Running From the Storm

In the eleven years we’ve now lived in this house, we’d never needed to evacuate it due to a hurricane. In 2016 we were on our three-month trip when Hurricane Matthew resulted in us needing to pack up and leave the campground we were in at that time, in southeastern Georgia.

But this time we were home. And not only were we in a hurricane’s path, but we were on the radar as being located dead-center of her forecasted trajectory.

On September 6th we decided we weren’t going to ride it out. Hurricane Irma was expected to be either a category 4 or 5 storm. Thirteen years earlier this area had been hit by one hurricane after another in the same season, and from what friends and neighbors told us there was extensive damage and outages.

Our house is rated to withstand a powerful hurricane, but what about losing power? Running out of gas? Stores going down? And the likelihood June could come out intact and looking anything more than a pile of toothpicks was slim.

We started making preparations September 6th, completed getting the house ready — including installing hurricane shutters for only the 2nd time ever — on September 7th, and then we hit the road around 4am the morning of September 8th.

Poor Papa ‘Skiy! He had to work on the 6th and 7th, so he’d been up since around 7am the morning of the 7th, and then he was driving again, for an unknown number of hours, so we could evacuate.

We had no destination in mind. Irma was moving closer to Florida’s coast, and all we knew was we didn’t want to be in the peninsula state.

The main interstates and highways were very congested. People were heading north in droves, and we saw power company and emergency response vehicles heading south. We avoided the interstates most of the journey, utilizing Google Maps to determine the roads with the least amount of traffic.

Around 3pm we were approaching the panhandle of Florida and passed a sign showing the location of a state park with camping. We decided to stop so Papa could at least try to get some sleep.

We pulled into beautiful O’Leno State Park and requested a campsite. We were informed we would need to evacuate the next day because of the storm, which was fine with us because we just wanted some rest before continuing north. Due to the circumstances we were not required to pay an entry or camping fee, but we donated $10 to the park and headed for the campsite we were informed we could use for the day.

By this time, Papa ‘Skiy was blind from exhaustion. He’d been up more than 34 hours now and was in desperate need of rest. Once we’d found our site, we proceeded to start backing in when suddenly Mama saw the truck jar to a halt and immediately heard Papa spout a few…er, superlatives. The truck rolled forward again and Papa got out to examine the damage.

He’d failed to watch the fin of the dually on the driver’s side of Bertha and bumped into an oak tree. The good news was that June was unscathed, and that would have been far worse than the dent Bertha got on her backside.

Papa was seething, but Mama couldn’t be upset with him. Considering his level of exhaustion and stress, there was no way he could be blamed for this minor hiccup. She calmed and reassured him, and then they finished backing into the site.

We’d no more than parked when a couple of rangers happened by. They were going around to let everyone know the hurricane’s path had shifted a little and they were going to need to evacuate the park by 6pm that evening.

So now we weren’t going to get the rest needed. However, Mama stayed up to keep an eye on the boys — who weren’t tired because they’d slept in the truck — so Papa could get at least an hour of sleep.

He woke up shortly after 5pm, we took the boys to the playground to run off some steam, and then we vacated the park, on our way to who-knows-where.

We stopped for a late dinner outside of Tallahassee and then Mama started looking on her phone for parks and campgrounds in Alabama or Mississippi.

She made a few phone calls, only to find most places were either closing or closed due to the hurricane or could not accommodate us.

Finally she called a park in Alabama — Blue Springs State Park — where she was informed the campground had no vacancies but we were welcome to come on up and they’d set us up someplace.

We had a location in sight and could finally relax a little.

When we finally made it to the park it was approaching midnight and the gate was closed and chained…but to our relief it hadn’t been locked! Mama got out, unlooped the chain from the gate, opened it up, and we let ourselves inside. She closed it again and left it as we’d found it, then we drove to a parking lot on the left near a lake. There was no one manning the hut at the entrance, and we never did see or hear anyone. But we’d spoken to someone on the phone and felt it was okay we were there. As a precaution, Mama wrote a note explaining our situation and that we’d move by 7:30 the next morning, having seen signs that the park opens to visitors at 8am, and left it on the door of our fifth wheel.

Finally we were able to get some rest.

We woke up around 7am the next morning so we could get ready to move, but when we stepped out of our rig we were promptly greeted by a sweet gentleman — one of the park rangers — on a golf cart. He told us we could stay put and to just relax. When we questioned moving for park guests, he said the park was only accepting hurricane evacuees, no other campers or guests! He said we could stay put or he’d go see if there were any available campsites for us.

He’d just left when a woman — one of the workampers — showed up on another golf cart. She proceeded to ask if we were hungry because they were serving sandwiches at a pavilion in the campground region, in another area of the park, and we could go over to eat.

At that point Mama got emotional. Everything started to sink in: we had to leave our home and everything behind; we had family and friends in Florida who’d decided not to evacuate; we were so exhausted, stressed, and scared; and we were in an unfamiliar area under one of the scariest circumstances we’d yet to encounter. The sweet lady — Tracy — took Mama into her arms and comforted her. Then she left and we decided to walk over to the pavilion she’d told us about, located down a road opposite the lake we were parked next to.

Every vehicle and RV there had a Florida license plate. Everyone looked tired and ragged, and although we were all strangers we all suddenly had so much in common and so many things to talk about. We were treated to a variety of homemade sandwiches and bottles of water, and it was the best breakfast we’d had in days. Then we were told to return around noon because a church was coming by to provide lunch too!

After we ate we returned to June to settle into the parking lot. A couple of other RVs were there now too, doing the same thing. Suddenly the ranger who came by earlier stopped by again to let us know about a couple of campsites that were empty and we could choose from. He suggested one in particular — which happened to be right across from the pavilion everyone was gathering at — and we decided to move to that site.

Sure enough, lunch-time came around and we were fed a full spaghetti spread. To add to the kindness, there was a table of supplies that had appeared! Churches and volunteers were showing up and dropping of canned and prepackaged meals, beverages, paper products, charcoal, cases of bottled water, toiletries…anything and everything you could think of that anyone running from the storm may need.

Tears were being shed all around, by Mama included. The outpouring of donations and kindness was overwhelming!

We decided to run into town that afternoon for a few other things we needed, but after that we never had to leave again. We were also told by the two leading the rescue — Amanda and her daughter Alyssa — that if we needed anything else to just let them know and they’d have someone run out and get it for us. They simply wanted us to stay there and relax as much as possible.

Also that afternoon Mama was finally able to convince her parents to evacuate their home and join us in Alabama. Her brother had decided to stay with his girlfriend and her family, and Papa’s step-father had his sons visiting (Papa’s mother was in Russia at the time) so he wanted to stay home as well. Mama was especially worried about her parents because their home at the homestead was manufactured. Everyone else was in sturdy concrete-block buildings.

Her parents arrived that evening, and finally she was able to breathe a sigh of relief.

Dinner was provided that night too, and we were treated to three meals, snacks, desserts, and supplies during the entire stay. Clothes and toys were also donated and gathering at the main pavilion. There was even a pickup truck driven by teenagers going around passing out firewood.

We went swimming in their spring-fed pools and waded in the river the springs fed into. We did a lot of walking and socializing. And we met some of the nicest people ever, who will remain our friends. There was a lot of fear in the air, and many moms would gather to talk and cry out of concern for family and friends back home, their property left behind, and their kids, who were playing on the playground without a care in the world.

Hurricane Irma didn’t take the path projected but moved more west and made landfall on Florida’s west coast, not the east coast as forecasted. She cut through and destroyed the Keys before hooking north and landing just south of where Papa’s step-father lives. When it did finally hit land, it suddenly dropped from a catastrophic category 4 to a much less dangerous category 2! There was such a huge sigh of relief when word of that spread throughout Blue Springs.

Despite it was a weaker storm when it did hit the mainland, the size of the storm was much larger than the state itself. It took out power before it did touch land, and the damage caused by winds, flooding, and loss electricity alone was astronomical.

Irma did end up following us to Alabama, but she was only a tropical storm by the time she got there. The six of us remained safe inside of June, listening to the howling of the wind through the trees, the branches and acorns falling on the roof, and the rain coming and going with each passing band.

Out of the blue during that morning, though, there was a knock on our door. When we answered, it was the park staff, stopping by to see if we were okay…and to deliver some food to us. Despite they were out in the middle of the storm, getting soaked in the process, their concern was still for those of us at the park.

Once Irma had passed we walked around to survey the damage and check on others.

Many people had left, apparently heading east or west to get out of the path. We were surprised to see how vacant the park had suddenly became.

With the exception of some fallen limbs and one uprooted tree, there wasn’t much damage at all. The river had risen and was quite raging, but we were able to walk around and talk to some of the others who had stayed to ride it out.

The next day — September 12 — we packed up to return home, and it was so difficult to say good-bye to our new friends, both the evacuees like us and the incredibly kind people that took such good care of everyone. On the way out we stopped by one of the buildings near the pools, where everyone was gathering one final time. We all shared one more meal, exchanged contact information, and took a group picture together. Then we tearfully passed out hugs, climbed into Bertha, and left.

We didn’t get back home until the next morning. Traffic was heavy and many areas were blocked due to damage or flooding. Electricity had miraculously come back on in our neighborhood before we got back to our house, and the only issues there were a few broken limbs, some debris, and a small amount of washout where we park June next to the house. The water level in our canal was up, but the day Irma had come through the water had actually come up to within feet of the uppermost level.

All in all, our friends and family fared well. Papa’s step-father and visiting step-brothers went without electricity for nearly a week, as did Mama’s parents’ home and where her brother had stayed. Regardless, everyone was safe.

Many weren’t as fortunate. The Keys suffered the worst damage they’d experienced in a very long time, and it will be awhile before they fully recover. The death toll was not nearly as high as feared, and the assistance that showed up from other states was underappreciated and understated.

It was a scary situation, but it was also one of the most memorable experiences of our lives. Never before had we been on the receiving end of help, and we could never thank all of those kind people of Blue Springs State Park in Alabama enough for their kindness…and now friendship.

Never gamble with Mother Nature. She’s stronger than you’ll ever be.

And if you’re fortunate enough, she could also guide you toward happiness and incredible memories, even in the middle of instability and chaos.

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Worst Mother’s Day on Record

Seriously, we experienced the worst Mother’s Day ever this year!

Mama wanted to go to Disney’s Ft. Wilderness, so Papa took some time off of work so we could spend five days camping and going to the parks.

We’d yet to go to any of the Disney water parks, although our pass included both Typhoon Lagoon and Blizzard Beach. Papa and the boys wanted to go to a water park, so we decided to give one a try and opted for Blizzard Beach.

The second day at Ft. Wilderness is when we went to Blizzard Beach. It was in the middle of the week and and we figured it wouldn’t be very busy. However, it was extremely hot: the temps topped out at 103 that day! And the pavement in the park is hot and didn’t have any sprayers to provide relief to the feet. Ouch!

The first thing we decided to attempt was a trip to the top-most point, where several water slides began, and we opted for the ski lift.

…which then got stuck…for half an hour…while we were on it…in 100+-degree heat…with no water or shade!

We were all miserable and dehydrated when we got off, not to mention starving. We didn’t stick around much longer after, between the heat, some slides being closed for renovation, and just not being impressed with the small park.

Not a good start to the Mother’s Day week.

We had other hiccups throughout the week and weekend, which resulted in it just being a rough trip altogether.

We checked out Sunday, on Mother’s Day, and decided to stop at a restaurant for lunch (moms ate free) before driving another hour home.

We got home, parked, and proceeded to go about our routine of unpacking a few things before backing the rig in next to the house.

Mama had left her cell phone in the truck during this, next to Papa’s cell phone, and finally noticed she had missed a call and a text message from her brother. She decided to call him back later, but then her phone rang again.

He was in hysterics.

Their dad — who has always been healthy, was a healthy eater, and was in no way overweight — had suddenly suffered a massive heart attack!

Their mom and dad were still at their homestead deep in the woods on Florida’s west coast, where they spend every weekend, when he started feeling sick and started throwing up. Then he got the classic heartburn feeling, that tingling and pain down his left arm, and overall feeling of malaise. Their mom had called 911, and just as the paramedics pulled into view, he went out. Completely.

It was still a couple of minutes before the paramedics were at their home and began CPR, and then they had to use the defibrillator. He came to and was screaming in pain and started vomiting again.

That’s when she called Mama’s brother, who was at his home two hours south of them, to let him know what was going on and asked that he call his sister.

Mama lost it. She is, in every way, Daddy’s girl. She is just like him and they are extremely close.

When she finally got her senses about again she called her mom. Her dad was just being loaded into the paramedic and they were just leaving for the hospital…30 minutes away. Nobody knew if he would live.

Mama, Papa, and the boys quickly grabbed some more clothes and cat food, closed and locked up the house again, and hit the road, with June still in tow.

We arrived at the hospital almost 4 hours later, and Mama kept in contact with her mom and brother on the phone en route. Her dad had another heart attack at the hospital and required the defibrillator again. He was immediately wheeled into surgery for an emergency cardiac catheterization…where it was determined he had 3 blockages, one that was 100%. An angioplasty was performed and he got two stents. (He received a third stent the next day.) When we finally arrived at the hospital (four hours away) and saw him, his speech was slurred and he was in and out of sleep. His chest was in immense pain — a result of the heart attacks, the CPR compressions, and the two defibrillator shocks — but despite it all he tried desperately to keep everyone’s spirits up and maintain a light sense of humor.

We”camped” in the parking lot that first night — not that Mama got much sleep — and the next day his speech and cognition were already improved. He was scheduled for the third stent, and we were all informed his blockages were all severe: one at 100% and two at 90%.

He was very lucky to be alive. We all were!

Once we knew when his procedure would be, Mama’s brother stayed with their mom at the hospital while we ran June to their homestead to set up for a long stay. Then we returned to the hospital, and his procedure was again successful.

Mama’s brother returned home the next day because he was fighting a bug of some sort and didn’t want to risk their father getting sick. We stuck around. Mama even took her mom back home at one point so she could shower and get some clothes, and then they worked to try to clean up the house because there was so much evidence of what had happened…and nobody wanted nor needed to relive it.

We also made the four-hour drive back home one day during the week so Papa could get some things squared away with work and pick up his work laptop, that way he could work from Mama’s parents’ homestead, and to get some other things we’d need in order to stay with them to help them through this ordeal.

Mama’s dad was discharged in the middle of the week and they returned to their homestead, as opposed to going back home two hours south in the city, where their primary home and place of work are located. It was easier for him to recover there and they weren’t yet able to make the long drive south.

That Friday we drove down to see Papa’s parents, which was a trip already planned, to celebrate their birthdays. On Saturday Mama got a phone call from her mom, who said she was taking her dad back to the hospital because his pain was still bad and his breathing and breathlessness were, in no way, improving. Another phone call followed and Mama was told that her dad now had congestive heart failure.

We left Papa’s parents the same afternoon to return to the hospital…another four-hour drive. When we got there he was still in the ER and they were waiting for a room to become available for him. He was to be started on antibiotics because there was a concern he was developing pneumonia, and he was on a form of diuretic to try to get rid of the fluid that was now around his heart. Papa then took Mama’s mom back home so she could again pack an overnight bag, while Mama stayed with her dad in the ER.

He was finally admitted into a room…and was already breathing and talking better than when he had first arrived. We also found out he did not have pneumonia but was fighting off some kind of viral infection that just had to run its course. He was still going to be there for a couple more nights though to watch his heart and pain.

The next day (Sunday) we had plans to go to Animal Kingdom to preview their new exhibit and world Pandora, which we had scheduled for months, but in light of what had taken place we weren’t too sure about going. However, Mama’s parents insisted we still go, if for no other reason but to give the boys a much-deserved break because they’d been pulled every which direction and had been behaving and putting up with everything beautifully. We did end up going, but only because we knew he was still going to be in the hospital and would be watched carefully. We made plans to return to the hospital on Monday (we’d go back home Sunday night, take care of a few things, and then go back Monday afternoon).

Before we even made it back Monday, Mama’s dad was being discharged from the hospital! He developed no pneumonia, so he was taken off the antibiotics, and the fluid around his heart was going away. His breathing and voice were returning to normal, and overall he was feeling better.

We stayed all week, helping with house chores, taking care of any shopping, and going with them to his first followup with the cardiac surgeon that had performed the catheterization, angioplasty, and stents. Mama finally got to shake hands with the man who saved her dad’s life.

Mama’s parents were able to return to the city that weekend, but her dad was informed to not return to his full job for several months. Her parents work in construction and he’s usually outside for hours on end every day, as part of his job. He was restricted to only his desk-job and administrative portion until he received a full bill of health again, which won’t be for about three months. He will have several exams and tests to go through over the next few months, as well as full cardiac rehabilitation that he will need to complete to rebuild his heart.

Without a doubt, this was the worst Mother’s Day any of us had been through. On the flip side, however, Mama’s dad has been informed that he’s now healthier than he was before his heart attack. Nobody saw it coming, but it did and at least it happened when he was neither alone nor driving.

He’s only 59. Mama’s parents just celebrated their 41st wedding anniversary in February.

What he had is known as the Widow Maker. Many do not survive this kind of heart attack.

He was lucky. We were lucky. And again, it was another blessing in disguise. Now he knows he needs to watch his cholesterol and sodium intake even more, and he is now healthier than before that dreadful day.

Mama and her dad are very close. There’s no denying that. Now they have more in common: they were both admitted into the hospital for heart conditions this year (neither related, though), they have matching scars on their right wrist from where they had a cardiac catheterization performed, and they each have a cardiologist.

Mama joked with him about one in the family with a heart condition being more than enough, and he joked right back saying he’d heard it was so much fun that he just had to experience it for himself.

It’s safe to say that love and humor are necessary to make it through this game called Life.

 

What If “One Day” Never Comes

Mama and Papa aren’t what-if people and never have been. We don’t want to get to an advanced age only to look back and wish we could’ve, should’ve, or would’ve done something differently.

We also see no benefit in putting off for tomorrow what can be done today.

Or putting off for next month.

Or putting off for next year.

Or putting off until retirement.

We believe planning has its place and we do so when and where appropriate.

There are things we’ve said we’ll do “when we retire” or “when the boys have grown.”

Then in January we had a rude wakeup call when Mama went to the ER and almost didn’t come home.

Now we see no point in waiting, namely for one thing in particular.

And we have decided to finally make the announcement public, after talking about this for years and putting our plan into action for months.

Folks, we’re in the process of purging and downsizing…in preparation for selling our house.

Until now only Mama and Papa’s parents and very few friends and family knew of our plans and that we’d been working on making it happen.

But today — May 1st — we’re ready to let everybody know that we will soon be listing our house on the market after we get some work done on the front and back yards. We’ve already started on the inside.

Oh, and we’re not buying another house for one to two years.

Yup, we’ve decided to go for it and get a little crazy. We’re going to live in our beloved fifth wheel June and our address will be that of whatever campground we’re parked at.

When we went on that three-month road trip last year, no one in our family wanted to come home. We can honestly say we only missed our friends and family, but we didn’t really miss our home.

Yes, there’s stability, familiarity, and monotony in living in a house. Yes, living out of our RV is risky, unusual, and unexpected.

That’s exactly why we all want to do this, and that includes our boys.

They loved not knowing what our new yard and their new playground would be like every time we parked at another campground.

They loved the small quarters of our RV and how close we all became, after we didn’t before know we could grow any closer than we already were.

They loved that they were outside more frequently and that we all went on more adventures.

They loved making new friends in each state and that age and education barriers pretty much vanished.

And since they’re already being homeschooled, the transition will be that much easier and smoother.

Yes, Papa will continue working and for the very company he’s been with and loved for more than 10 years now. We have no intentions to leave the area anytime soon, and we have plenty of camping options throughout this county and those counties nearby. Besides, as much as we travel on weekends anyway, why not simply bring our house along every time?

Our sticks-and-bricks (or S&B) home holds countless memories, and ours was the first family to live in it. This is the first house our boys ever knew, and it was also the location of the only school they’ve ever been to. It will be emotional when we do drive out of our driveway for the last time, and it’s been somewhat emotional as we box up stuff and sell and donate things that helped make our house a home.

But it is just “stuff.” They’re material things, most of which can be replaced down the road. Things that hold sentimental value and that we feel are irreplaceable will be in storage until we decide to settle down once again.

Then there are our amazing neighbors, which are also our friends. We love them dearly and we know we could never again find neighbors as wonderful as they are. Fortunately, we also know that we’ll remain in touch and friends, regardless of where we live.

And whoever moves into our house next will be extremely blessed to have them.

In addition to this being another adventure for us, this is also an opportunity to pay off everything and free ourself from debts. We will be able to save money and could potentially pay cash when we do buy or build a house down the road.

Mama loves poetry and one of her favorites is by Robert Frost, in which he concluded:

Two roads diverged in a wood, and I — I took the one less traveled by, and that has made all the difference.

And then there’s a quote by Mark Twain, popular especially among RVers:

Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.

Those by Frost and Twain are excellent advice and have guided Mama and Papa well for more than 15 years.

All four of us want to do this, and Mama and Papa used to say we would do this one day, perhaps in about 15 years or so.

Then we realized “one day” may never come.

Disney Magic

When someone thinks “Florida,” they will simultaneously also think about beaches and Disney.

Well, this year we decided to get annual passes for the Disney theme parks again. Our boys are nearly two years older than when we had passes previously, which meant they could ride more rides…especially M ‘Skiy.

This particular birthday held extra significance for Mama though: she had received a pacemaker just two months ago.

Suddenly birthdays — even as an adult — seemed more important to celebrate.

Papa decided to surprise Mama with a weekend stay at the Disney All-Star Resort hotel, which we’ve been to before with family, and it worked out because Mama’s birthday fell on a Friday (March 10). This was also the most-affordable of the Disney hotels. We’re not fans of hotels at all, and we usually stay at the Fort Wilderness campground, but Disney’s hotels have been nicer and better than typical hotels.

So after Papa finished working for the day, we decided to head to Orlando. We were able to select some FastPasses at Magic Kingdom, though, so instead of heading straight to the hotel we decided to go to the park first.

On the way to Magic Kingdom, Mama did online checkin for the hotel, seeing how we would arrive late.

At the park, we started hitting the rides we had passes for. On the way to the third and final ride — Space Mountain — the fireworks show at the castle was about to begin, so we grabbed some food and decided to watch the show before heading to Tommorowland.

Halfway through the show, Papa’s cell phone rang. One look at the number on the caller ID and we knew it was the reservations center for Disney. We were worried we’d somehow messed up the online checkin, the reservation itself, or something else that was sure to put a damper on the weekend.

When Papa finally got off the phone, he didn’t look at all upset. Mama had tried to listen to his side of the conversation, but with the fireworks and music going on in the background all she ever heard was, “What’s the catch?”

She inquired about the call, but he said he’d explain after the show and not to worry.

The show ended and we started weaving our way through the crowd towards Space Mountain. Mama asked again about the phone call. Papa said it was Disney and they were calling because they “had extra magic to share” and wanted to upgrade our hotel reservation.

No, not to a bigger room or suite at the All-Star Resort.

Disney upgraded us to a Savannah-view room at the Animal Kingdom Lodge!!

Mama’s knees buckled as she let out a scream and her eyes filled with happy tears!

We’ve always wanted to go to that resort! But it’s one of the — if not, the — most-expensive resorts Disney has, ranging from $400-$600 per night! So we knew we’d never stay there…unless, by some chance, we managed to win the lottery.

Just like that! Out of the blue, Disney upgraded us!! And at no additional charge whatsoever! This wasn’t an effort for us to attend a talk about their vacation club or some timeshare. It was a simple upgrade, with no strings attached!

Was it because it was Mama’s birthday? Did they somehow find out her family had nearly lost her just two months prior and wanted to put a smile on their faces?! Was it entirely random and we did, in some way, just win a lottery?!

We’ll never know.

However, that was the most-incredible resort or hotel experience we’d ever had. Our room had a view of the Savannah, where we saw storks, zebras, and giraffes from our balcony. The boys even got to see their favorite animal from only feet away: the okapi. There are two amazing swimming pools and a great playground for the kids. And an added bonus was the kid’s club, where Mama and Papa were able to take the boys for a couple of hours while they went on their first date in more than 2 years, all while the boys played with other kids and had a pizza dinner under the watch and care of Disney staff.

The weekend was perfect. We were all together, enjoying amazing weather, at a hotel we’d only dreamed of going to, and for the entire weekend it cost us less than it would have otherwise for only a single night.

Thank you, Disney, for sharing the magic and making our dreams come true!

Hiccup of the Heart

And just like that, our new year was off to a rough start…

Mama ‘Skiy has been been considered a poster child of health. She’s always been active, she doesn’t let things get to her, and she always has a positive outlook.

Well, on January 9 she ended up in the hospital.

Long story short, she was diagnosed with “anxiety disorder” in 2001, and at the time it was determined a hormonal imbalance due to oral contraceptives was the cause. Ever since then she has had “anxiety” attacks and symptoms, which would occur out of the blue and for no reason: difficulty breathing, dizziness, tightness of the chest, racing heartbeats, skipped heartbeats…

In the days leading up to January 9, she had felt out of sorts. She would feel exhausted thoughout the day, despite a lot of sleep. She would wake up some mornings feeling as though she’d run a marathon all night, regardless she had slept 8-10 hours. Then she would experience palpitations that would leave her scared and in pain.

That particular day, though, she was feeling especially tired. Then every couple of hours she would have a heart palpitation. Around 4:00 that afternoon she was standing by the kitchen sink when she had an incredibly strong and painful heart palpitation that left her dizzy, nearly made her pass out, and left part of her vision gone. She lost her peripheral vision and her tunnel vision was extremely fuzzy. After about 15 minutes of this she called Papa ‘Skiy home from work and he took her to the hospital.

She’d never before experienced anything like this.

Mind you, Mama ‘Skiy had been to the hospital twice a year since 2013 because her palpitations had gotten worse and her breathlessness and near-fainting spells terrified her. However, every time she would get examined, she’d go through a series of tests that showed nothing was wrong and she would leave the hospital having been reprimanded for not taking anti-anxiety medication, especially since she’d had a history of “panic attacks,” which had to be the problem. After all, she was “too young” for there to be anything seriously wrong with her and a full cardiac workup in 2013, complete with a 24-hour holter monitor and an exercise stress test, showed her heart with just fine.

So we arrived at the ER and couldn’t find a parking space. None. Nothing at all. Frustrated and knowing the nurses and doctor would just send her home with a clean bill of health, Mama told Papa to just go home. We left and a few minutes later something told Mama we needed to go back to the hospital. So Papa turned around and this time we found a parking space.

She checked in at the ER counter and we waited in the waiting room…for an hour and a half. Her symptoms got worse and new ones appeared: muffled hearing, excruciating pain in the back between the shoulderblades, discomfort in her left jaw and arm… Papa grew impatient and kept asking for her to be seen.

When she was finally called back by the triage nurse, Mama did something she’d not done before when she went to the ER: she refrained from telling the staff about her “anxiety disorder.” Suddenly, everyone took her seriously. Nobody rolled their eyes at her or asked why she wasn’t on medication.

Soon after triage, she was taken to an exam room. She was changed into a hospital gown, examined, got a chest X-ray and was hooked up for a quick EKG, and had blood drawn. Mama and Papa were informed it would take a couple of hours before the results would arrive, so they decided Papa would take the boys home and they would wait there. We felt there was no reason for everyone to just sit around and wait. M ‘Skiy was heading for the exam room door, ready to leave, and D ‘Skiy was right behind him. Papa gave Mama a kiss and was holding her hand, when suddenly Mama felt odd…and then blacked out.

The machines started screaming.

Mama had flatlined. Her eyes were still open, but her heart had stopped.

Papa ran out of the room for help. Soon a tech started CPR on Mama, several nurses came to the room, and a crash cart was being wheeled in, nearly running the boys over.

After more than 12 seconds, Mama suddenly woke up. The defibrillator pads had been put on her but the machine had not been hooked up to her yet.

The first thing she saw was Papa’s panic-stricken face. Confused, she looked around and asked what had happened. Randomly, one of the many new faces in the room answered with, “You just earned yourself a pacemaker.”

She looked back at Papa and he explained what had taken place. She remembered holding his hand and feeling dizzy and nauseated, then she remembered her vision going black, and she also remembered hearing a bunch of noise before she could finally see again.

Her chest was also in a lot of pain, and when she commented on that the tech that had revived her said he had to perform CPR and the chest compressions resulted in the pain.

Soon, Papa was on the phone with Mama’s parents, explaining what had happened, and then Mama spoke to them, shaking uncontrollably and in tears.

She ended up getting more blood drawn and going through more tests. Then she was tranferred to ICU, mostly for observation.

Mama’s parents and brother made the three-hour trip across the state to see her and take care of our boys. There was no way to know how long she’d be hospitalized or what would happen next, so they wanted to be nearby and took care of the boys for the week.

The cardiologist on call that night ordered tests for any and every possible cause as to why her heart had stopped: proteins, Lyme disease, electrolyte imbalance, dehydration… Everything. Over the course of two days she had dozens of vials of blood taken.

After weighing every option, listening to multiple expert opinions, doing research, and every imaginable test result coming up negative, there was only a cardiac catheterization left to perform. We consented to either whatever surgery would be deemed necessary if the catherization showed a problem or a pacemaker implantation.

In the afternoon of January 11, Mama was taken to the OR for the cardiac catheterization. Everything looked fine: the structure of the heart was strong and healthy, there was no scar tissue or damage, and there were no blackages of any type. No heart surgery was necessary.

The only thing left was the implant of the pacemaker.

And fortunately, that went smoothly.

And it was at that point when the defibrillator pads she had received in the ER two days prior could finally be removed.

She spent the night in her ICU room recovering from the procedure. The next day she was transferred to a recovery room on another floor, and she was finally discharged the evening of January 12.

At 36 years old, just two months before turning 37 — which happens to be tomorrow — she received a pacemaker. And she’ll need one for the rest of her life.

It has taken her awhile to accept that she did not do and could not have done anything to cause or prevent this from happening. Her natural pacemaker — the sinoatrial node — no longer works properly. And the problem is congenital. She was born with it, did not receive it from her parents, and can’t pass it down to our sons. It was just a matter of time before it gave out.

It’s been a rough two months, recovering from the procedure altogether, needing to limit the use of her left arm for a month, and then using and exercising the arm again to regain her strength and full range of motion of the joint… It was especially difficult for her to depend on others for things we’d otherwise take for granted: getting dressed, showering, going to the bathroom…

Yes, it sucks. But it could be worse. She could not have listened to her body. Papa ‘Skiy could have not come home from work and taken her to the ER. She could have told the ER staff about her so-called “anxiety disorder,” resulting in them not taking her symptoms seriously. We could have been complacent and figured nothing to be wrong, because, after all, the medical experts had told her for years she was healthy, too young, and that it was all in her head.

This could have happened sometime during the cross-country three-month trip! Perhaps on the snowy trail high up in the mountains of Alaska, on the path in the evergreen forest in Washington, touring the isolated and wooded battlegrounds in Virginia.

It could have happened while she was driving our sons along the interstate or to a park in the town we live, causing a dangerous and potentially fatal automobile accident.

There are a lot of things that could have happened. But they didn’t. She was in the right place, at the right time.

So now she has a dual-chambered pacemaker that we’ve named Thumper Jumper, or TJ. He’s doing his job well, as she can feel him kick on every now and then. It’s been more than two months now and she hasn’t felt this well in years. Not weeks, not months; years! Lo and behold, her “anxiety” symptoms were actually early warning signs of her problem with the sinoatrial node. It was just easier — and made more sense — to diagnose her with anxiety disorder, when in reality she has what’s known as Sick Sinus Syndrome, or SSS.

Listen to your body. Pay close attention to how you feel and what that little voice inside your head tells you.

Medical professionals may be just that, but it is called the “practice of medicine” for a reason. And it doesn’t matter how long they went to school for or have practiced in their field. Nobody knows your body like you do.

After all, you’ve known and lived with it your entire life.

Phew! Now We Can Breathe!

How on Earth we managed to drive more than 1,700 miles in 2 days, we’ll never know!

We left Denver late-afternoon on Friday, November 4th. In 24 hours we drove more than 1,000 miles, and it was Mama behind the wheel for more than 90% of that, giving Papa a break and a chance to sleep, seeing how he’d worked days and nights that week and would be doing it again the following week.

It was best that we put so many miles behind us in one day though. It allowed us to have a little wiggle room, in the event we ran into any issues along the way.

The drive was beautiful, though. We saw antelope and deer, and the desert hills through Nebraska were unlike anything we’ve ever seen.

On Saturday we wasted no time, and late Sunday we pulled into our destination in Virginia: Bull Run Regional Park.

Again, we have no idea how we pulled it off, but we did. In that short time we drove through Wyoming, Nebraska, Iowa, Illinois, Indiana, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Maryland.

We had no problems at all. We were very fortunate!

And the boys? They were just looking forward to the next park!

Halloween In View of the Rockies

We’d love to say we actually got to drive up into the Rockies during our stay in Colorado, but things came up…

We arrived just north of Denver the day before Halloween, staying at the Fort Collins/Lakeside KOA. On the way there we looked up Halloween events so the boys would have a chance to dress up and have a little spooky fun, seeing how we always take them to local ones back home.

Just because we’re traveling doesn’t mean we can’t keep with tradition!

We found out about a really neat trick-or-treat event taking place at a park in Ft. Collins called The Farm on October 30th, so we ran to Walmart for costumes and dressed up. It was incredibly organized and so much fun. Businesses from the area dressed up “doors” throughout the farm and kids were to knock on each “door,” say “Trick or Treat,” and somebody on the other side would open that “door” to present a treat. There were dozens of them! Then there was also a tractor-pulled hayride. The entire event cost a small fee, but it was unique and we highly recommend it!

Papa reported for work the next day, and that night we took the boys trick-or-treating in various neighborhoods. The boys collected so many goodies that M was unable to carry his bag anymore!

The next day — November 1st — Papa’s two colleagues that are on this field assignment with him (they’re doing night-time hardware installations while Papa does the daytime training regarding the new software involved) ventured off into the mountains for a bit of hiking. One of them lost her footing and could no longer walk. By the time help had arrived for her it was getting dark and had begun snowing. In the hospital she found out the extent of her injuries: she had broken her leg and foot in three places. She was going to be okay but she was derailed the remainder of the trip, which meant the current one in Colorado and the next one — the final one — in Virginia.

And Papa, in turn, not only needed to work days, doing his training classes, but also at night, to assist his other colleague.

Talk about some long days and a rough week for him…

On the positive side, we had already celebrated Halloween and there was a huge playground and a lot to do at the campground, so although we rarely go to see Papa that week the boys had plenty to do to keep them busy.

But one big challenge still lays ahead of us. Since Papa we needed to help in the evenings and his colleague’s injury resulted in everying getting pushed back a day, it’s going to be almost impossible to make the cross-country, multiple-timezone trek from Colorado to Virginia…in only two days.

Let’s see how that one goes!

Update: Papa’s co-worker flew home at the end of the week in Colorado. She required surgery but it was put off due to the swelling. She has since made a full recovery and is able to walk again, after months of needing a scooter to support her leg and physical therapy.

Georgia On Our Minds…and Hurricane Matthew’s Radar

Following our Tennessee assignment — and Mississippi stay, seeing how we were not going to stay in Memphis, thank you — we headed to Kingsland, Georgia. Papa ‘Skiy was due in Jacksonville, Florida, and Kingsland is a brief drive from where he needed to report.

The campground we chose was amazing and we’d highly recommend the North Jacksonville/St. Mary’s KOA in Kingsland anytime. From the fun things for kids to do (small farm, playground, pool, jumping pillow…), to the teepees you can sleep in, to the free breakfast and delicious BBQ… We met some of the nicest people there, and this is one of those rare KOAs that offers large shaded sites and beautiful canopies throughout.

However, it wasn’t all fun for Mama and the boys or work for Papa.

Hurricane Matthew was in the Atlantic, and he had his sights set on the coasts of Florida and Georgia.

And is it just us, or did the satellite image of Hurricane Matthew — seen above — look like the face of something evil?!

A couple of days into our stay, the campground had to get into hurricane-preparation mode. Chairs and umbrellas were collected from each campsite. Light fixtures and plants had to be taken down and moved indoors. The Halloween decorations had to be removed from throughout the park. Even the teepees had to be uncovered.

We’re proud of our sons for helping the park owners in their efforts to prepare for the hurricane. The boys even got a free pizza and drink for being so helpful and working so hard.

Those who work at the campground went around and advised everybody it would be in their best interest to pack up and relocate across state or elsewhere. Most of the campers chose to evacuate.

But we still had our home in Florida to think about too.

We were very fortunate. If a hurricane was going to hit, the timing couldn’t have been better, seeing how we were staying less than four hours north of our house, and the company Papa works for cut short the assignment in Jacksonville and allowed everyone to fly or drive home to their houses to get it ready for Matthew.

And we did just that.

We’ve lived in the house for ten years now. This was the first time we’d had to use the storm shutters that came with the house!

In a matter of hours we were home and running around like crazy, putting up shutters, cleaning up the yard, clearing the porches…

Once we were done, we drove back to the campground and packed up our own belongings and RV. The next day we set off for the western part of Georgia, far west of the path of Matthew.

We found an amazing state park in Adel, Georgia, called Reed Bingham State Park, just off of Interstate 75, that had a campground. Although the campground was filled to capacity with those that had evacuated due to the hurricane, they were still accepting campers and allowing them to park anyplace we could, and they allowed evacuees to stay throughout the weekend. (If you’re ever looking for a wonderful park or campground in this area, Reed Bingham is huge and beautiful, with places to fish, playgrounds, and a dam you can drive across.)

We checked in and settled in for the night, holding our breath and praying for the safety of our neighbors and friends back home that were in Matthew’s path. And yes, we were extremely nervous for our house and Mama’s car as well.

Most of the night we watched the weather reports and listened to updates about Hurricane Matthew. He decided to make his presence known in the dark early-morning hours. Fortunately prayers were answered and the storm turned northward just enough to only skirt along the coast, as opposed to directly hitting Brevard County and other counties north, as previously forecasted.

Our amazing neighbors checked on our house for us once the hurricane had passed and the winds died down. There were some limbs down and debris in our yard, and a tree that we’ve been trying to get rid of for years had split down the center due to the winds, but there was absolutely no damage whatsoever.

With the all-clear sign, we packed up our stuff and left Adel, heading north to our next assignment in Ohio.

The hurricane caused a lot of damage, but everyone we knew — including those at the KOA in Kingsland — was unharmed and safe.

Thank goodness.

Rough Start?

It’s officially August 27, just after 1am. We left our house around 8:20pm on August 26.

And we just left our house again.

We left hastily the first time, frustrated we hadn’t left earlier. Mama was shooting for 4pm, Papa figured it’d be closer to 6pm, D was ready to go by 3pm, and M was just killing time on his tablet.

It’s so much easier to pack and plan for a weekend, a week, or even a couple of weeks. This prepping for three months has been, in a word, ludicrous.

Today tensions were high, patience was short, and there were too many cooks in the kitchen, so to speak. That resulted in a lot of uncertainty as to what had and hadn’t been accomplished.

Had the hot-water heater been turned off?

Did we completely close the doors of the freezer and refrigerator?

Were the doors of Mama’s car locked?

Was the garage door closed?

Did we leave our heads at home altogether?!

Two hours into the drive, Mama couldn’t take it any longer. She made a tearful comment about how she wished they hadn’t been so rushed, that they would’ve turned around before leaving town to check on things again, that she’d gone over the check list more carefully.

Papa — being the kind and patient soul he is — turned the truck around. No hesitation, no questions asked. He said he couldn’t bear the thought of Mama beating herself up and having so many unanswered questions for three months.

 Four hours wasted.

But at least now there are no more questions, no more uncertainties.

We aren’t going to get as far tonight as we had planned, but wherever we stop for the night at least we’ll get there with settled minds…and not-so-frazzled nerves.

This time, we really are as prepared as it’s going to get.