Bullseye – I Thought It was Bad Before

While I do know that The best laid plans of Mice and Men often go awry, I was less than pleased about this latest setback. But I’m a big girl. Stuff happens.

Time to strap on the big girl pants, I ventured to the Centro de Saude. The Dr took one look at my knee, poked it a bit, quickly tired of the resulting howl I emitted, then promptly sent me to the hospital to see an orthopedic Dr. I kind of figured that was going to happen.

At the hospital they took me right in and ordered up the xrays, MRI, etc. Afterwards, I was laying on a bed in a triage area waiting for my results. It’s like a big bullpen area with a bunch of patients laying in beds too. None of us was bleeding profusely or in danger of losing a limb. It was low risk, less scary stuff going on in our room. I was on my phone most of the time reading.

Suddenly, in walks a Dr straight from central casting. Like one of those Soap Opera doctors on tv. Where the wind came from that blew through his perfectly styled hair when he walked towards us all in slow motion, I do not know. But he was unconcerned with having a lock out of place. As a confident Dr who was clearly in charge, he has no time for such frivolity. He’s too busy saving lives, for God’s sake. At least thats what the script says.

Following closely in his wake was a gaggle of very earnest looking Residents (new Drs). They all appeared to be a foot shorter than him (there has gotta be a casting director at that hospital or it’s in Dr Moviestar’s contract), looking up at their mentor with unabashed adoration, while clutching clipboards full of important notes they were jotting down any time he deigned to produce an utterance.

Dr Moviestar stopped at some beds and spoke to the patients. Then he quizzed the adoring crowd on what I believe were possible treatments, complications, etc. My medical Espanol is not great, but brown noser is a universal language. ‘Pick me! Pick me!’ As arms shot up.

I watched the group get closer. My injured leg was covered by the sheet, but my left leg was outside of it. And before you think it was because of Dr Moviestar, it wasn’t. It was hot in the room. And not just from the steamy Dr. 😉

With my sad Spanish I figured it would a) be a short stop over, or b) it might give one of the gaggle an opportunity to show off their ingles on all matters related to knee injuries. But we barely got that far.

Dr. Moviestar turned his blue eyed gaze my way. I’m pretty sure I heard music playing and bird song. Then his long, naturally curly dark lash-framed eyes widened in horror as he looked, not at my injured knee under the sheet, but at the one that was bent outside it. I wanted to say ‘Hey now. Don’t give me that look. I’m freaking 55!’ But, it appeared his expression wasn’t a beauty assessment of my good leg.

Sorry but as requested – A pic of what Lyme Disease looks like

He approached me and asked me to shift a bit so he could get a better look. I complied, confused while trying to explain that it is my right leg that is the issue. But he ignored me, poking at a tender spot on the back of my thigh where I had gotten an itchy bug bite on the Camino. Then he quizzed the group, who appeared stumped by what they were seeing.

The orthopedic Dr approached to tell me the results about my knee, but Dr Moviestar stopped her before she could deliver the news I had been waiting for.

‘This patient has Lyme Disease.’ He told her as the hoard gathered round. Seems I had a big bullseye on the underside of my left thigh.

The other Dr peered around them and her eyes widened in horror, as well. She had examined my right leg. She had not rolled me over to inspect the back side of my opposite leg. And I wouldn’t have expected her to. I didn’t come to have my bug bites examined. And I had no idea I had been biten by a tick on my ill-fated Camino. Spain has ticks?!? And Lyme Disease?!?

So I have a torn meniscus. Big deal. Don’t laugh (I know it’s crazy, right?!?), but who had Lyme disease on their Kelli Bingo Card? Certainly not Kelli. But if I hadn’t injured my knee I never would have known about the tick bite. Suddenly, the injured knee is now a huge gift. You can get a new knee – my Dad got two of them. But, apparently, the results from Lyme disease can be devastating, debilitating and life-long. Suddenly, I’m grateful for this knee thing. And even more grateful for Dr Moviestar. Call his agent! Whatever he makes they should double it. Because, all joking aside, he truly is saving lives. I think he just saved mine.

Pulling the Rip Cord

Pharmacists in Spain are well trained and often the front line on minor ailments. I love these guys. But they have their limits on what they can do.

I also love Spanish doctors. I’m thoroughly idebted to them. Yet would love to never have to consult with one ever again.

But we have reached the point in this journey when I need to consult someone other than physical therapists on their YouTube channels, local pharmacists, or natural healers who happen to be walking the Camino. Sure, a back pack full of herbal remedies is great for a cold. But it won’t fix my knee that now resembles a head of cauliflower after going over Alto de Perdon.

It’s time to pull the rip cord and delay this trek until I can get some facts, take more than three days in a Pamplona hotel with bags of frozen peas to rest my knee, and hear from an actual orthopedists. I do believe it’s not something really bad. The swelling got better after icing it.

I was already thinking I might be getting close when I woke up this morning. It was a painful night. But one of my fellow Peregrinos wasn’t happy.

‘I needed ear plugs. You moaned in your sleep.’

She wasn’t kidding. I woke myself up with my own moaning every time I rolled over. The rest of me feels great!

Maybe its just a steroid injection or something easy. Get the swelling and inflammation down. But I fear my Camino is stalled for a bit. Two Italian cyclists helped me into the van to go to a bigger town with a Centro Medico. They said something I think was ‘Go get’em!’ But I’ll never know. I’ve officially pulled the rip cord. For now.

Camigas to the Rescue

It was a rough day today. In the top three of my roughest Camino days ever.

In the first hours, while still in Pamplona, I sat down on a park bench while my knee burned searing fire and asked myself if perhaps this was not a good idea. Jeff has been with me at the hotel in Pamplona for the past three days. Supplying frozen peas and other farmacia accoutrements. As needed. He kissed me goodbye this morning with a hearty ‘Buen Camino’, took the keys from the valet and headed towards the autovía and home.

In the car are all the extras I found I don’t need. Except Jeff. I always need him.

Sitting on that bench, I had a decision to make. Push forward or pull the rip cord. I chose to give it more than an hour. And take a bunch of paracetamol. The farmacia said I could take up to 4g per 24 hours. So 4g at 8 am seemed like a good idea.

Then I stood up, gathered myself and hobbled on down the road. A lovely French couple introduced themselves and our conversation took my mind off things. Soon we were climbing, and climbing and climbing. In the heat, with no shade. Its Sunday. Not an open cafe in sight.

Two water fountains before Alto de Perdon. But I was out of water when I reached the summit. Then the downhill began.

My knee balked right away. It was a mile and a half descent on round river rock. Like skateboarding. I tried walking backwards to relieve the pressure but it was too harrowing. The pain was unbearable, but what choice did I have? And zero shade.

What should have taken less than an hour took two. As I crested the hill into Uterga I was crying but had no tears left. It had been hours since I had water. And it was in the 30’s.

Before the town is a little shrine to the Virgin Mary, surrounded by trees and shade. I sat down. Or sort of fell down. My tank was totally and completely empty. If you offered me a million dollars to get up and walk into Uterga I would have passed.

Two women approached me and asked if I was OK. In American english. I started crying but it just should like a bark. I shook my head. I was so shaky. And I couldn’t really answer them. They gave me water and electrolytes. And some kind of food bar. They took off my pack and poured water down my back.

After 10 minutes I was better. The electrolytes did their work. Then I noticed their Camigas patches. I have that patch on my old REI pack. It’s a group of International women who walk the Camino. It was a group formed when Denise, a woman who worked at the same company I did in Phoenix, was tragically killed on the Camino in 2015. And at the very moment I needed them, two Camigas showed up and helped with the perfect remedy. How? I don’t know. They stayed until I was better.

‘You got this.’ Smiled Kim, the Australian/North Carolinian, patting me on the shoulder.

I wish I could remember the other person’s name. Angels for sure. Both wished me a Buen Camino.

I’m at an Albergue in Uterga now. Cold showers on hot days cures all. My out loud prayers today with dry chapped lips, as I navigated the rocks ‘Please God, help me.’ Were heard. In the best possible way. Tomorrow is another day. And i think I got this.

No Place Like Home

Tomorrow we ride! Well, really, I’ll just be walking. After much consideration and consultation with my better half, and the purchase of a small day pack, I will be shipping Henrietta (my big pack) for a few days to give my knee a further break, and will be setting off again tomorrow morning.

In just a few days time, I’ve gone from barely able to put weight on it, to walking normally with the assistance of a brace from a local farmacia and daily sessions including all mother’s ice pack hack, the bag of frozen peas from the local Eroski. Life is good.

Slow and steady wins the race. I just need to build up the muscles to protect my knee on the downhills. A local guy suggested pole adjustments when I encounter a steep decent. I think I will make it if I am smart. Jeff has offered to drive from home and bring me anything I might need. Especially as I get closer to Burgos and Leon. They’re only a few hours from Palas.

Its funny that I have never had knee problems before. So it’s a whole new world for me, hearing from people plagued with them. I never understood those who said that downhill was more painful than uphill. But now I do.

Oh well. I have more time to enjoy the off stage obscure Albergue, small church or hermitage, and random rarely visited shrine. With shorter days walking, I can write. And there is always español.

I met a group who only spoke Spanish. The older gentleman had a few words of ingles. We talked a bit. He laughed.

‘I am very sure you will be fluent by Santiago.’ He assured me. The others nodded. ‘You have a very good accent.’

Just the kind of encouragement I needed. My verb conjugation is kind of starting to gel. One of our Belgian peregrinas at the Happy Camper told me it would happen. That the linguistic fog would lift. And patterns would emerge.

Perhaps this is all happening perfectly. I’ve said all along that I wanted to take it easy. But my actions were not speaking as loud as my words. Now they are aligned. Out of necessity. I hear you, universe!

Luckily there are unlimited supplies of frozen peas between here and home. And speaking of home, it does feel strange that my goal is to walk home. Sure, Santiago is just another three days hence. Jeff will join me to finish. But the enticement of home is a powerful motivator.

For most of my adult life I have been a bit of a nomad. I’ve lived in studio apartments and big houses. In cities near and far. But they were just buildings, and I have never felt like they represented ‘home’. This house in Palas is the first time. It’s not fancy or grand. It’s got it’s quirks. And that suits me. So this time, as I walk I will do so with a new motivation. I’m just walking home. It may take awhile, but I’ll get there. Because, as Dorothy told us all as she clicked her ruby slippers together in The Wizard of Oz – There really is no place like home.

But I Have a Reservation- A Cautionary Tale

It’s hard to describe but when you leave St Jean Pied de Port and begin the climb with a group of people, very rapidly you bond with them.

You might have even taken a common transport to arrive in St Jean. Or stayed in the same Gite before rising in the dark to head out on your first day.

There are those who choose to split up the climb by stopping at one of two Refugios in France. Others walk all the way over to Roncesvalles in Spain in just one day. Hearty souls.

Our group started the bonding at the Pamplona bus station. Many Americans and Canadians were there waiting for the Alsa bus to St. Jean. Chris, just one of the Mainers from the US, approached us.

‘You guys look like you know what you are doing. How does this work?’

By his own admission, he had about 50lbs of camera equipment inside his pack and strapped to the outside. And a big heart. We all rode over the Pyrenees together, disembarking and fanning out in St Jean. But we would see each other the next morning bright and early.

As I’ve already written, that first day climbing up to Orrison was a scorcher. Chris joined us, stopping to take video and stills. Our rag tag sweaty group stopped at Refugio Orrison for food and to check in. Chris stopped with us.

I got rehydrated, lay down for a bit, then did the laundry. When I came back out to the tables again, Chris was gone.

‘He wanted to get to Roncesvalles.’

But it was 35 or 36 c. And it was past 2pm. The heat of the day.

‘You shouldn’t have let him leave.’ I told them. ‘He doesn’t know there isn’t a tree between here and Spain. 4 hours of climbing, if he doesn’t stop. Not a lick of shade or water.’

Other first timers shrugged. ‘He has a reservation. He wanted to go.’

I worried about Chris more than once that day. Hoping he was OK and made it to Roncesvalles OK. Soon my thoughts were consumed by my own trek to Roncesvalles, but I did think of him in the gusting winds the following day. Still sure it was better than what he walked through.

My arrival in Roncesvalles is already documented. I was finally able to get up and go to dinner. All of a sudden, there was Chris at the next table. He looked unwell but came over with a story to tell.

He had climbed for hours in the heat with that pack, stopping every 10 yards to rest. He quickly ran out of water but there was no place to refill his bottles. The lone food truck on the French side was long gone by the time he got there. And the only shade was down steep ravines. He was sure if he climbed down he would not have the strength to get back up.

‘I would have died there and no one would have found me for a long time.’

He got to the pass somehow. Maybe a kilometer from the Spanish border where the Roland water fountain is located. Along with the wind powered SOS button for help. But he didn’t know it was so close. He doubled back and went down to the road and lay down out in the open. Hoping for another Pilgrim to happen past. But he was the last one who had tried to make the full trek for the day. He was alone at the Roncesveaux Pass.

‘I laid there thinking ‘If this is it, it’s not so bad. I’m at peace.’

Hours went by as he laid baking in the late afternoon sun. Finally, an old couple in ‘the smallest car with the biggest dog’ drove up. Chris said the woman hopped out and they helped him into the car. She got into the back with the dog and raced him back down the mountain to get help in St Jean. They spoke no english but offered to nurse him in their home.

‘They seemed more afraid than me.’

You already know he is OK because that is how I know the story, but he easily could have died just 3 days ago. He took a bus back to Roncesvalles the next day and stayed in our pension, resting. I’m happy to say that every day this kind soul is getting stronger. As Peregrinos, we are deeply invested in each other’s success. Especially if we started together in St Jean. But it’s a cautionary tale for all of us who make reservations to ensure we have a bed, but due to ever changing circumstances should not push through pain, fight worsening weather, or ignore the safety warning signs just to make it to our Albergue.

With this in mind, I just cancelled my next stretch of reservations to Logroño and will be spending the next three days in Pamplona. To rest and recover. It’s a time to play it smart. Bed reservations be damned.