First five days of vacation: spent time with son, finished project, visited nearby lava flow, visited volcano crater, and rode in ambulance.
During 15 hours scattered over five days, there I was, perched atop a stool at the dining table in the Hawaiian Jungle Hut, cursing my laptop. I have an understanding husband and a son with a busy, deadline-driven job, so I didn’t feel like I was ruining anyone’s visit (with the exception of my own).
The Hawaiian Jungle Hut, rented through airbnb, was our home for two and a half weeks. It’s located near Pahoa, a cute little hippyish town, best known on the mainland for the lava flow featured on the news a few months back. The flow, which was threatening to destroy the town or at least cut off its main roads in and out, has stopped, at least for now.* And it has hardened, where we stood at the leading edge, although underneath it may not have completely turned to rock. The flow was roped off and guarded by police. Only geological survey staff were allowed to walk on it.
The Hut or Hangout, as it’s also called, is a cute house surrounded by rainforest vegetation. Which wasn’t as rainforesty-looking as usual while we were there due to the drought in east Hawaii, the eastern section of the Big Island where Hilo is located.
So instead of cloudy days of on-again off-again rain—late Jan.-Feb. is the rainy season—we had mostly sunshine. Which, one would think, would be considered a plus. Not by us, however. Hilo, 20 miles from the Hut, is the rainiest city in the U.S.: 126 inches a year on average. And I want my rain. Well, not so much the rain, but the cloud cover.
I’m supposed to stay out of the sun; I was too much of a sun-worshipper in my teens and twenties. When I am in the sun—even if it’s traveling in the car on a sunny day—I have to wear what my niece, Sara, calls Aunt Virginia’s spackle: heavy-duty sunscreen, preferably with zinc oxide in it. Smearing on sunscreen, wearing a wide-brimmed hat, and trying to avoid the sun, as a way of life, is a pain in the butt. Hence, my penchant for clouds (which, I know, only mitigate the harmful rays). Jon eschews the heat, so he likes cloudy days as well.
The mountains of the Big Island, especially snow-topped Mauna Kea, which lie west of Hilo, barricade clouds moving westward over the island. Rarely do the clouds escape to the middle or west side of the island, known for a desert landscape and flawless sunny days. The clouds mainly dump water on Hilo and vicinity and dissipate. So if you want sun, all you have to do is drive for half an hour. When I’m on the Big Island, I always spend some time on the west, or Kona, side, so I get to see the sun. With the drought, however, it was sun all day most of the time. I think we had only one good rainfall during our stay. (And since water for the Hut comes from catchment, the basin had to be filled via tanker truck while we were there.)
Our visit to the steaming crater of Kilauea (kill o WAY ah), the active volcano, rendered unintended consequences. We drove to the caldera, situated in Volcanoes National Park near the town of Volcano—one of few towns in the state with an English name. While walking around the park Jon felt a little breathless. He thought it was because of the vog—sulfur dioxide from the volcano mixed with sunlight, dust, oxygen, and other chemicals—in the air. He’s had heart issues, as we put it euphemistically, so we slowed our pace.
Back at the hut, dinner was over and I’d just finished the dishes (Jon cooks, I clean up). I’d gotten comfy on the sofa and turned on my Kindle. I was in the middle of “The Goldfinch” by Donna Tartt. Her characters are so vivid you want to spend more time with them than with the real people in your life. But a mere sentence in, Jon announces his heart is racing. Oh, shit. For a second it’s “oh, shit” because I desperately want to be one with the sofa and I want my attention to be fixed on one thing: my book. Maybe his heart will slow down on its own.
It doesn’t. Now I’m scared. In a panic I dial for an ambulance. No one answers. I don’t even hear a phone ringing. What the what? Really flustered now, I watch as I punch in 411. For godsake. (Don’t depend on me in an emergency.) I dial 911 and the emergency operator has me count the number of Jon’s heartbeats during a timed interval. Then she calls for an ambulance. Firemen will arrive first, she says. And they do. And their blood pressure cuff doesn’t work. The fireman holds it up like it’s a dead squid.
The ambulance arrives and their cuff works. Yes, his BP is soaring. They pile Jon into the back of the ambulance. He wants me to come, too, rather than follow in our rental car. I sit in front next to the driver, a calm, engaging young guy. The whole ride we chat as if we’re seatmates on an airplane. He drives only moderately fast—Jon has stabilized—and rarely uses the siren. I’m yakking away as we approach an intersection and the driver sounds the siren till we pass through. “Sorry for the interruption,” he says. “You were saying?” That strikes me as hilarious.
The hospital staff can’t be more accommodating. They pull up a seat for me next to Jon, who now appears fine. (I never even saw the waiting room.) After several hours of blood tests, iv fluids, visits by the cardiac specialist, and a magnesium shot, x-ray, and ekg, it appears the palpitations weren’t caused by anything serious. The cause most likely was, drumroll, dehydration. (We’re usually pretty careful to drink a lot of water.) Jon’s cardiac surgeon back home, when phoned the next day, concurred: dehydration.
*As of March 18 some small breakouts of active lava have been found upslope of the leading edge.