My Camino is over. I painfully walked about 31 miles over three days before realizing that I needed to stop. Perhaps I should say, “I walked 30 miles painfully” because only the first mile out of St. Jean Pied de Port was without some distress. Once the road started to ascend, the struggle began.
Initially it was difficulty breathing on the continuous climb that gave me concern. Stoping every 400 yards to catch my breath soon became every 100 yards and finally every 10 feet. I didn’t remember feeling this distressed on the accent last August; however, I just assumed that I wasn’t in top shape anymore since I had not been running lately. I rationalized that only walking 6 or 7 miles most days on a relatively flat surface was not enough conditioning for the Camino.
By the time I reached Orisson at the 4.8 mile mark, I was totally exhausted. There was no physical way I could have continued. Then after arriving in Roncevalles, I noticed the discomfort in my left calf as I walked around the village. I thought nothing of it and fully expected to make good time on the much more level surface to Zubiri the following day. Yet from the outset on day two I was hurting. By noon my normally steady, 3 mile an hour pace had been reduced to less than 2 miles an hour. And my normal gait was transforming into a limp.
Since I had only sparingly used the one trekking pole I bought in St. Jean for my first Camino last year, I had decided to forgo poles this time around. Realizing how desperately I needed something to lean on, I quickly regretted that decision. Momentarily alone, with not a Pilgrim in sight ahead nor one behind me when I stopped to look over my shoulder, I remember offering up a short prayer for assistance. Gazing to my left, I spotted a Godsend just off the trail. A slender stick, about five feet in length, protruded from a small pile of tangled vines.
Even though I had to walk down a slight slope to retrieve it, the slender, almost straight limb became my companion for the remainder of my walk. I smiled as I left it standing in the corner of my hotel room early this morning. It almost had a glow about it, as the light from the streets of Pamplona shone through gossamer sheers, onto its bark, in the pre-dawn hour. It had served me well over the final 20 miles. But much occurred between the finding of the stick and the leaving it in my hotel room.
Yesterday morning I spent about two hours contemplating my options, and there were many. While enjoying two cups of “cafe y leche y tostado,” I even tried to book an Airbnb for four nights to rest in Pamplona. Without results, then I looked at train schedules thinking I could skip ahead and reduce my Camino to maybe 200 or 300 miles after several days of rest. I even considered the possibility of leaving Spain and traveling some in other European countries. Finally I got a bag of ice from my waitress and returned to my room.
While lying on my bed and icing the calf, on what would have been a beautiful day to hike, I read articles on my phone that related to my injury. I had treated a strained calf from running more than once, but something made me think that maybe there was more. I also re-read some encouraging emails from friends. In one, the line, “but maybe (please!) think about seeing a doctor” caught my attention. At that moment I thought that maybe I should.
A very long, almost 9 hour afternoon, and early evening, began as I asked the clerk at the hotel directions to the University Hospital. She recommended a nearby clinic instead that was close enough to walk to. Clinics in Spain aren’t unlike those in Georgia. There was paperwork, a consultation, a wait, and finally an examination of the injured leg. The young female doctor spoke very good English. I was grateful since I had relied on my Spanish with the registration and the consultation.
After about fifteen minutes of a thorough check of the injured area (by clinic standards), she told me I needed to go to the emergency room at the hospital. One of the nurses called a taxi, and I waited outside for about ten minutes for it to arrive.
When I walked into Hospital de Navarra, and saw the almost full waiting area, I reminded myself that I really had no place to be and to be patient. Like at the clinic, there was registration, an initial examination, blood tests, an extended wait for results, an ultrasound, a diagnosis by the radiologist, another wait, and finally, an explanation of the diagnosis with the doctor, and a strong suggestion that I discontinue my Camino and return to the United States. So I am taking the doctor’s orders.
I have a deep vein thrombosis running from just below my knee (where my initial discomfort began) to my lower calf. I was injected with medication and given instructions for treatment of the blood clots.
Sometimes as a fit athlete, even in our later years, we tend to overlook possible life-threatening signs. My leg was sore, it was swollen, it had a very red coloration, my resting heart rate had increased, I was de-hydrated, and the symptoms weren’t markedly improving. The decision to seek medical help was obviously the right one.
For six months I have checked my Delta app almost daily to see how many days until my flight to Madrid. I’ve improved my Spanish quite a bit and learned more about the pilgrimage. I’ve had the opportunity to speak on four occasions about my journey across northern Spain last year. And I’ve tried to learn more about the Catholic Church and Mass. Now, only six days after I flew from Atlanta to Madrid, it is over. But most of all I am grateful for the medical people who treated me in Pamplona. With God’s grace there will another Camino. When that will be, I do not know. What I do feel is that one day I will walk again, as a Pilgrim, along the Way, and stand before the Cathedral of St.James…..in Santiago.