sad trips to home

In keeping with the summer vacation theme, I was thinking today about a particularly traumatic summer vacation when my family drove home early.

I was sixteen. My father’s mother, Baba, had passed away that spring, and two months later, we were enjoying the well deserved quiet and serenity of the BC countryside.

Partway through our week, we called home and informed by telephone message to immediately contact family. Back at home, my father’s sister’s brother, a pipefitter for a gas company, had experienced a brain aneurism while working on a client’s furnace. He was now in a coma, and the family was only hours away from saying their permanent good-bye’s.

We drove all night, even my 16-year-old-novice-self taking a turn at the wheel. Upon our arrival back to the Edmonton area, my father was present to lend his support to his sister and her family during the crisis, and then during the funeral a few days later.

For me, I remembered the anxiety … the pure, livid, vivid angry anxiety that kept us moving toward home and toward family. Little would I know that 20 years later, I’d be taking a similar trip.

On the way home from the west coast a few years ago, we decided to treat ourselves to a cheap motel in the Valemount area, halfway to our destination. In the middle of the night, on the black, starless, lightless street, I was smacked awake with a muffled thud, then silence, then a visceral, frightening scream. In the dark, I fought the blankets and pillows and nightstands and lampshades to the switch, where, when I pushed it, it exposed my son on the floor, holding his face by his little hands, and screaming in pain. The next thing I knew, he was in my arms, and I was pulling his hands away from his little face, to expose an eye that was so bloody I couldn’t even identify where the wound was.
We called 911, and by the time the emergency crews had arrived, I had succeeded at settling him down enough to allow them to look more closely. It turned out that he had rolled off his bed, and on the tumble down, had torn the corner of his eye on the edge of the nightstand. They were unsure about whether the eye itself had been damaged, so were referring further medical attention.

The nearest hospital was Jasper. There was a smaller clinic in Valemount, where we took him to be examined. The attending physician there looked at his eye and told us he would need stitches. We needed to take him to Jasper, where a larger medical crew would be able to deal with it better.

In an uncharacteristic moment of wisdom, I asked her how long we could wait until the eye could be stitched. “Well, it would most definitely need to be done within the day,” she replied.
With that, hubby and I decided to make the four hour trip from Valemount to the Stollery Children’s Hospital in Edmonton. Our son had been there dozens of times before, and our entire family was far more comfortable with the staff, system, walls, paintings and familiarity of the place.
We put our family in the van, and began the drive, watching carefully how the blood was draining from his wound onto his pirate-like patch on his little face.

It was a trip that was reminiscent of the one I had made so many years before, but somewhere half-way through, a shocking smacking sound came from the tent trailer behind us, and the minivan swerved. A tire had blown on the trailer. So there, at 5 in the morning, we frantically changed the tire on our Jayco, while comforting our son and soothing our daughters. We made it to the Stollery in plenty of time, then watched while three doctors took the utmost of care in examining, considering, collaborating and fixing our son’s little booboo.

Now, when I travel, I prefer to not take long trips. I prefer to stop, take breaks. Pushing the miles behind the wheel is too reminiscent of those scary uncertain trips from years ago.

This year, on the way home from vacation, we stopped at the Marble Canyon in British Columbia. I hadn’t been there in years, and it was lovely to walk up the cool misted stone path to see the ever deepening walls of the river. In 2003, forest fires had ravaged the shady trees of the forest, and new growth was beginning to take root. I was happy to stop and observe, appreciate, experience and pause, then return to the cramped minivan where we all buckled in for the next step of the journey.

We arrived home at midnight, and I was relieved to be here, safe and sound with [almost] the whole family.

And I was so happy we were home.

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