By some stroke of magic, there’s a sliding-scale clinic in Dillon where office visits only cost $20. I don’t have insurance and I’m paying for everything out of pocket, so this is kind of amazing. There’s hardly anyone at the clinic, I don’t have to wait, and everyone is super friendly and non-condescending. I don’t understand the healthcare system in our country at all. Why does this clinic exist? Why in Dillon? Why not have one in every town? I mean why not?
The doctor is baffled by me. Extreme fatigue, near-constant dizziness, this weird flu-y feeling in my brain. No digestive upset. Going on two weeks now. What could it be? I already tested negative, in Missoula, for anemia and parasites. The doctor agrees to test me for Lyme, although it’s rare in Montana- only 14 reported cases in 2013. She also tests my heart, and draws blood to test my thyroid. I’ll get the results in a week. I leave the office feeling incredibly bummed, and on the walk back to the KOA convince myself that I’ll have to get off trail and that I’m definitely dying. Whatever I have- why isn’t it something that other people get? How come no-one knows what it is? What else could it be but impending death?
Back at my cabin I lay in bed and think about how I should organize my life, now that I’m basically dying. I want to write another book, that’s obviously my first priority, but what if I’m too sick to write, in these last months/years before my death? What if I’m too dizzy to focus on a screen, and I’m not able to write at all? How awful would that be to die without even getting the chance to write another book? Or, what if I only live long enough to complete a first draft? What good would that be?
I fall asleep curled around the window that opens onto my bunk, faded checked curtains fluttering against my face, the sound of children playing in the pool.
I sleep for hours. When I wake it’s late afternoon and the world seems to have righted itself, as though by magic. I get up, eat blueberries and canned chili I got from the store. I try to sit on the porch swing but I’m too dizzy, so I go back to bed. I start googling things again, trying to figure out what’s wrong with me. I find this article by a doctor who’s seen patients with giardia whose main symptoms were similar to what I have. Maybe I have giardia after all? And the test in Missoula was a false negative somehow? Also… I have sulfur farts. I’ve had them for a while, actually. Doesn’t that mean it’s giardia for sure?
I fall asleep again to the sounds of windchimes on the porch and a mouse, skittering around in the dark.
The mouse. The mouse is in my stuff! I wake up in the dark middle of the night to hunt it down and shoo it out the door but the little beast is nowhere to be found. I lay down to sleep and there it is… skitter skitter skitter. The crinkling of plastic bags. I jump up. Where is the fucking mouse? Finally I give up. Little mouse, do what you will.
In the morning I call the clinic. Will they give me giardia meds without another stool test? No, no they won’t. But there is a super fast stool test at the hospital here, called bio-fire. It only takes two hours! The stool test of the future!!
I meet up with the doctor at the clinic again. She has my records from the doctor in Missoula.
“I’ve been looking at these,” she says, flipping through pages. “They tested you for a bunch of different parasites… but they never tested you for giardia.”
They never tested me for giardia? I spent the whole day hitching to Missoula, dragged my friends along, spent the next day waiting at the doctors and paid for the visit out of pocket, all so that I could get tested for giardia. I asked them to test me for giardia, and they said that they did. I asked the doctor. I asked the nurses. They said that they would. And then they tested me for everything but that.
“We’ll test you today,” says the nurse. “But it’s unlikely that you have it, as you don’t have any gastrointestinal distress.”
“But I have the sulfur farts,” I say to her. She looks at me kindly, as though I’ve lost my kind.
A few hours later my phone rings- it’s the nurse with the results from my bio-fire test.
“You have giardia,” she says. “And e-coli.”
The relief I feel is immense. I’m in pizza hut with a woman named Annie Mac, a triple-crowner who’s trail angeling right now, en route to some epic adventures. I put down the phone.
“I have giardia!!” I say to her, excitedly.
I pick up flagyll at the safeway pharmacy. Ugh, I hate flagyll. Anything is better than how I’ve been feeling, though! Annie Mac is giving me a ride to Lima- Track Meat and Spark should be getting in this afternoon. I have a large pizza for Spark, and some fried chicken for Track Meat. And beer.
I’m exhausted by the time we get to Lima, even though it’s only three in the afternoon. I sit in the dirt eating blueberries, listening to my friends chat. Spark and Track Meat are covered in dust, and their faces are sunburnt. I bailed in the middle of this section, which means that if I start hiking with my friends tomorrow, I will have skipped fifty miles of it. But you know what? Fuck it. So fifty plus the seventeen I skipped in Anaconda- 67 miles. For anyone who’s counting.
Before bed I play a game of magic with Track Meat and Spark- and I win! They’re so busy defending against each other that they don’t notice me, with my trample/death-touch super-beast. Mwah ha ha!
It may just be coincidental, but I don’t feel as dizzy tonight, after just one dose of the antibiotic. I lay in my sleeping bag behind the motel where we’re camped, listening to the cars go by on the interstate, and hope that I start to feel better in the morning. I just want to hike. I just want to be able to finish this trail.
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