Collapse

We stumbled back into camp. It had been another draining day. The temperature had dropped and it was still raining. A cold, steady, heavy rain with dime-sized drops that stung the exposed skin. I wondered if this survey was worth the effort. The area looked promising, with abundant ungulate feeding sign, but we weren’t finding many leeches. Apparently the ectoparasites had more sense than we did. They had called it quits, retreating, I would guess, back into the dark confines of the leaf litter. They may not have an advanced central nervous system, but they were smarter, I thought, than the team of two-legged bipeds that was hunting them. We dropped our gear to the ground and hunkered around the campfire. I felt terrible. My fever was raging. My thoughts were jumbled. I looked at our team. They were miserable. For some reason the image called to mind the lines of a war poem I had read years ago. Bent double, like old beggars under sacks / Knock-kneed, coughing like hags, we cursed through sludge. Was that right? Or was I misremembering the lines? It didn’t matter. Either way, I thought to myself, things must be pretty bad if the current state of affairs was best summarized by a trench-warfare poet. Or maybe I was just being melodramatic. Yes, that was probably it. After a few hours rest I would be fine. I trudged back to my hammock, peeled off my wet clothes, and crawled into my sleeping bag. I was still shaking.

I woke up in the middle of the night with pain shooting through my abdomen. It felt like white-hot shards of shrapnel were tearing through my midsection. I tried to call out, but the sound died in my throat. All I could manage was a dried rasping that was inaudible over the rain. I cringed as another attack jolted through me. It was beyond any pain I had experienced. I tried to call out again but it was no use. I was too weak, and the rain was too loud, hitting the tarp with such force that it sounded like the snarling of a snare drum. I was awake now. For wide-eyed awakeness, these abdominal cramps were better than the strongest Vietnamese ca phe sua da one could buy. I tried to clear my head. I reasoned that, with enough painkillers and a muffled pillow to scream in to, I could handle the pain, but I didn’t think I could stand the cold much longer. I wrapped myself in my sleeping bag and stumbled to the campfire. I made it halfway there before collapsing.

When I came to I saw a halo of concerned expressions hovering above me. The image was blurred and distorted, as though I was underwater looking up at a group of poolside faces. Someone was supporting my head, which, judging by the throbbing in my right temple, had taken a hard knock. After that my memories get fuzzy. Perhaps that’s just as well. I remember waking up in agonizing pain, screaming so loudly that I felt my lungs would burst, then passing out. Repeat. It must have been quite a night, because when I became fully conscious again at daybreak, the team looked equal parts concerned and surprised that I had made it through. Den, in particular, looked as if he was staring at a half-ghost. I curled up next to the fire and listened as the team discussed what to do. Den came over and told me that they had to get me out of the forest. Now. I was going to be evacuated.

Anh Thanh searching for leeches
Anh Thanh searching for leeches during a rare break in the rain
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One thought on “Collapse”

  1. I have some small appreciation for your description of cold and wet. Not only a miserable state to be in but dangerous as well. Take care.

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