Snowy MtnAs the months fly by, and signs of spring slowly emerge from the warming earth, I pause for a quick glance back.  What have I accomplished?  Where (and how) have I spent my time?  What do I have to show for my efforts?  Is my “life by design” materializing?  Or am I just wandering around, a little lost perhaps, stuck in a proverbial rut that never seems to relent.  These are questions I am sure plague a lot of us from time to time.

Last Friday night, I unknowingly stepped into a black abyss that I mistook for dark earth, and found myself airborne, before falling 12 feet down a cut-off slope and back-landing on a tree stump.  The impact was brutal.  I rolled over on my side gasping for air, sucking in tight, excruciating, miniscule breaths.  I pulled my legs up into a fetal position and laid there in the river muck, my head spinning and my chest tightening for who knows how long.  

Eventually, I realized that I had to get up and get my butt outa there.  I knew I had done more then just knock the wind out of myself.  The stabbing pain in my chest and the taste of blood in my throat were clear indications.  But I still had to climb my way to the top of the washed-out slope and get myself home.  I was in Lynn Valley and I had to walk up over Braemer Avenue – a high mountain ridge road – to get home, a trip that, on a good day, takes me 25 minutes.

As I groped through the darkness, my headlamp flickered on and off with each assured movement.  I eventually managed to crawl up the slope, grabbing roots to gain access to the trail that I had been happily running along earlier.  I was wobbly as I got up, wrapping my arms around my rib cage, taking short breaths, and telling myself to keep walking – it was a long way home.

Forty-five minutes later, I stumbled through my door and slunk onto the living room carpet. I wrestled off my shoes, slid out of my jacket, and crawled to the washroom where I pulled myself up in front of the mirror.  I was as white as a ghost.  Cold beads of sweat dotted my brow.  I heaved a wincing cough and spat out a wad of blood-soaked phlegm.  Oh crap, that’s not good, I should probably get to myself to a hospital, I thought.

I felt woozy, as though I might be going into shock, so I dropped back down on all fours and breathed slowly and steadily.  I then crawled over to my phone, called a cab, and prayed I would be coherent when the taxi showed up.

Hospital TeaIt was late the next day when the first craving hit.  I was in the acute care ward at Lions Gate Hospital, and had not been out of bed since arriving there the night before.  Through the haze of pain meds, I caught a glimpse of a tag fluttering beside a to-go cup held by a nurse whizzing by the foot of my bed.  A cup of tea!

I wanted a cup of tea.  I needed a cup of tea.  But how did I go about getting a cup of tea?  I knew there was a café downstairs, but I had arrived with no cash in hand.  Grudgingly, I settled for ice water this time, but I was going to be in the hospital for four days, so I had to figure out a way to get a good cup of tea.  When the dinner-order lady came to ask what I wanted for supper, I said tea first.  She asked if I wanted anything to eat besides tea. “I’ll take whatever is on the menu tonight,” I said.

When 6:30 PM rolled around and the food trays started arriving, I was handed a tray with a dark green dome hiding a horrible piece of fish, a blue bowl half-filled with something similar to soup, and a very small, very dry-looking tea bag sans wrapper.  I grabbed the little sac, pressed it to my nose and sucked in.  Not stale, but bad, really bad.  It was Argentinian for sure.

Screw it – it would have to make do.  I looked around for the cup and hot water.  Nothing.  I blurted out an expletive and saw the nurse look over from her station.  “Are you in pain?” she asked.  To which I whined, “I’ve been waiting all day to have a cup of tea and they bring me a tea bag with no cup or hot water?  What am I supposed to do, suck on it?”  I said it with more sarcasm than I intended.  It was certainly not her fault, yet I could tell in that moment any goodwill I may have garnered throughout the day with nurse Helga had now vanished.  It wasn’t until the next shift settled in well past 8:00 PM that the night nurse took pity on me and nuked some tap water in a plastic cup so I could finally dunk the scrawny bag.  It was indeed awful, but that really didn’t matter.  That cup of tea was about something else, something greater.  It was about reflection, solitude, and healing.  It was about gratitude.

I have four fractured ribs, pulmonary contusions, and a lot of fluid in the left lung.  I am down for a long spell while my body mends.  Not to worry, though.  My bases have been covered with many helpful hands.  “Friends in need are friends indeed,” as cliché as that sounds.  I will absorb the downtime and re-acquaint myself with that side of tea that we really require, yet rarely find time to truly indulge in.  Tea connects us to ritual, to history, to something larger and more wonderful than our nanosecond of existence here on earth.

As bad as that hospital tea tasted (and you can see from the photo that I added milk), I felt truly fortunate.  It was yet another near miss in the outdoors that I will eventually walk away from.  And, in the meantime, the tea afforded me the opportunity to sip and then savor the soft pillows at the back of my head.  The tea gods surely must have other plans for me – for which I kindly thank them.