It was just a teeny-tiny fever, hardly enough to cross the line from cold to flu and I was such a good girl, staying home from work, sleeping , sleeping. So when my friends Deborah and Tony called to ask if I wanted to go snowshoeing in Great Falls Park a week later . . . I so excited I bounded through the halls. It is the tail end of the virus, I told myself. There is just a touch of congestion and you know how breathing cold air clears your nose like nothing else.
Truth be told, after a few days inside I was prowling like a tiger in a cage. A record snowfall had hit the D.C. area the prior weekend and I had yet to be out in it.
The sun was bright on the snow. I got out my cross-country skis then decided, no, I probably was not up for the exertion of cross-country skiing. I would splurge for new snowshoes. A quick call to Tony, who was at REI in Seven Corners, and I was on my way, riding the metro dressed like Nanook of the North in my red Norwegian anorak with the real wolverine ruff, my wooley sherpa hat and gaiters. I was a little worried the metro pooh-bahs might not let me take my old bamboo ski poles on the metro (could those pointy metal bits at the ends serve as weapons?) but no one said a word.
Deborah and Tony fetched me from the East Falls Church metro stop and we were off. In the parking lot, Deborah and I tried on our new ultra modern snowshoes while Tony opted for something that looked more akin to elongated badminton rackets–I am sure they were made to be hung criss-crossed on a ski lodge wall and not to be actually worn–but he said he liked them even though he could not lift his foot more than a few inches and the back point dragged in the snow. The snow was breathtakingly beautiful and I could not wait so I forged on ahead while Tony and Deborah fussed with their equipment. Back and forth I went in deep snow, sinking in a bit less with each repetition as I cleared a section of path. This is a lot of work, I thought as I sucked in air, then womp, womp, womped my way back to where I could see the car a few hundred feet away.
Now Deborah was heading toward me on her snowshoes, Tony was still a the car . . .
At last we were all together in a exquisite winter wonderland. The late afternoon sun cast a golden glow between shadows of slender purplish blue tree trunks, a sight so stunning that you wanted to howl . . . if only you had the breath.
“Let’s cut up on the ridge instead of going all the way to the Potomac,” I suggested. “I’m feeling a bit tired.” Tony and Deborah were happy to accommodate me.
Up on the ridge the view was even more spectacular: mounds of snow rounded the tops of rock outcrops, the river a silvery ribbon of light. I was ecstatic . . . and exhausted. One foot in front of the other, I reminded myself as I let Deborah and Tony take the lead. How did they get so far ahead, so quickly? No matter. One foot in front of the other. During my short bout of flu I had read, Holding On, an inspirational book by Jo Gambi about climbing the seven summits, the seven highest peaks on each continent with her husband, Rob. Now I let her description of burning lungs on Everest inspire me.
Deborah came back and asked if I could pick up the pace. It was, after all, getting late. I didn’t think I could, but with one foot in front of the other I was happily progressing. “You usually have a lot more energy than this,” Tony observed and I agreed. “Why don’t I go for the car,” he offered. Was it really so far away? But I was so tired, so I nodded happily.
At the fork in the path, Tony left us. We had only a few hundred feet, a gradual grade down to Georgetown Pike to go. I assumed Deborah and I would reach the road waaay before Tony got back with the car. But then there he was honking, waving . . . and driving off. There was no where to pull over in the deep snow. I was grateful that the path was so gradual, so even. One foot in front of the other.
There he was again, this time headed the other way on 193. He honked and waved, then drove off. Again. Then again.
Now we were almost there and my cell phone was ringing. I knew Tony would be coming from the other direction because the last time he paused and waved he was headed west, so when there was an opening in the rush hour traffic Deborah and I popped off our snowshoes and crossed the road. There was no where to stand, the cleared part of the road was just wide enough for the cars, which thankfully were at that moment all going in the other direction. “If a car comes we will have to climb onto that,” I told Deborah motioning to the slowplow slush which had hardened into a jagged, dirty border a few feet high. My phone was ringing again. This time I fished it out. It was Tony. Are you there yet?
Now a car was coming around the curve in our direction but in a second we saw it was Tony. By now it was dark. He stopped, and traffic quickly built up behind us as we hopped into the car.
Back at their home Deborah and Tony handed me cups of hot tea. Less than an hour later, a plate of wonderful food. I was so sleepy. “I am going to draw you a hot bath,” Deborah announced, “and put out a pair of pajamas.” What a good idea, ahh heaven. While we waited for my husband to fetch me, they turned down the bed and brought me a decongestant. It was so nice to have someone taking care of me. I crawled into bed and went to sleep. The next morning Tony called Kaiser and made an appointment for me, just like a dad. Then he drove me over and Sam met me there. My oxygen levels were a little low. My voice was gone. My chest was tight and it was hard to sit up on the exam table. I just wanted to sleep. After a breathing treatment a ragged cough tore at my chest but it felt good to have it loosen up a bit. The doctor popped in and announced that I sounded worse, but not to me. Not to me.
It was asthma. It has been four years since I had had an asthma attack, so many years that my body had completely forgotten the tell-tale signs. I am glad I did not know. I would have been frightened had I known.
That was on December 23. I am still living in frogland, with a frog voice that rivals even Kermit. I think I am getting better. Slowly. But my voice still sounds like a raspy croak. I know I am better because I am up most of the day. But I still need care and my husband and I are adjusting, he to taking care of me and me to receiving.
And that is the news from frogland where the women are tired and the men have to do hard things.