|Kayaking in sight of the Alaskan coast.|
One of the toughest lessons many of us have to learn - certainly, I've found it to be - is that what may seem like a bad situation may actually turn out to be quite good.
Or at least do some good, where you wouldn't expect it to.
I've experienced many significant examples of this in my life. But none probably more so than when I got hypothermia in Alaska.
It quite possibly saved my life; at the very least, it resulted in a series of actions and incidents that might not otherwise have played out the way they did.
It was August, 2004. I was in Wrangell, Alaska, preparing to start a week-long kayak tour down the coast with a brand new company. The tour consisted of a guide and several other travel writers invited to go on this first-run trip to sort of test it out for the company, and help promote it by writing about it for various publications.
The day before the tour began, we went down to a quiet bay in front of the town to practise in-water re-entry to a kayak so we would be prepared in the event we capsized one in the water during our trip.
Now this can be a tricky manoeuvre if you have no previous experience attempting it. Although I had exited and entered a kayak while in the ocean before, that did not involve tipping it, first. It was also in the warm waters of the Caribbean as opposed to the fairly frigid waters in the Gulf of Alaska, a section of the North Pacific Ocean off the coast of Alaska.
Because we weren't going anywhere and we thought it would be a routine kind of operation, we didn't wear wet suits as we would be on the trip.
I was having a devil of a time trying to climb back into the kayak after righting it following my "capsize."
The guide came over to steady it and encourage me. That's when he realized things were starting to go south.
I think I heard him say, "Grab my boat and hang on."
I ended up back on shore, shivering uncontrollably. I couldn't get warm, everything seemed to be moving in slow motion.
Back at the B'n'B we were staying at, I was having a hard time talking, moving, focusing, and I was still cold while eating lunch.
I remember the guide saying, "When I saw your eyes roll back into your head, I knew you were in trouble, I knew we had to get you out of the water."
Someone said my lips looked blue.
So off they trundled me to the local hospital.
Turns out, I was hypothermic. They ran a series of tests, said I'd be okay, but the doctor said there was no way he could let me go on a five-day kayak tour given my condition.
So my trip ended before it began.
|Immature bald eagle on the Pacific coast.|
He said there were some odd readings with respect to my heart, something he could not definitely determine the nature of, with the equipment available at the small town facility.
He advised strongly to go to my family doctor back in Vancouver and get a better diagnosis done.
I did that, and was a bit floored by the result.
After performing all the proper scans at St. Paul's Hospital in Vancouver, my doctor told me I had a bicuspid aortic valve in my heart. It was a genetic condition I'd been born with, and eventually I would need surgery to correct it, probably within 10 years. In the meantime, I had to be sure to take antibiotics for any dental procedure to prevent the very-dangerous potential infection from getting onto the valve.
Armed with that knowledge, when I started experiencing odd symptoms continually in 2012, they performed an electro-cardiogram and based on the results, told me I needed to have open-heart surgery as quickly as possible.
That happened almost eight years to the day I got the news about my heart condition.
By November, I'd had surgery. By the following June, I was well enough to have re-scheduled shoulder surgery to repair a torn labrum. With some good rehab, I was back paddling by mid-August.
What brought this to mind recently was a video I saw on the Paddling.net Facebook feed, dealing with the topic of hypothermia and paddling. You can see the video below.
So - I am NOT for a second suggesting hypothermia is a good thing, it's a serious issue and one all wilderness travellers should be prepared to recognize and deal with. Do NOT take this as a suggestion to go out and get hypothermic to see what health issues you might have. (I feel I have to state this here, on the off-chance someone who's a Darwin Award candidate reads this and misinterprets the message.)
I began this post with the thought that bad things can produce good results, that from something bad, there can always spring some good. However, while we're experiencing the bad, it can often be a real challenge to keep that in mind; let's face it, it's tough to see the sunshine if you're stuck at the bottom of a deep mud-bog, trying to claw your way out.
But eventually you will, and you'll once again see the sunshine, you'll find the good from out of the bad.
So if you start to feel a sense of despair, or depression, or you're discouraged, try to find something that's happened in your life like my hypothermia, then remember how, even though it was a really crappy experience at the time, it morphed into something that brought some real good into your life.
Some tips about hypothermia.