An Inauspicious Start
Well, I should admit that we are a short bit into our hike already. So much has happened, 90% of it before our hike. I think it’s fair to say we’ve been thrown for a loop.
Closing a Chapter
I stopped writing this blog in Chad because the hospital became busy as our doctors left or went on vacation. And internet is always hit or miss around there. Oh yeah, and we were trying to wrap up and fit our 12.5 years in Chad into 12 suitcases. We had arrived with one kid, we felt blessed beyond measure to be leaving with five, all healthy. We arrived having been married for four years, we left 16 years now into our marriage. These years are likely to define who we are for the rest of our lives. It makes a hiking blog seem a bit inconsequential in the moment. In the end, we half-filled ten suitcases, filled an eleventh with other suitcases, and couldn’t find a reason to bring a twelfth. We would leave our stuff, and our hearts, in Chad.
Africa Won’t Let Us Go
We left Chad on May 3rd. Or at least we tried to. Our plane made it to the runway and then returned to the terminal, needing something fixed. I turned to Danae, “If we’re delayed more than a couple hours for this, we won’t make it to Paris,” having a friend text me the rules for how long a crew can remain on duty, and fully aware a replacement Air France crew would not be found in Chad.
We made it as far as Abuja, Nigeria, where it was decided the Chadian repair was insufficient. The Nigerian repair would take too long and we’d need to get a hotel. Which meant we’d need to collect all eleven of our suitcases, and find hotel vouchers, turn in our passports, trek to the far end of the airport, load up a bus, and drive an hour into town for a hotel. At 2am. With five exhausted children.
True to form, our bus broke down on the side of the road. The driver, eager to get paid, tried his best to milk the bus all the way. He probably destroyed the bus in the effort. He wouldn’t stop until we were all choking on fumes. On the side of a road on the outskirts of Abuja, we awaited a replacement bus at 3am. We transferred our bags to the new bus, and our kids, and made it to the hotel, only to have them put the seven of us into a room with one bed. After some “discussion,” we acquired two beds and fell asleep, some time after four in the morning.
A Stacation… Unplanned in a Nigeria Hotel With Five Kids 🙄
The next day was spent trying to entertain five children in a hotel room, since we couldn’t leave the hotel, our passports held hostage/collateral at the airport. We rarely allow television, and would have succumbed in this moment, but there was nothing palatable on TV anyway.
Dutifully, as instructed, we all assembled in the tiny hotel lobby at 4pm. When I say all, in addition to our family and other travelers, there were probably 30 refugees on our flight, en route to new lives in America. For as disorienting as this could be for our family of seven, who has traveled extensively the world over, I can only imagine what this would be like for somebody already on their way to a foreign land, a foreign tongue, no known contacts. Or maybe they simply assumed this was all normal.
Four hours later, a bus arrived to take us the airport. Once there, more shouting and aggravation and “discussion” between bus driver and airport staff, driving off while people are below the bus trying to remove luggage. We found luggage carts and shuttled bags, in the rain, finally arriving to a terminal, only to have the staff checking us in berate us, as if the four-hour delay in our airport-contracted bus connection was our fault.
A Curveball to Remember
We left Nigeria at 10pm and arrived in Paris at 6am. I took the baby to walk the terminal while the family spread out in a quiet corner to nap. Arriving back to the should-be-napping family, I’m disappointed to see them all awake and standing around.
Danae made eye contact with me and her level of agitation doubled. “Come here! Lyol had a seizure!” Lots of kids seize, and as an ER doctor, I’m usually the first to see them after they do. It’s rarely anything that ever requires an immediate intervention. But when it’s your own kid, it’s different. I remember when Zane had a febrile seizure. I’ve calmly reassured dozens of parents that it’s not dangerous. But when it was my own, I thought he was dying.
“Addison, you have Piper,” I said, and passed the 22-month-old to her remarkably-reliable nine-year-old sister.
I walked over and saw Lyol laying on his back, wedged in between two rows of stereotypical airport seats. He’s got froth around his mouth, and he’s breathing with some effort. But he’s breathing. He looked a bit ashen too. It struck me as a pretty classic post-ictal teenager.
We pulled him out from between the seats and made sure he wouldn’t aspire that froth around his mouth while Danae told me her story.
“Something’s wrong with your kid,” Danae heard as a stranger with an accent woke her up. She looked over and saw Lyol completely rigid. Jumping up and taking two brisk steps to her son, she ran her differential in her mind. Probably seizure, is he choking, what else am I not thinking about? This isn’t typical medicine for a gynecologist. She said he was rigid for three minutes before I showed up. And the stranger figured Lyol was shaking for a minute before then.
I checked Lyol over for injury or any sign of anything other than a seizure or any cause of a seizure. I found nothing, which is what I expected. He was very sleep deprived over two nights and had been watching movies the entire plane trip.
I tried to wake him up with a sternal rub. He grimaces and moans, but won’t open his eyes. Some airport first responders arrived. They call their paramedics. I put a candy bar in Lyol’s mouth and he bites of a bit and starts chewing. Everybody is concerned that we aren’t more concerned. Well, what are we supposed to do?
I kept stimulating Lyol every few minutes. He eventually opened his eyes. I put the baby in front of him and asked him the baby’s name. He names his nine-year-old sister. I force him to take a couple more bites of candy bar. A little later, he told us the year was 2020. He was coming around. Paramedics showed up and took him blood sugar, normal. His blood pressure was 80/37, low. So they want to say he passed out from low blood pressure. No, I thought. That’s not what happened. He seized. But I let it go.
Lyol and I enjoyed a ride in an airport ambulance to the airport emergency room, where we were the only customers. An EKG was normal, the doc wasn’t completely convinced it was seizure versus vagal, he hemmed and hawed if his advice should be to go to the hospital or go to America. Eventually he decided. “It’s a long way to a hospital. It’s not a good hospital. You will spend hours and hours and hours there waiting to be seen. You probably wouldn’t get a CT anyway. Just catch the next flight to America.”
Really Back on Track?
And with that, we received our stamped passports and left the airport hospital, popping out at baggage claim. Up the stairs to the ticketing agent.
“Did my wife already change our tickets?”
The agent kindly opened her computer and clicked away. “Yes, and here are your boarding passes.”
Lyol is essentially back to normal and we chatted while waiting in the emigration line. “So what do you remember?”
“I was on my iPod downloading a book when I felt my head cranking backward. I tried to pull it forward, but I couldn’t. Next thing I remember, I’m sitting on a bench and the guys were asking me questions in French.”
(Incidentally, despite being post-ictal, he was still appropriately answering their French questions, in French.)
“Dude, you just stayed up all night watching movies in the plane. Then, instead of sleeping, you’re downloading stuff onto your iPod? Do you see something unhealthy here?”
Comparatively, the rest of our trip was uneventful. We had magically aligned all our doctors’ and dentists’ appointments for right after we arrived; however, now delayed a day and a half by aircraft issues and seizures, those were all annihilated. Our amazing pediatrician still fit all five of our kids in the next day, as did the pediatric dentist. We’ve been with all of them for years, and they’ve been so good to us. Two of our kids even needed dental work done, and they did it same day, for free. Lyol also got his CT done the same day.
Chasing a Diagnosis
Danae and I had spent signifiant time discussion how this changes our PCT plans. Frankly, we weren’t sure. Doctors are know for being terrible parents of patients, and we were determined to follow doctor’s orders. First order of business was to get an electroencephalogram to see what Lyol’s brain electricity looked like.
We packed up our hiking gear and drove west. Loma Linda University bent over backward thanks to many missionary-friendly people. We saw a pediatric neurologist who set us up with an EEG for three days later.
Sitting around, we thought, we’re only an hour from the PCT, let’s just go put our feet on the trail and do a half dozen miles or so.
We drove up to the trail and had backpacks and shoes on, thirty seconds from leaving, when I miraculously had cell service to receive a call.
“Can you be here in an hour? Somebody just cancelled and we can do your son’s EEG if you can get here.”
“We will be there, thanks. (Click.) EVERYBODY BACK IN THE CAR NOW!”
The next day we had our diagnosis. Lyol had myoclonic epilepsy and will need medications for life. But as far as epilepsy goes, this is a bit of a best-case scenario. Essentially nobody who takes their meds continues to seize. He has a brilliantly bright future ahead of him.
He started his meds five days ago and, true to teenager form, has already forgotten one dose. It’s going to be an adjustment for us all. But he’s a good, smart kid, and he will adapt quickly.
Getting Our PCT Feet Wet
So that was the biggest curveball we’ve been thrown. But there have been others. We will save them for another day. But this is now day six on trail, skipping around between Cajon Pass and I-10. Im currently in the shade of a tree beside Mission Creek on a hot day, reflecting on how incredibly fortunate I am.
I have five genuinely healthy children and a wife who loves me. (Or if she doesn’t, she’s excellent at faking it, which is all I ask, really.) I’m in the unique position to have enough time and enough pennies to spend six months walking in the woods with my family.
Every time I’m tempted to say, “Oh, we aren’t that special. Anybody can hike the trail,” I’m reminded my children as exceptional. They’re made of something different. They hike 12 hours a day, fast, happily, singing and laughing and playing games and telling jokes and spelling words and doing complex math problems in their heads as they go.
I don’t know if we can finish the PCT. We will need to average 16 miles/day, as I figure it, three more than we did last year. But I’m not sure I care. At this moment, I’m simply… happy.
Life is grand, and I hope you can say the same.
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