Last summer, I almost died. It was the very first camping trip of the year, and we had just bought a new tent. It was a wonderful day, in the beginning. We drove into the depths of Colorado, a beautiful river winding next to us nearly the whole way. For lunch we stood in the rushing waters, munching on sandwiches and surveying the landscape. The sun beat down on the sand, and the rock formations around us practically glowed. We discovered an old wind chime in a nearby tree. It seemed haunting, this little antique still making pretty sounds even this far away from humanity. We left it there, dangling in the breeze.
After a few more hours, we reached our destination: the paradox of the Dolores River. Due to the geology of the area, the Dolores River cuts across Paradox valley, which runs in a transverse direction to the river. There is one particular point in which the River encounters itself, running the opposite direction. The two Rivers collide and continue down the canyon. On this particular occasion, we happened to find the exact spot where this occurs, and an easily accessed part of the bank. Right at the edge of the river, just a stone’s throw away from where this mighty river finds itself, we set up camp. Josh and I slept in our two person tent, and my dad slept in the back of my Trooper. It was truly beautiful, the towering sandstone walls of the canyon protectively sheltering us, the river rushing nearby. We observed many birds of prey, as well as bats and some smaller songbirds. The sky slowly grew dark, and a vast multitude of stars scattered across the black canvas. We had a small fire, and its warmth was a comfort. Eventually we all decided it was time for bed. Josh and I retired to the tent, and a feeling of peace descended. Held tightly in the arms of the man I love, I drifted to sleep.
It was his voice that woke me. We held each other and conversed quietly for a few minutes. I felt uneasy, but at first my sleepy brain couldn’t decipher why. We lay there for a while, attempting to fall back into the dark embrace. I struggled to breathe, and adjusted my position several times. “Are you okay?” Josh whispered as I sat up, taking deep draughts of air. I shook my head. “I can’t breathe. I’m sure it’s nothing, go back to sleep.”
“Do you want me to get the inhaler?” he asked. I considered it. Surely I could catch my breath? I hesitated for a few more seconds.
He crawled out of the tent and went to the car. I could hear him speaking to my dad, inevitably waking him up to search for the inhaler. I waited. In through the nose, out through the mouth. It wasn’t working. I crawled out and stood, toes buried in the cooling sand. Josh came to me and handed me the little red device. I took a hit and breathed deeply. Nothing happened.
“Do you want to go to the hospital?” were the first words from my dad. His hair stuck up everywhere as he hopped out of the car. I took another hit and waited. Every breath was harder, like trying to breathe through a straw. I made a split second decision.
Everything after that was a blur. I was seated in the car as they threw everything they brought with us haphazardly in the back. I clutched the inhaler tightly. Then we were on the road, the canyon walls no longer protective as they took form before the headlights. It seemed like hours, but could have been only minutes. I dragged air in, less and less each time. Josh’s hand was warm in my own, and he struggled to find a signal on his phone. I remember looking at him and begging, “Don’t let me go to sleep, don’t let me go to sleep.” I was sure that if I passed out, I would die. It all seemed so unfair. I had just found my soul mate, I was finally happy, and this was how it ended? So soon, it was over?
Finally, a signal. Bars in the dark. A frantic call to 911. We pulled into the town of Naturita, the neon lights from closed businesses glowing brightly nonetheless. We pulled over, and I walked up and down a small stretch of sidewalk, adrenaline flooding through me. I sat eventually on the cold curb, time almost not passing at all as we waited for the ambulance.
It came, all flashing lights and sirens. It pulled up next to my car, and the door opened to reveal the bright white light inside. Salvation. My angels were actually three amazing EMTs, an older man, a young guy, and a lady in glasses. I was tired and starved of oxygen, and I never thought to get their names. But believe me, I would have been lost without them. I sat in the ambulance and breathed oxygen through a mask, and with time everything evened out, my lungs opened back up, and I was okay. I never went to the hospital. In fact, on the drive home, Josh laid across the back seat with his head in my lap, exhausted. I didn’t go back to sleep until the sun started to rise. It was a terrifying experience, and one I don’t care to relive. It was classified as an allergy attack, spawned by what we burned in the fire.
The moral of the story is, never burn Tamarisk branches and always appreciate your EMTs, because they work hard.
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