I remember when I was in grammar school, being asked to write about how I spent my summer vacation. As an adult, I have been remiss and did not plan summer vacations on a regular basis, if at all. This year was different. This year, I took a long overdue trip back to the place my mother was born and raised in order to attend the biennial Cliburn reunion held at Camp Dixon, near Union, Mississippi. The last time, I was there was when I was five years old when my mother took my older brother and me for a long train ride from Baltimore, Maryland.
This trip was special for so many reasons. One of them was that I was traveling with my elder cousin, who is 80+ years old. He grew up in nearby McDonald, MS. He was going back perhaps for the last time and wanted to share his childhood reflections with me. He has an uncanny knack of spinning a yarn. His stories of being poor, loving life, living off the land, his memories of my mother, her siblings and my grand and great grands are priceless. I wanted to see the homestead thru his eyes and learn family history from my surviving elders who still live on or near Cliburn land.
We almost did not go, due to his health. You see, he lives with the pain of Rheumatoid Arthritis as well as cardiac disease. Over the past year, he has become more unsteady on his feet and cloudy with his thinking. Only because I am a nurse did his wife feel that he would be in safe hands should he decide he wanted to make this trip. (I am honored to have her trust.)
The plan was to fly to Birmingham, Alabama and rent a car for a three hour drive through Philadelphia, MS until we arrived in McDonald. I left the final decision to travel entirely up to him. If he felt safe, we would go…and go we did.
His wife drove him to BWI airport where I met him. He refused a wheelchair to the gate. “I need to walk or I will lose it” was his reason. So, we walked together at a slow pace with me close to his side opposite the carry-on luggage. We used the people movers where he could rest and he used my shoulder or arm for balance when in need. He leaned on the wall near the bathrooms watching over the luggage and I did the same for him, so we could honor Mother Nature’s calls.
We arrived at boarding, so there was no waiting in line. I had arranged for early bird boarding passes, so we had good selections for seating. I walked in front of him on the plane to help find our seats and lifted the luggage in the overhead bins. This part of the journey was smooth.
At Birmingham airport, the next leg of the adventure was finding the car rental. Of course it was a hike. We took our time—a southern stroll— as I began to notice a slight limp in his step. When I gently asked him if he was okay, he proceeds to tell me that he had pulled his hamstring muscle “a few times” over the past few weeks before the trip and most recently, a few days before our departure. “But, I am fine”, was his reply. So, the pain nurse that I am began a subtle pain assessment. I was relieved to learn there was no numbness or tingling, no buckling with his walk—he reported the typical “soreness rather than pain” you often hear from our elders—of a moderate intensity. By that time, we had selected the car, loaded the luggage and were ready to roll.
As he and I became familiar with the car and I set my phone GPS to our destination, I discovered a wonderful car feature. Yes, it had heated seats. Did you guess? So, of course, I suggested that he use that thermal technique (aka heat) during the drive. By the time, we arrived in Philadelphia and stopped for lunch, he reported the pain was GONE.
This trick came in handy on the drive back to Birmingham; three days later after he confessed that he lost his balance while bending over in the bathroom shower and over-stretched that same hamstring. This time, acetaminophen was added to the pain plan as he cannot take NSAIDs: one pill for the drive, with heated seat on and another (5 hours later) as we were on the plane home. On arrival, he was comfortable and his wife was relieved to see he was in good shape. So was I.