North To Alaska: Getting off to a questionable start.

Candy and I made a big travel decision earlier this year.  After years of dithering, dawdling and hand wringing, we finally bit the bullet and ponied up the money for the highly touted “Alaskan Cruise!” A few weeks later, our plans were made, our bags were packed and we were prepared to head for Seattle to meet our ship. Of course there are always those last-minute little glitches that manage to disrupt even the best laid plans and most expensive vacations. In our case, the glitch was a visit to the hospital emergency room at 4:00 in the morning the day of our flight.

I had been experiencing chest pains for several days.  They were not terrible, and they were consistent with muscle strains I experienced in the past.  I thought I’d over done it on the weights at the gym.  Around 3:00 that morning, I had second thoughts.

I awoke with chest pains that would have made Bret Favre take notice. My pain tolerance is fairly high, perhaps not as high as a legendary NFL quarterback, but pretty darn high for someone who is not on heavy-duty pain killers.  Twenty-one years of playing rugby will do that for you.  Ripped muscles, torn tendons and other injuries were regular occurances during the rugby season.

The Austin Rugby Tournament in Zilker Park was one of my favorite events for most of my rugby career.  I could play matches with my club, Denton Rugby Football Club and pick up games with other teams who were shorthanded for one reason or another.  One year, I overdid it and ripped my right Achilles tendon off of the bone in my heel.  The pain was enough to drop me like a stone, make me see stars and dig furrows into the rock hard ground with my fingers.  Well, let me tell you something. That was nothing compared to the pain I was feeling at 3:00 in the morning, September 4, 2011.

An intense sharp pain that eventually fades due the body’s ability to adjust to it is one thing. Having a two-ton brick sitting on your chest for hours at a time, making every breath torture is something else. I tried to tough it out, but gave in around 4:00. I woke Candy and we were at the emergency room by 4:20.

There are some benefits to getting older. A 65-year-old man walking into an emergency room with chest pains gets immediate attention. No one asked about my insurance, or anything else. Within a few minutes I was in an examining room waiting for the bad news, “No cruise for you dude!”

Instead of no cruise, the ER staff heard about our situation and I was suddenly a VIP. I guess night-shift nurses and doctors have a lot of time to daydream and many must dream about cruises. I had a steady stream of technicians, nurses, doctors and you name it, drawing blood, taking stats, checking on my condition and working their tails off to see if I was in any danger. One or two did want to know if my ticket could be transferred to them if I they admitted me to the hospital, but I think they were kidding.

By 8:20 I was cleared and we were on our way. Now the only problem was making our flight.  Suffice it to say, we made it just in time to board, thanks to a valet parking attendant who had been patiently waiting for us for over an hour. He helped us take our bags to the ticket counter and walked us into a priority access line. Of course, after we’d rushed to the airport, rushed to check bags, rushed to the gate and hurried on board, there was a mechanical problem and the plane was held at the gate. What a way to start a vacation.

About this time I was seriously wondering if God was telling me Alaska was not such a good idea. Luckily, things looked up shortly. We rolled back from the gate 15 minutes late, and landed in Seattle 15 minutes early. The shuttle to the dock was quick, relatively painless and boarding the ship was a breeze. By 5:00 (7:00 our time) that afternoon, we were sitting at the lobby bar having a well deserved, we thought, cocktail and beginning to feel the effects of our day.

Remember! We were out of bed rushing to the ER well before dawn. We spent four tense hours wondering whether I was going to Seattle or ICU. Then, we rushed home, slammed our bags shut, rushed to the airport and barely made our flight. The adrenaline was long gone and we were on a downward spiral, trying to hold on until dinner. Did I tell you we’d missed breakfast and lunch, with the only sustenance that day being a shared airline sandwich and a bag of chips?

Of course I still had a few concerns beyond ingesting some calories. I was still in a little pain, okay a good deal of pain, and part of me was wondering if the ER staff might have been a little too eager to help us make our flight. What if my “muscle spasm” turned out to be a misdiagnosed myocardial infarction and I collapsed at the buffet line later that evening? After all, they did insist I take all my medical records in case the ship’s doctor needed them for any reason.

About S. Eric Jackson

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