Again I woke up covered in sweat, feeling hot, feverish and scared. As I tried to determine my whereabouts, a series of irregular loud bangs caught my attention. I had heard plenty of electronic buzzes, beeps and squawks during the previous few days, but there was something very different going on now. Between bangs I could hear laughter, mature at times, but mostly from young people.
Those previous noises were generated in my room at Brookwood Medical Center in Birmingham, Ala., where I had been under observation during a bout with an exotic and stubborn flu strain. Although not quite the relaxation I would have wanted, the competent medical staff had extended ample Southern hospitality during its barrage of medicating, testing and questioning. All the while my body temperature fluctuated like the temperature gauge on a K-car towing an Airstream travel trailer over the Rocky Mountains in mid-July.
But now there was no hospital smell. I could feel a soft duvet on my chest. Birds chirped while a cool breeze blew across my face. The light was so brilliant I had a hard time opening my eyes. Then I heaved a sigh of relief realizing this fever was actually the heat of the sun shining through the huge open bedroom window at Dell and Carolyn Hill’s Selwood Farm, a private hunting preserve an idle hour’s drive east of Birmingham where I had come to convalesce for the weekend after my semidelirious visit to Brookwood Medical Center.
Focusing on the scene out the window, I realized the banging sound was coming from a group of people shooting at clay pigeons that a half dozen mechanical gizmos were flinging across an open field.
“Pull … Twang … Bang … Bang … Bang! Laughter, more pulls. More bangs. They were obviously having a great time.
Yes, although being sick on the road is far from my idea of a good time, I was happy to hear someone was having fun out there. But after a particularly bad bout of the flu, feeling weak and disoriented, I just wanted to be home.
Over the previous 25 years, with personal challenges and jobs taking me through some 75 countries, I had been lucky when it comes to illness. There were episodes with a rebellious digestive system, sore throats and the odd toothache, but there have only been a couple of times when I really felt things were spinning out of control.
In 1997, on the eve of Pakistan’s celebration of 50 years of independence, my wife, Lisa, and I found ourselves in the Marriott Hotel in downtown Karachi. We were preparing for meetings to determine safe and expeditious transit routes through Pakistan for an upcoming bid to establish a new record for world circumnavigation by car.
I thought, since the next day was a holiday, it would be a good time to send a newsletter to the 350 contacts on our mailing list. Obviously recipients would enjoy a letter from Pakistan postmarked on its 50th anniversary. So after writing it, Lisa and I went to a nearby bazaar and bought the biggest postage stamps we could find to decorate the envelopes.
That night while watching festivities on the streets below from our white-on-white hotel suite, Lisa stuffed envelopes while I licked more than 300 postage stamps, indifferent to Lisa’s warnings about the glue. When she reminded of a Jerry Seinfeld TV show episode where one of the characters dies poisoning herself after sealing discounted envelopes, I scoffed it off with, “Oh, that was just a TV show.”
By midnight, the festivities below had died down and we were staring at a fine stack of stamped and sealed newsletters that I felt confident would amuse and entertain. So with a thick tongue, I retired.
A few hours later, the process of ejecting the poison from the Pakistani stamps from my body commenced so violently that, by daybreak, I thought I was losing consciousness. In retrospect, I’m certain that if I hadn’t been in a first-class hotel with an in-house doctor, my level of dehydration would have put me in a very dangerous medical situation. The hotel doctor gave me an injection that enabled me to keep down oral medication, reversing the out-of-control situation in which I found myself.
During recovery, which was surprisingly quick, I was subdued by the thought of my fragility and how quickly things had spun from normal to desperate.
The Alabama experience had all the elements of the Karachi stint. It was sudden, surprising and I could feel myself deteriorating to a level where I quickly needed medical help. Thankfully I was close to a respectable medical facility.
Lying in the hospital room watching the clock provided plenty of time to think about what may have fueled my downward spiral. Forty-eight straight workdays with a ridiculous level of sleep deprivation. Changing hotels almost every day. Constant problem solving and deadlines. An I-can-do-anything attitude.
It also gave me time to feel sorry for myself. Poor me, I missed a few days work. Poor me, I can’t go do my power walk today. Poor me, I’ll probably still feel weak for another few days.
I looked out the window of Dell and Carolyn’s guesthouse. The open meadows surrounded by tall graceful pines and distant oak trees looked fluorescent in the spring sunshine. The shooting was still going on. So was the laughter and sense of excitement.
Then, as I focused my gaze on the shooting stands, I noticed something that made my self-pity seem rather insignificant. All of the shooters were in wheelchairs.
Garry Sowerby, author of Sowerby’s Road, Adventures of a Driven Mind, is a four-time Guinness World Record holder for long-distance driving. His exploits, good, bad and just plain harrowing, are the subject of World Odyssey, produced in conjunction with Wheelbase Communications. Wheelbase is a worldwide provider of automotive news and features stories.