Monday, February 9, 2009
Another unexpected adventure
Life, like the camino de Santiago (which it must be called now that I'm in Spain instead of the chemin de Saint Jacques), is a series of ups, downs, and level bits. I had been leap-frogging with the French-speaking Spaniard I stood at the alter with in Eunate, a young Austrian man, no doubt on his first trip away from home, and a young Mallorcan. We've been cohabitating in a sense, walking alone during the days but meeting in the evenings for convivial polyglotic banter around the pilgrim house.
The French-speaking Spaniard, who knows well the trail and all the sights to see, suggested a side trip to a pair of ancient monasteries a day's diversion after Najera in the land of Rioja. I was up for it, but the other fellas not, so in a foreboding wind, we set off through rugged landscape up the wall of a redstone canyon onto some barren heights of sticky red clay.
I had awoken with a stomach ache, quickly attributed to undigested dinner. First mistake, I suppose. Within a few miles, I emptied the contents of my stomach and intestines along the trailside. The snow began after a hundred meters' climb. The wind became intense. Happy to be much much smaller than my companion, I took some shelter behind his billowing poncho. Within a few miles, the delirium began to be noticable, but what was there to do but keep on walking? As the snow thickened, my sad trail of ejected bile left orange stains until frozen and covered with more blown snow. If there were a soundtrack, it would include heavy organ tones in a minor key. A sad situation.
After three grueling hours of hiking and puking, my patient co-pilgrim led me to a village. In a small hostel, I continued to eject bile for hours, feeling like someone with exceptional strength was gripping me under the ribcage. 'C'est une case d'urgence', I finally concluded, and a doctor was called in.
Gallbladder attack was the diagnosis after some tapping and listening. Medicine was injected, tablets swallowed. 'It should pass by morning', the doctor announced, 'rest a day and you can continue with your pilgrimage.' A modicum of cost, a handful of tablets, a pathetic bucket of bedside bile. Everything on the inside hurt. But the doctor was right, after a day of rest, I got back on the trail. Ca va bien.
As a lingual sidenote, I had lingering heartburn from the episode, and found a pharmicist for something akin to Alka-Selzer. The words 'plop plop fizz fizz' are lacking in this language, and the pharmicist spoke no English. Luckily for high-school chemistry, I drew out the chemical formula for sodium bicarbonate (foolishly mixing up the valence state, but no matter). The pharmicist gestured to his stomach, I pointed higher up, he scratched out the Na and replaced it with Al and Mg and said 'muey bien' Now that's communication.
Ironically, when we arrived at the monasteries, both were closed to visitors on Mondays. What luck.
Guardian angels really do help out on the little things. At the next pilgrim house, in Santo Domingo, a pilgrim I had run into 4 days earlier was already checked in. As it turns out, she's an American ex-pat living in France - someone I could speak 'normal' English with. Into her senior years - planning to arrive in Finesterre (several days' walk beyond Santiago) for her 70th birthday - she's experienced in life, including to my benefit all possible gallbladder issues. How comforting it was for me, after 8 weeks of only speaking French, including with the Spanish doctor, to be able to sit cross-legged on a small sofa with this wonderful woman and chat about such an issue over a cup of tea. My guardian angels made sure there was a 'pilgrim mom' for an encouraging hug when I really needed one.