My friend David took a chance on penicillin. He has been suffering from a most hideous bacterial infection called klebsiella which has resulted in his body becoming a mass of internal ulcers that have needed drainage, surgery and physical washing. This on top of surgery he had for another situation, extremely unpleasant in its own right. This nightmare has played out over months with David and his doctors trying every treatment known to medicine. Discomfort all round. Operation upon operation. Horrible.
Eventually DRP’s doctors told him they had exhausted all options and the only alternative left was intravenous penicillin. But therein lay the rub – David is allergic to antibiotics. Has been since he was a child. So he had a choice – die from the septicaemia, or roll the dice on a drug that could kill him. But he’s no shrinking violet, so roll he did – and he survived. It seems he had outgrown his childhood allergy.
Through all of this DRP has been posting updates on Facebook so his many friends in myriad places could keep in touch with his treatment. We all watched in horror as cure after cure was crossed off the list. The inevitable seemed, well, inevitable. But our mutual friend kept himself (and us) moving forward with his mix of graphic detail, frankness, fear and humour. At one point making me snort coffee through my nose when he described his partner’s reaction to what he thought was a seizure during the antibiotic infusion (David was scratching his butt).
I’ve just come back from a couple of weeks travelling through KwaZulu-Natal and Eastern Cape: two of the most impoverished provinces of South Africa. The reality of road trips is less poetic than the sweetness of the description. Diverse personalities, control issues, disparities in social position and income, the stain of apartheid, bad information, entitlement, taking advantage, blame, a GPS that directed us wrong, delayed flights, tiredness, un-thought through utterances, projected stress: all reminded me what I loved and hated about living on the road. I can still do it, I understand the vagaries of this kind of travel, god knows I did it for decades, and I can roll with the punches. But, frankly, I was delighted to get home …to my family, to my dog, to my bed, to my place.
To David’s news that the penicillin had worked, that the infection was under control. That he was on the way to recovery. That he was grateful for the small things. A swift reminder that I needed to woman-up and appreciate what the past weeks had meant, what they had taught me … especially if I put my moany ego aside and took a clear look at the scope of what we had done and the detail of what we had achieved.
So – in honour of David – I want to reframe my narrative, re-draft the description and retell the story:
+ the reality of road trips is less poetic than the sweetness of the description.
Yeah – well this is all about managing expectations. Our cars worked perfectly, we had enough petrol, we had money to pay for both. We got to hang out and drink wine together, eat lovely food, meet new people, see some beautiful places, sleep next to an ocean, stay for free in someone’s holiday house
+ diverse personalities, control issues,
Mine as much as any one else’s… and all coming from a place of personal experience and need to do things right. But we each moved in the needed direction – doing what was right, agreeing to be part of this work… above and beyond our own issues
+ disparities in social position and income, the stain of apartheid,
we addressed it as best we could through our everyday approach to the people around us and the work we do. We showed respect, tolerance and humour to each other and those we met along the way. Did our best, did pretty well, gritted our teeth, smiled, let it go
+ bad information, entitlement, taking advantage, blame,
The individuals who went above and beyond to help us, gratitude and respectful thanks, humility from people who are doing incredible work in desperate circumstances with limited resources, the incredible gift that has grown from one person’s determination to change the status quo and her unstinting follow through
+ GPSs that directed us wrong, delayed flights,
a satellite that worked most of the time – getting us where we needed to be, planes that took off eventually and brought us home
+ tiredness, un-thought through utterances, projected stress
a reminder that the real baggage of travel is the unseen that we bring with us – and the real journey of travel is the acceptance of other people and realisation that we all have our shit to carry on.
As Herman Melville said – all of travel “..is not down on a map. True places never are.” The real learning is in the distance we go internally. The mind’s eye selfies that capture our emotional response to the miles we travel. The go-forward decisions we make when we are on the most dangerous journey of our lives.
So, I dedicate this to my road tripping companions – T, B, S and J, to David Ross Patient and to all the good people of this goddamned incredible country that I live in – thank you for reminding me how far I have come. And how far I still have to go.
(* with apologies to Dr Seuss. All images copyright campari&sofa)