I forgot about my asthma completely when I took off from the center of gentle weather, San Diego, for the woods of North Carolina, and then Washington D.C. San Diego is really a Mecca for retired folks, so why would I chose travel to the frigid temperatures of the East? The answer is the usual, I wanted to see my grandkids and their birthdays fell during the winter.
A couple of errors in judgement later, I ended up in the Emergency Room in Alexandria, Virginia. Indeed, the old folksong “Carry me Back to old Virginie” must have been written especially for me, especially the “carry part”. We were forewarned that the weather would be about thirty degrees, but my son paid no heed as his blood is thickened from being in North Carolina. And I, of course, needed to make good use of my time while here for only four weeks, two weekends of which were birthdays for my grandkids.
I bundled up well, and actually felt invigorated the first day of the trip. I bought a darling hat and scarf and covered my neck, which seems to have chronic sore throats. The only other thing I could have done was to be assertive and insist we go another weekend. I don’t think my son had another weekend to go, being the man in a hurry that he has become. Sometimes impatience is a sign of intelligence, so I’m hoping it is in his case.
That night I bundled up in my cozy room, which had two queen beds, one not used, and propped myself up on pillow to enjoy some television. Sleeping was not an option, as my throat hurt. During the night, I had some wheezing, but no more than normally. As I awoke from a restless and incomplete sleep I wheezed like I had never done before. And most noticeably, my voice, the one I use for reading Shakespeare, had left me. I hurried to the room next door, where my son, wife and their two children were housed, and surprised them with a morning demand, “I need to go to the doctor”. To get into action, I descended to the lobby and demanded of the desk clerk “Is there a doctor nearby”? I was deliberately trying not to dramatize, but this is difficult for me as I am a theater person and sometimes actress.
Apparently I made quite an impression on him, as I whispered my question because I couldn’t talk, and he replied “Should I call an ambulance, or a taxi?” Now my son had driven us in his van, but I still thought of taking the taxi for expediency’s sake. But reconsidering, because of the cost, I answered “I need to eat something” as the smells of breakfast came wafting past me. While I gobbled down soft foods, oatmeal and yogurt, I thought of my mother’s comment to me long ago: ” You always make sure you eat, under any circumstances.”
By the time I got to my son’s room, he was dressed and ready to take me. We downgraded our demands by trying a pharmacy, but they were closed. This made me happy because I needed more treatment. My son used his gps and found a hospital emergency room and I have insurance cards. We traveled through the gently rolling hills of Virginia while I sat wishing I didn’t have to ask him for this odious chore. He seemed quite willing and concerned. I had forgotten that he was no longer that reluctant teen but is now forty years old.
The emergency room was the usual, a not long wait because they thought I couldn’t breath properly. The politeness of these Southerners struck me as a contrast to the hurried and often rude attitudes of the emergency workers in San Diego. Most of them wanted to converse in their southern drawl, which I find quite similar to mine when I played Amanda in Tennessee William’s play, “The Glass Menagerie”. I didn’t want the nebulizer, or breathing treatment, but the doctor didn’t know what else to do except give me motrin for my throat. I pulled it out a little early and the nurses didn’t seem to mind that much.
When we left and were down the road a ways, I glibly pulled out a pink sheet from my release instructions which reminded me to leave by way of the Check Out Desk, which I hadn’t down., A quick cell phone call assured me that the nightmare of insurance costs would not ensue, and I had given them all the cards they needed. Such relief could only come from one who has known poverty. But that’s another story: I was spending money this time.
My son hurried to the elevator to get back to his room while I decided to take a quick drink of free orange juice. Finally, I hopped on the elevator and pushed the button to get off. As I departed the elevator confines I saw a hotel worker I had seen when I was on my way to the doctor. He had been surprisingly concerned about my condition and now looked surprised again as I showed up on his floor. He mumbled something about my son looking for me. I hurried down the hall to my room and fumbled to place the door card in. Nothing happened. I tried three more times, when I caught a glimpse of the room number. I was on the wrong floor and now the mysterious comment by the hotel worker made sense. I had a much-needed laugh and thanked God no one was in the room I had wrongly tried to enter.
Thirty degrees isn’t much below fifty degrees – right? Wrong again. I compared Washington’s daytime temperature with San Diego’s night-time, and came up with freezing hands and feet, and an attack of asthma that couldn’t be matched. All of us had covered every inch of skin, so when we mounted the trolley to central Washington, we weren’t quite breathing icicles. It was all worth it. I swallowed my sore throat and experienced the nooks and crannies of the aerospace museum. I’ll admit, though, I had to sit and rest a bit while my son, his wife and two grandchildren hurried to take in every flying object they could. The only bad part of that rest was that I dropped my glove, which was wet anyway because it had fallen into the toilet. I was too heavily strapped with two purses, one around my wrist, and a camera. Oh, the joys of family travel. Amazingly enough, I returned to the sight of the crime, where I had dropped my glove, and happily retrieved it under the bench that had served me so well.
We walked through the park to see the White House. It looked just like it looked on T.V. The wind was blowing briskly while we sojourned over to the World War II Monument. I definitely wanted to see the dedication to fighting men in the Pacific because my dad had fought there. By the time we got there, I was freezing to death. My grandson was having a grand time skateboarding on the many concrete surfaces of the monument. I looked longingly at the Korean Monument, as I lost a third cousin in that war, but I was unable to fight that wind anymore. I had to say “uncle” and tell my son that I needed to get indoors at an art museum or something. Fortunately, the sun shone on our path as we sauntered past the Obelisk. Nobody seemed put out by our shortening our walk, and I like to think they had all felt that piercing wind.
Just one more note to my sage – I found out about icy weather all in one hop. I was walking around a park where my grandson was practicing his skate boarding. I saw a long, white road that looked like an ideal hiking trail to some trees, and possibly back to where my son and family sat on some bleachers. The ground was soft and muddy at various places along the way, so it wasn’t too surprising when my foot sank into about one half foot of water right by the side of the inviting white road. I jumped up like a jack rabbit and aimed my remaining foot on the road, which was placed on the white stretch, only to slip miserably on a thick coat of ice. “Maybe I could still walk on the ice,” I thought, but I had on leather flats with thin rubber heals. No, this was not possible, so with the other foot now safely retrieved from the water, I aimed at the drier portion of the ground above the water line. With the lead in from my free foot, I jumped as well as any Olympian back onto dry land. The white stretch of road was really a completely iced-over stream about ten feet wide. “Could people really skate on that?” I asked myself as I returned to the bleachers where my son sat. I spent the next half hour drying my shoes, socks, feet and pants legs in a car heater… and thanking God for keeping me safe one more time. To other Grandma’s – “Do what is fun and safe, but if you sense danger, abide by your seasoned instincts”. And remember, “It’s the good memories that will get you through the bad times.”
When you’re a grandmother, travel has some special challenges for you. I have asthma and arthritis, but I kept up pretty well with my son, his wife and two children. I’m the daughter of a military man, and the family line goes back to the Revolutionary War, so walking around Washington D.C. in some of its colder weather was a challenge I fully accepted. But I’m from San Diego, and was in for “weather shock”. Don’t give up a chance to travel because of physical problems. It’s the good memories that will get you through the hard times (I love that saying) and you need to enjoy your retirement. Turn those anxious moments around to opportunities to laugh at yourself a little. If you have trouble sleeping in those strange hotel rooms, place yourself in God’s hands. He’s always with you, no matter where you are.