Outdoor moments cause ailments, cure illnesses in Pennsylvania
It’s amazing how one poor decision can lead to a world of hurt.
As I flashback to that fateful afternoon in late May, I can recall determinedly working a spring gobbler all morning. We had set up on him from four different locations, threw the kitchen sink at him in terms of calling, even lured in his hen to close range, but we just couldn’t get him to break from his inaccessible strut zone.
Having somewhere else to be, we reluctantly left that bird still gobbling on the ridge, and headed back to the truck. Now 1:30 p.m., I vividly remember how hot it had become. I was parched, my water bottle was empty, and we still had over four miles to hike back to where we had parked.
Traversing the gravel access road, I came across a spring seep draining down off the mountain into the roadside culvert. As remote as we were, I figured the water couldn’t possibly be tainted. I knew the risks of drinking mountain water, but I was desperate for a drink, so I filled my bottle and guzzled it down. It tasted fine and it quenched my thirst. We made it to the truck, I went about my day, and I pretty much forgot about the whole experience.
Around the first of June, I started experiencing on-and-off gastrointestinal issues. It came and went for most of the month. I’d have good days where everything was normal and then pretty rough days when I made constant trips to the toilet. Even at this point, I thought nothing of the water I drank on that mountain. I figured it was something I ate or drank the night before. Maybe I was allergic to gluten? Maybe I was developing Irritable Bowel Syndrome? Who knows?
I continued with my busy and active lifestyle – finished another school year, finished playing in my over-30 spring soccer league, worked on projects around the house and attended various outings to cover assignments.
It was on one of these trips that whatever was nagging me really hit like a ton of bricks. Fly fishing a mountain stream in the Poconos, I hiked about a half mile up the valley through a mountain laurel in full bloom. It was beautiful, but by the time I reached the truck, I felt like crap. I had developed a dry cough, and something just wasn’t right.
The group of writers I was with went out to eat before returning to the hotel, and it was all I could do to force down a beer and keep up with the conversation. I didn’t even finish my cheese steak and fries, which was really out of character for me, especially after fishing and hiking all evening.
We got back to the hotel. and instead of mingling with the others, I went right to my room, took a long shower, texted my wife that I was wiped out and going to bed early.
That night my cough worsened to an almost uncontrollable dry hack deep within my chest and I experienced chills and then hot spells and developed a raging headache. It was so bad that I woke up in the middle of the night and went to the hotel lobby to obtain a little travel pack of Benadryl. My thought was that I was having bad allergies from the pollen in the mountain laurel flowers or something.
In the morning, I took another long shower to try to steam out whatever was kicking my butt, got dressed and basically roughed it through the day. I went and met with the folks I was scheduled to interview, but respectfully declined the afternoon fishing that was planned and drove home early.
Now you know I must’ve really been sick.
The next day I was like a walking dead man. I spent most of the day on the couch with a fever over 102. When I started developing sharp pain in the left side of my ribcage and shortness of breath, my wife pretty much forced me to go to the doctor.
After a chest X-ray and some consultation, the doctor determined I had acquired lobar pneumonia in the superior lobe of my left lung. That explained the pain and coughing, but we couldn’t explain how a healthy, active, relatively young adult could get pneumonia in the middle of summertime. That’s rare.
While I was sitting in the doctor’s office, I decided to bring up the GI issues I had experienced over the past few weeks, almost as an afterthought. My doctor, who is a fly angler himself and knows I’m an avid outdoorsman, curiously asked, “You didn’t drink any water from a creek did you?”
That’s when the light bulb dinged in my head, and I realized I’m a complete fool. The likely culprit is that when I drank the water, I also consumed some sort of parasite, which led to Giardia, which I was too stubborn or too ignorant to go get treated. It basically wore down my immune system to the point that my body couldn’t fight infections properly.
Somewhere along the line, I must’ve been exposed to bad bacteria, which got into my lungs, and just like that, I was down and out. I spent the next 20 days on two different antibiotics, a probiotic, Mucinex DM, an inhaler, unable to do much of anything I really wanted to get done.
I was worthless — quarantined in my den, sleeping most of the day and trying to heal. With a limited appetite, I lost 14 pounds. I’ve had the flu before, but this was brutal.
Finally, the previously scheduled family trip to our camp in Lycoming County rolled around, and though I was still on antibiotics and fighting a nasty cough, I was feeling much more like myself. I decided to go for it, and I’m really glad I did.
It turned out the fresh air was good for me. I did some fishing on the Pine Creek, caught some beautiful trout and a few nice smallmouth bass. I even had the pleasure of helping my 2-year-old catch his first native brook trout from the cold mountain run flowing behind our cabin.
We had a lot of good meals, which I needed, and I just had a really good time relaxing at one of my favorite places on Earth.
After coming back home, I’ve been able to catch up on some writing projects and tinker around the house. I’m still not 100 percent just yet, I know that, but I am certainly feeling better.
Wednesday night, I even attended the local archery shoot a few minutes from my home. The air was cooler and less humid than it has been in weeks, the 15-target course was laid out really nicely, and despite slacking on my summer shooting routine, I actually shot better than I usually do. Maybe I just wanted it more.
Either way, it was really refreshing to be able to get back to doing the things that I love to do. Somewhere in the middle of the course, I just stopped and looked up at the green foliage on the trees. I listened to the birds singing and watched them hopping around the canopy above. I drew in a deep breath and smiled with a smooth exhale. It felt so good to be back out there.
Though my love for the outdoors has caused me some pretty difficult health issues over the past several weeks, I know it’s that same passion for being out and enjoying God’s amazing creation that will help me return to full strength.
After all, nature hurts and nature heals. I’m just excited the remedy is finally outweighing the ruin.