Two Drops in a Bucket-List
The trip was inspired by a facebook post.
My friend, Nikki, who has been battling a chronic disease recently had to quit work and go on disability. For a 38 year old vivacious, courageous, hard-working, passionate woman, this has been difficult. She also suffers depression and PTSD due to a FEMA Incident a couple of years ago. (Nikki was an incident commander for the Oslo slide, her home area.)
Nikki posted a picture of Opal Creek ,Oregon on FB that inspired her. Her post was very positive and upbeat, but I felt that there was some longing and emptiness behind it. I asked her if she had a bucket list and she replied that she wanted to see as many national parks as possible.
I had been home for the past four weeks in between finishing medical school and commencing the next phase of my training. So, I offered to take her anywhere she wanted to go in the Pacific Northwest within the next few weeks. We talked about a few possibilities, but finally came to the obvious conclusion: we would go to Opal Creek.
The initial drive was long but uneventful to Lyons, OR where we lodged for the night. It was difficult for her to walk after sitting in the car for so long. She responded well to her medication however, and we were able to enjoy strolling on the grounds of the beautiful house where we stayed.
The next day she couldn’t move her hands. I helped get her dressed, opened her medications, located a straw so she could drink water from a glass, and helped get her in a chair on the back patio in the warm sunshine. I figured if all we did was sit on the patio and enjoy the scenery then we would enjoy it to the fullest and call the trip a success. However, after several hours her hands and muscles loosened up and felt like she could go to Opal Creek.
In hindsight, I realized that our host tried to warn me about the difficult road (full of potholes and washboards) and the long trail (“a couple of miles”; actually four and a half). I’m glad I brushed it off because the magic happened that day.
Though the road was excruciatingly painful for her, the beauty of the scenery out-weighed the pain. The first magical moment was when we stopped near a bridge and watched the impossibly clear water rushing under it. Nikki had tears in her eyes, as she was able to feel joy for the first time in two and a half years.
We parked at the trail head and hiked the long trail into Opal Creek which was a mining community years ago, turned environmental/educational camp. On the way up I was able to explain how to meditate and convinced her that anyone can do it. We also talked about living in the moment and living in gratitude. We then proceeded to practice a walking meditation and “now moment” exercise . I could sense her “aha” flashes of insight and felt my own energy rising to pure joy.
Later at the camp the park ranger told us all about the history and of course asked us about ourselves.
I explained that I am a veterinarian and Nikki is the most talented veterinary technician with whom I had ever worked. She had to retire because she can no longer work, and we were doing a “bucket list” item by coming here. He looked at this vibrant appearing young woman and said “You mean you don’t want to work.” I saw her smile that didn’t quite reach her eyes and her voice turn to a well-rehearsed near monotone tone as she explained briefly about her illness. (Scleroderma with complications)
I helped her over to a bench so she could rest and chat with the ranger while I scampered all over the camp taking pictures of old mining implements and beautiful scenery. I also discovered a trail down to Opal Creek Pond which was beautiful and delightful, but one that I thought would be too difficult for Nikki to get to.
When we reunited, of course Nikki wanted to do just that. I told her how rocky and tree root-y a portion of the trail was and that I wasn’t sure if she could get down it given her balance issues. She insisted and so we went. I helped her get over the uneven ground, and she not only made it to the pool, it was her favorite part of the Opal Creek area. She said she felt “just about normal, like my old self.” It was music to my ears.
On returning to the camp, the park ranger hurried over to say good bye, looked Nikki in the eyes and said “I will remember you for a very long time.” Apparently they had an in depth heartfelt conversation while I was going about on my picture taking spree.
He then asked her to clasp his hands as he held them straight out in front of him and to squeeze tight. She did; then he said “Now I’m going to squeeze your hands tight.” The both simultaneously closed their eyes and stood that way for a minute or more. I could sense the power going between them. Afterward, he gave her a hug and wished her well. She told me later that it was a very powerful experience.
On the way back we were able to help two families with ailing dogs. The weather was hot and the trail was too much for overweight, out of shape, and geriatric canines. It was the last little miraculous thing—to do something that we are both passionate about. I’m sure it gave her a sense of purpose as it did me.
So, at the end of the day we not only checked off an item on one bucket list, we checked off two: Nikki’s desire to see a beautiful natural park and mine to make a difference in my world.
Here’s to an overflowing bucket!
What’s on your bucket list? Do you have a chronic illness or deal with chronic pain?