Friday, August 14, 2009

The Log Cabin Hospital

Two weeks into my first time on Wheels, the group arrived at Yellowstone National Park. The furthest west I had ever been was Texas, so everything in the Rocky Mountains was very new to me. When the group settled in, there was time to go and explore, as long as there were groups of three. I headed off with my friends Jessica and another girl named Stephanie.

Our trio saw a sign pointing in the direction of “The Grand Canyon of Yellowstone,” and decided to check it out. We were at least two weeks away from seeing the real Grand Canyon, but we figured it would be good to see another one. Upon arriving to the lip of the canyon there was a rickety set of stairs leading down the steep edge. They seemed sturdy enough so we headed down them and took a photo, in which the wind was gusting so hard my shirt blew up and you can see my stomach.

On the road back, there was another huge gust of wind and I felt something in my eye. I did the first thing you’re not supposed to do and began to rub it, hoping to cry it out. It was hurting pretty bad already so I knew I needed to get somewhere and rinse it out.

We had been walking for a long time prior to this event and I knew I needed to rinse it out as soon as possible. At the time, it seemed like a medical emergency, so we decided to hitchhike back to our campground. Approaching the road, Jessica stuck her thumb out in classic hitcher format and a car pulled over for us. She explained my eye and they took us towards camp, dropping us at the Yellowstone Laundromat. I found a sink and attempted to rinse it out, but it wouldn’t work.

From the payphone I called Aaron, the group leader’s emergency pager number, which I would later learn did not have any service while inside any of the National Parks. I left a mildly frantic message and continued to walk to his cabin. When we got there, the two girls split off and left me with him.

He was in the middle of shaving and he took the cap to his shaving cream can and filled it with water, asking me to try flushing the eye again. I took the murky lidful of water and dumped it out, determined to rinse it a few more times as not to get shaving cream residue in my eye, on top of what was already in there. A few flush attempts proved to be fruitless, so as is the case with any medical situation on this trip, no matter how small, I was taken to the hospital. On normal hospital visits, one staff member would accompany the kid in a taxi from the hotel to the hospital, but again, being in the National Park, we had none of those luxuries. The only option was for Jen the staff member and I to use the group bus.

We drove about 15 minutes down some dark wooded roads to reach Lake Hospital, a 10-bed clinic constructed out of a log cabin in Yellowstone National Park. There was nowhere to park a bus, so the driver backed in to the helipad while we got out and went to the waiting room. We were greeted at the front desk by a woman or a man, okay, a person of very indiscriminate gender. This person had a thick flannel shirt and a hairstyle resembling Jaromir Jagr’s rookie card. We were instructed to sit and peruse the selection of nature magazines.

The on call doctor saw me about 15 minutes later and told him the whole story. I said that there was an entire leaf in my eye, because that’s what it felt like. He told me in return that the leaf was likely on the hard to reach back hemisphere of my eye, as illustrated by the brown dot in the eye below. His plan was to drop some numbing solution in my eye and use a throat culture swab to get it out.
The numbing solution was cold and turned the white of my eye yellow. It took a moment for it to start working, but then it felt like I couldn’t close my eye. There was something very unsettling about not being able to brace myself as someone moved the business end of a throat culture stick towards my eye. I had not choice but to stare right at the swab, unable to look away. After fishing around for a few seconds, there, on the end of the cotton swab was the cause of my gigantic pain for the last few hours. It was slightly larger than a grain of pepper. As he tossed the swab into the garbage I couldn't believe something that small had caused me such pain.

By the time we returned to the group, everyone was already in their rooms for the night. A girl’s birthday had to be postponed until the next day because though the staff had bought her a cake, it was in a cooler on the bus, which we had taken with us that night.

The next morning, Jen called my parents with the lead in line "Don’t worry, your son is fine." This is not the great conversation starter you’d think it is. My parents calmed down once I talked to them and I hardly thought about the incident for the rest of the summer.

For anyone interested, it costs $116.50 for someone to jab you in the eye with a stick.


mattiti said...

I have a few comments to this post:
1. As a staff member of this trip, i think its hilarious that i have no recollection of this trip.
2. As THE staff member most likely to accompany kids to the hospital (i set a record i think) I'm glad to hear that Jen did something to be of use that summer.
3. You have no idea how horrible EVERY "Your son/daughter is fine but . . . " phone call to parents is. Every one.
4. Thanks for ruining the birthday party.

The Jessica from the story said...

5. I think you left out the part where you illegally carved your initials in a tree. As I recall, you got the bark in your eye as a result of tree debris being whipped around by the wind!
6. The hitchhiking was pretty awesome.

Paul J. Lurie said...

Wow, comments, I'm shocked and excited. While I fully acknowledge carving our initials into that tree, I feel like the eye incident happened after we had turned back towards the camp. Try as I might during my returns to Yellowstone, I could not find the tree, and yes, hitchhiking is awesome.