatter when he wanted to be listening to the sounds of the desert,  and babysitting me while I vomited all the way back down the mountain.  I inform him he has a friend from Texas for the rest of his life, and get in my car.  What should have been a 2-3 hour moderately difficult trek turned into four hours of nauseous humiliation.  Stopping twice to throw up during the 11-mile all-gravel drive, I arrive at camp just before sunset, crawl into my tent, and attempt to rehydrate and sleep off the headache.  Only things continue to deteriorate.