I once taught a class called “Road Trip!” with an exclamation trip. It was a sophomore-level introduction to literature course focused on the journey as metaphor. On the reading list was Jack Kerouac’s On the Road, a book that I really don’t like very much. The other works featured road trips of a kind, starting with the archetypal road trip, Homer’s The Odyssey, which served as a framework for the class. Other works on the list included fragments from Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales, Twain’s The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, Faulkner’s As I Lay Dying, Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath, Nabokov’s Lolita, Hunter S. Thomson’s Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, and some others, including L. Frank Baum’s The Wizard of Oz for extra credit. The class seated 35 students, but on the first day, 125 students showed up hoping to crash the class. Upon seeing the syllabus, maybe half of the students departed, which left a good many still disappointed as I was forced to cut off enrollment at 35.
The class attracted wannabe Beat generation and granola types. They knew more about Kerouc and Thompson and the beats than I ever cared to, so I was able to put them in charge of delivering the content for that part of the course. I did my homework, of course, and led them to some ideas about the books that they hadn’t considered as well. The class was so popular that I was approved to teach it a second time.
At the conclusion of the course, I gave out evaluations asking the students which reading we did that they liked the best. Almost universally, they responded that they enjoyed Homer’s The Odyssey the best. Obviously we read it in translation. But I was surprised by that choice, considering their preference for Beat generation-type writings. The classics resonate with people timelessly for so many reasons, which is one of the definitions that make them classics.
So I know a thing or two about Road Trips! with an exclamation point in the abstract and in art. But I’ve also taken a great many road trips in my life, especially cross-country, or cross half the country and back. In August 2018, my girlfriend and I moved from San Diego, California to New Haven, CT with her mom accompanying us. We filled two cars to the roofs, with a luggage carrier on top of the one, and a week (plus) to make the trip.
We had several months to plan, so that made everything easier. I sold almost everything I could, donating things that wouldn’t sell, and practiced loading the car a couple of times to make sure everything would fit. I would have to drive my Toyota Rav4 by myself because my small SUV was full, including the passenger’s seat. The girlfriend’s Toyota Corolla was filled but they kept space in the front seats for the two of them to ride comfortably. For some reason my girlfriend’s mom wanted to do most of the driving.
Of course, to orchestrate this monumental move, everything had to come off without a hitch. As I said, we had months to plan and practiced packing and had everything worked out. The girlfriend’s mom would arrive the day before our trip and we would finish packing that day and then head out bright and early in the morning on August 10. I would have my last day of work on August 8, giving me the 9th to pack and clean, and then we’d hit the road. My girlfriend could clean out her shared apartment and stay with me for a couple of days so we would only have to wash down the one bedroom on the morning of August 10th before we headed out, having reduced everything to our change of clothes for the driving day and a blow up mattress. We even had a AAA Trip-Tik, and a plan as to where to stop each day, including some sight seeing destinations (St. Louis Arch, Niagara Falls) and a visit to my distant relatives and the girlfriend’s friend, who were both coincidentally in Ashtabula, Ohio. Our lists were crossed off, and everything went very smoothly . . . until it didn’t.
I’m not a believer in multi-tasking. Neurologically, we must perform one thing after another, even if our brains allow us to do those things very quickly. But it’s still one thing, then another, then another. Of course, when you get multiple people involved, you can do many things at the same time, just like an orchestra can play multiple lines of music on different instruments simultaneously, sometimes in harmony, sometimes dissonantly.
On August 1, I got sick. I had a pimple in my nose. I thought it was on the surface and tried to express it. But it was deeper. And it became very sore and inflamed, and then my nose swelled, like a clown’s or a TV drunk’s. And it was incredibly painful. It was also oozing a bit. I was working at a deli counter at a grocery store, so I couldn’t work with that ailment. I thought I would just let it do its thing for a day or two, rest up, finishing up the packing that I could, and it would clear up. But it kept getting worse.
At the time, I was also nursing a sore thumb, which I thought I might have hurt at work, but I wasn’t certain about that. My work was steady so I never got enough time off to see if some rest would improve my thumb. It was a sore spot under the webbing in the fleshy part of my thumb, a little bump under there, and it was also incredibly painful each time I went to cut a sandwich. I looked forward to some rest so the thumb could improve prior to our trip.
My nose got worse and worse. It was the most pain I had ever had. I didn’t really have access to a doctor at the time, and with moving, had no real time. I also had no medicine. I went to the emergency room. I sat there for 6 hours and when they finally saw me, they took a few tests, said there wasn’t really anything they could do, and they said to take some Tylenol and some antibiotics and rest. But the pain got worse. By the next day, the pain was excruciating, and I went back. I sat in the emergency waiting room again for 6 hours. This time they said, “well, it’s a MRSA infection, and that antibiotic we gave you won’t work. Here’s another medicine to take.” They still hadn’t given me anything for the pain. Finally, they gave me some hydrocodone and some extra strength motrin. My nose felt like a big red balloon. They tried to express it, but that didn’t work, so they stuck a needle into the end of my nose three times! I cried and held the girlfriend’s hand through that excruciating procedure. The aspiration amounted to nothing. There was nothing there though it felt like it. It was just that damn MRSA having its party. I learned that MRSA – the dangerous kind – is actually present in most of our bodies. It’s the same MRSA that leads to dangerous infections in hospitals. All I knew is I needed MRSA to stop the party. I had moving to do.
Over the next couple of days, the medicine took effect and I began to improve. It was nearing my last day of work, and I had missed almost a week of my last week. When I woke up on August 7, after a week off work, I couldn’t move my thumb. It wouldn’t bend. It had completely stiffened up. I thought maybe there was a reaction with the medicine. And then I figured out that this really was a work injury, but I was running out of time as I was quitting that job. I called my boss, told her about the MRSA, and then told her about my thumb. She was peeved that I hadn’t told her about my thumb injury sooner, but she understood when I explained to her what it was like. So now I had to file for workman’s comp, and see a slew of doctors on the last two days I was going to be in town.
So in those last two days, between packing boxes, helping my girlfriend pack the last of her things and clean her apartment, and cleaning my apartment, I had to juggle doctors appointments for two ailments – my thumb, now a workman’s comp claim, and my nose. My nose had cleared up and the doctor’s were encouraged that it would heal normally and not come back, though I had to practically bathe in Hibiclens, a surgical scrub – a 4% chlorhexidine gluconate solution.
As for my thumb, they got me in to an orthopedist immediately, who diagnosed a trigger finger (the second one I ever had). At this point, when I tried to bend my thumb, I couldn’t, though once in a while I could and it would pop or snap or click as if the tendon was getting stuck and then gave way. I was given a brace so as not to click it, and had to drive across country with the brace on my wrist and also had to do exercises for my thumb.
The last two days were filled with doctor’s appointments, 4 to be precise, cleaning my apartment, packing the cars, and resting. I don’t tbink I got to bed until almost midnight, the night before I left San Diego for good at some way too early time in the morning to beat Friday rush-hour traffic.
I’ve had much practice orchestrating other moves or multi-event work functions, so all of my practice came in handy when faced with these obstacles to our well-made plans.
Our cross-country drive went well, though we got tired and had to be less aggressive with miles made per day near the end of the trip. Moving into a 6th floor apartment in August humidity without a service elevator was another unforeseen obstacle – exhausting and sweaty.
As a final note, my nose completely healed, though now I suffer from a kind of trauma whenever my nose itches inside. I clean it with hibiclens as a preventative. No more MRSA outbreaks for me, thankyouverymuch! My thumb, however, was much more problematic. It took me many months to get authorization from the California worker’s comp office to see a physical therapist and then orthopedist. I went to PT, and he claimed it just needed stretching and exercise. The brace they put on it was counterintuitive to what the PT guy thought should be. It needed exercise, not stability. So off came the wrist and thumb braces. But still I couldn’t bend it properly. The orthopedist gave me two cortisone shots that did nothing. So we spent three months trying to get approval for a small surgery to cut the ligament so the bump could pass through and improve the movement range of my thumb. As soon as we got the approvals, which were good for 6 months, I scheduled the surgery, but then I was out of work and finally found a temporary job, which I couldn’t leave because the surgery would keep me out for 2 weeks. The temporary job was very physical and required me to use my hands (moving books) in a different way than at the deli counter. The exercise actually improved my thumb, and though my surgery approval passed without the doctor ever even reaching out to reschedule, I didn’t need the surgery anymore because I’ve regained 95% of my thumb movement and reduced the pain to almost nothing.
At the end, the orchestra plays those final notes, all together – Da-Dummmm! And there is rest. And applause.