This is my column in this month’s Emergency Medicine News.  The magazine website is www.em-news.com, though the September issue isn’t up yet online.  It is out in print, however.

I hope it brings back good memories of your own vacations!

 

There’s a reason that people write travel columns, travel books and keep travel diaries.  The reason is, travel brings out the best, worst, weirdest and funniest in all of us.  A lot like going to the ER, except most of us aren’t intoxicated, stoned, beaten up or lying when we travel.  (Though we may feel like it at the end of the trip).

My family has traveled a lot this year.  While traveling to a meeting in Colorado Springs in April, where I was supposed to speak, we found ourselves among the thousands of families stranded when American Airlines pulled all of their MD-80 aircraft for inspections.  I think we had a total of 10 flights canceled over the course of three days.   We spent three days and nights in the Homewood Suites Hotel in Grapevine, Texas, near Dallas Fort-Worth Airport.  Jan, all four children and I, camped out in a hotel with no luggage.  (Did I say no luggage?)  Fortunately, we were near a shopping center with a bookstore, a ‘Build-a-Bear Workshop’ and a movie theater.  God was looking out for us.  Books, a food-court, toys and movies?  Heck, we were ready to move to the hotel permanently.  We finally reached our destination, but days late, and after experiencing tornado warnings and blizzard warnings in addition to our flight cancellations.  However, we felt closer, and had far better stories, than we would have if our flights had gone as scheduled.  Life is like that, isn’t it?  The best adventures are unplanned.

But I can’t leave out our other spring adventure, which was a trip to Washington, DC, where we learned that Metro pass cards demagnetize spontaneously.  We purchased cards our first day, and before we knew it, all of them ceased to work.  We had to show them to the attendant to pass through the gate and get onto the train.  And every time, without fail, we had this conversation:  ‘So, your cards demagnetized, right?  Were they near a credit card, cell-phone, i-Pod or other such device?’  ‘No sir, they weren’t.’  ‘Bet they were!’  Once lectured and humiliated, we were allowed to go through the gate.

Speaking of humiliation, there was also the prophetic homeless man selling umbrellas.  We got off of the DC Metro one stop too short of the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum.  Emerging from the Metro, a man offered to sell us $5 umbrellas.  We laughed and said, ‘Oh, a little rain won’t hurt us!’  He snickered, ‘yeah, a little rain.’  He may have cursed us, for all I know;little voodoo dolls dressed like stupid tourists were immersed in a bucket of cold water after we left.

Subsequently, we ran about 10 blocks through what can only be called a monsoon, but without the balmy temperatures due to a cold snap that left us shivering for part of the trip.  When we finally entered the Air and Space Museum, it was patently clear that the entire facility was being kept at the temperature of space, somewhere around 4 degrees Kelvin.  I felt like I was on the moon in wet pants and underwear.  And guess what?  Those bathroom hand dryers aren’t big enough to stave off impending hypothermia.

Early in the summer, my wife took our two oldest boys on a mission trip to the North Carolina coast.  The ‘littles’ stayed with me, and we talked, played, talked, played and talked some more, all the while missing mom and the other two siblings.  Though I cherish every moment with my kids, by the end I was ready to cry ‘uncle.’  See, I was desperately in need of adult conversation.  I mean, endless chats about fairies and Barbie are a blast, as is the daily, constant barrage of quantum physics questions from Elijah, my junior Newton/Einstein/Hawking who wants to harness dark-matter for weapons and energy.  But in the end, I was begging patients to tell me more about their depression.  ‘No, really, it’s OK.  Tell me all about your parents!  Tell me about their parents!  For heaven’s sake man, tell me anything about the world of grown-ups!’  But that wasn’t the end of the church trips.

You see, I’m writing this article from church camp.  My family is ensconced in a wonderful church facility near the small town of ‘Hotternhades,’ South Carolina.  We came to help our youth director as chaperones, and in the process brought our entire family:  there’s ‘I can make papa dance like a marionette,’ Elysa, age 7; ‘I’m smarter than those stupid 19-year-olds,’ Elijah, age 9; ‘what’s the problem with teenagers?’ Seth, age 11; and ‘if I don’t make eye contact with my family, maybe they’ll ignore me,’ Sam, age 13.

Our muggy little room is not the stuff of elegant, five-star, medical conference hotels. But with four children, I could never afford to stay in those anyway; besides, they always make me get an extra room due to the financially lucrative, large family discriminatory ‘fire code.’  However, this camp in scenic but seldom seen Winnsboro, SC, has been a delightful break from television and other intrusive media outlets, as well as a dandy escape from anything resembling privacy.  (Or intimacy, but with two kids in sleeping bags and four more in an adjoining room, spousal contact was unlikely from the get-go.)  Still, there’s lots to be said for escape and inspiration, beautiful music and collective camp food (large quantities and cheap).  Likewise, the children are learning a great deal from excellent, enthusiastic teachers.  Camp is a trip worth taking, though I’d love for God to turn down the thermostat, say, 40 degrees, and strike the teenagers mute for a part of the day.

We still have a beach trip coming up.  See, if you live in South Carolina and don’t go to the beach at least once, people think you’re a Northeastern spy.  We’ll enjoy the water and sand, food and games with family like we always do at the seashore.  We’ll body surf and try to identify the different accents, just from the South, much less other countries.  We’ll eat local shrimp and spend our days wondering if those were porpoise fins or shark fins we saw just before something brushed our legs.  And we’ll have one more year of great memories.

If you ask most people what they’d do if they had only one day to live and knew it, or if they were condemned to die, or if the world was about to end, you’ll get a variety of answers.  They’ll range from stealing and spending money to hugging the family, traveling to some beautiful place to drinking themselves blind in sorrow.  But if you ask me, I’d say one of two things.  If I had one day left, I might choose to spend it at home, eating, washing dishes, teaching, running errands, playing, laughing and finally lying down in the same room as all my family.  But I might just throw everyone in the car and drive.  Who knows where we’d get.  But along the way we’d laugh, eat drive-through food, tell stories and create memories for all those I’d be leaving behind.  That wouldn’t be a bad way to finish, would it?  Sharing the holy sacrament of vacation, like we have all along.

Fortunately, I’m healthy, and not living under any death sentences.  And God willing, I plan to take a lot more trips with my wife and children in the years to come.

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