Chapter 24: The Road Trip
Getting through New York was as you would expect it to be – very busy and soon after, we were cruising through the long narrow state of Pennsylvania. Harkamal and I talked for the first half hour or so, then we just let music on the radio or some Punjabi songs on CD fill the air in the van. Rajan was sound asleep as we were driving. After a couple of hours, I instinctively reached for his colostomy bag by feeling it over his clothes and realized the bulge.
Since we were not anywhere close to a rest stop, I pre-warned Harkamal that I was about to vent the bag. As an intervention, I opened the window of the rear passenger side just slightly to air out the unpleasant trapped methane. It always made me wonder how such a little baby could produce such a strong odor! Opening the window for a few minutes also provided the opportunity to be refreshed by the cool winter breeze. It had turned dark and we had not really had a proper lunch. Obviously, we were hungry. As we drove, we noticed an exit with the standard fast food restaurants sign coming up. We debated if we should take the exit and with the exit approaching so quickly, decided to take the next food exit. In retrospect, every decision we make – seemingly simple, has consequences.
The consequences, just like the decisions can be ordinary or major. We cruised for another two or three miles past the exit, only to be met with vehicles coming to a rapid halt and to add to that, it looked like a long line of tail lights – all at a standstill! We came to a screeching halt from 70 miles per hour – a few miles past our last opportunity to have had dinner. However, we were in the middle of nowhere in Pennsylvania. It was a dark still chilly night and light snow kept falling off and on. Ok, we were in a traffic jam. So what? Should clear up soon…right? The rhetorical question remained unanswered after 30 minutes of no movement.
We were getting impatient just sitting in the van and decided to venture out of the van to see if there was any movement in traffic at all. Harkamal and I took turns stepping out into the cold exterior, each of us coming up with the same conclusion – miles of stopped cars and trucks ahead of and behind us and no sign of any movement.
We were trapped, we were immobilized and we were hungry! Also, our van’s location in the long traffic jam happened to be high up on somewhat of a cliff. After a long nap, Rajan woke up hungry and I fed him a bottle of prepared milk I had brought with me in the van. Then our own hunger pangs were getting stronger and the “traffic jam induced” anxiety seemed to make the hunger feel worse than normal. It was more than an hour into the traffic jam standstill.
We joked about whether there was enough baby food that we may have to dip into. Then it struck him… the two remaining samosas! Harkamal said a mental silent “sorry” to his wife and we dug into the samosas savoring them as if they were the last piece of food on the earth… actually they were in our van! The gas tank was almost half full…Good, at least we didn’t have to worry about freezing in the middle of a traffic jam as long as our car continued to idle and provide us with the much needed warmth.
It was a noisy environment with cars, trucks and busses – all in the mix of the traffic jam helplessly idling away their gas or diesel engines and staying warm in the cold winter night…waiting for the traffic jam to clear. As all the people helplessly waited, most didn’t know what had happened. Almost everyone guessed it was an accident but no one could tell how long it was going to take to get traffic flowing again.
Then there was some news that was spreading between people waiting in the jam and we caught wind of it in the occasional “stepping out the van to see if anything ahead of us was moving at all” episodes. The rumor was that a semi carrying gas or some flammable liquid had rolled over and the haz-mat (hazardous materials) control team had to do a complete clean up before anyone could move. The rumor made sense but now we were pushing past the two and half hours of being in a standstill.
It was also a time for other urban legend stories / theories to be told and Harkamal told me one such theory. He said that he had heard that if traffic jams last more than two hours, there is a decent chance that someone in the middle of the line of waiting traffic falls asleep and further delays the traffic jam indefinitely although the jam in front of that person is cleared. Based upon this theory, we were definitely at risk and after hearing that, my frequency of “taking a peek” at the line ahead automatically increased. Time seems to appear to pass very differently in such situations.
The mind tends to be pre-occupied with anxiety, fear, anger, and irritation and all this is supplemented typically by thoughts about the consequences of the delay as well as all the things you could have been doing if you were NOT at a standstill. Rarely do we tend to think of what ELSE we COULD be doing while we are not able to drive. It was perhaps somewhere around the three hour mark, that the traffic finally started moving from the absolute stillness that had preceded for what seemed like an eternity and just like that… vehicles small and big overcame their forced inertia and the much desired “movement” took over.
Such situations are also realizations of appreciation for what our vehicles do for us. The simple fact of our personal transportation vehicles being able to transport us over hundreds of miles turns from something we take for granted to becoming a “real” aspect of appreciation even if it is for just a few moments.
In retrospect, I look back at the incident of the traffic jam and several other situations that followed and wondered about what ELSE I could have done with my mind when the “desired outcome” is primarily led by people or factors completely outside of your control and one important idea came to my mind – “Prayer”. It doesn’t matter whom you pray to or how you pray, just the act of doing so channels the mind from the multitrack emotion filled status to a singular track and is typically associated with an automatic “calmness” as you try to get through the difficult situation. Whether such an act influences the actual outcome, can be debatable and ends up being a personal preference. When it comes to choices in such situations, you could spend your time filled with anger, helplessness and despair or in hope and calmness.
The anticipated 9 to 10 hour journey was now significantly delayed and we had no idea of what else lay ahead of us. The remainder of the journey through the long state of Pennsylvania was uneventful. Soon, we were crossing borders and into the state of Ohio – accompanied by a sense of accomplishment of getting closer to our destination. Only a few miles into the drive and everything started to look blurry. The weather had turned worse and the air was filled with large snowflakes – a great wonder and beauty of nature – but one we couldn’t appreciate at this time.
We quickly realized that we were in the “snow belt” of Ohio. We slowed down to protect ourselves from sliding off the expressway and to help us actually see whatever visibility the falling snowflakes and our old Chevy van’s headlights would allow. While we had largely become impervious to what time it exactly was, looking at the clock we realized that it was close to 3:00 am.
Fatigue, low visibility and the slow speed and progress toward our destination finally made their impact on our decision making and we decided to take the next exit and pulled over into an empty but well- lit gas station. As the van came to a halt, we finally let our minds and bodies rest and take a much desired nap after the crazy part of the journey we had endured. As the van with its (thankfully) large gas tank idled, I desperately hoped for Rajan to continue to sleep for just a little longer and let me take this much needed nap. My prayer was answered and Harkamal and I reclined the driver and passenger seats and slept for a good hour and half while enjoying the unbuckled feeling.
When we woke up, I offered to drive, but Harkamal did not feel comfortable taking care of Rajan, so he continued to drive for the rest of the journey as well. After having rested, we took our own bathroom breaks at the gas station, refueled the vehicle and felt the distinct optimistic and confident feeling of completing the rest of the journey in “good” time.
The rate of snowfall dropped and the sun was coming out and everything seemed better as the morning showed us promise of getting to our destination that day. We cruised along, took an exit to grab brunch and after approximately five hours of almost non-stop driving, crossed the state of Ohio and half of Michigan to arrive “HOME”.
Harkamal dropped Rajan and me off at our house. As I carried Rajan in the car seat up the driveway, we were welcomed by Sheri and Mavshi, for whom it was as much of a relief to see us as it was for me to be home. I handed over our precious cargo “Rajan” to Sheri and she held him close giving him and me kisses as we entered the house.
It was one thing to endure a tough journey, but it was another to do so with a baby and one with colostomy needs. I felt a huge relief in terms of having got through and done “well” with taking care of Rajan – something I was quite nervous about when I had started the journey. As I stood in the shower and let the warm water wash away my built up stress, I reflected on the sequence of events:
Preparing to go to New York — Missed flight — Delayed arrival at New York due to snow storm — Missed appointment with Dr. Peña — Staying at Harkamal and his buddies bachelor pad — Appointment with Dr. Peña — Receiving a prognosis report card for Rajan — Scheduling of his next surgery in Long Island, NY — Missed flight back home –Adventurous ride in Harkamal’s van.
Then I breathed a long sigh of relief and rejoiced the simple fact that Rajan and I were back at home and concluded that we had a “successful” trip. Perhaps with every milestone we crossed, our capability to successfully deal with the “long bumpy road” seem to incrementally improve. Rajan’s journey had become as much of our family’s journey as it was his own. We were glad to be together as a family for the next few months.
patient family experience