I have been coming to Japan almost every year for the past three years to do the Shikoku Pilgrimage (四国遍路) a 1,200 km walk around the smallest of the four main islands. Traditionally a pilgrim walks between the 88 temples to honor the Buddhist monk Kobo Daishi (弘法大師 ) the founder of Japanese Buddhism. Today many use cars and public transportation to get from temple to temple but some still walk between the temples and it can last for several months. I do not have the time, so I return to every year to do bits and pieces based on the time I have.
Kakurin-ji (鶴林寺) Temple 20 sits on 800-meter mountain. Tairyu-ji (太竜寺) Temple 21 is on top of a nearby mountain of the same height. The path between them is tough. I had climbed to Temple 20 and rested for maybe 30 minutes before making the trip down the mountain to reach the base of the second mountain. The steps leading down were steep and uneven. On my back, I had my 8 kg backpack and three liters of water, but it didn’t prepare me for what was to come.
The momentum of the bag and my desire to find sleep before 6 pm made myself push harder. The views were beautiful. The cedar trees smelt great. The mosquitos were biting my ears. The rivers of sweat were pouring out of my body. It was good but time was pressing. My heart was pounding. The only thing I had eaten was some noodles a few hours before, and I drank as much water as I could. I could no longer taste it.
The downward steps gave way to a road and then more steps where I rested for a bit. Continuing, I could feel water I drank rushing back up my throat and spit it out without giving it a thought. There were the sounds of leaves rustling and strange animals. It made me walk quicker. My heart was going even faster. My muscles ached. I wouldn’t make it to the next temple and needed a place to sleep soon. The animal sounds were coming from everywhere.
I got to a fork in the road. The next temple was 4.5 km away up a mountain and making it would be impossible in daylight. I sat down. There was an old woman tending to her garden. I went and tried to ask her about hotel/inn, but it was of no use since she didn’t speak English and couldn’t tell me where I needed to go. The sounds of animals heard before were coming from directions where there were no trees or grass. I was hallucinating. Then it started.
I was grasping for air. I could hardly breathe. My heart was pounding. I couldn’t feel my fingertips. My first thought was I was having a heart attack. I tried to find the old lady, but she was gone. I walked around trying to find someone: anyone. There was an old man. He was yelling at me to go away.
I just found myself repeating the word “help” over and over again with each breath. A small brown car stopped. They couldn’t speak English. I just said help. They took me into their car. I searched frantically for the word doctor in a phrase book. There was a hospital nearby and was hoping to go there. We didn’t and went to a small doctor’s office in the country.
They asked me to take off my shoes, but I could barely walk or breathe. They took me to the doctor’s office, and I collapsed. No one spoke English. I had pain in the chest as well my fingers and toes were numb. No on spoke English, and my phrasebook was useless. They gave me an aspirin. They fiddled with the oxygen tank. They tried to help, but I was being difficult. I shouldn’t have been but I was scared.
The ambulance arrived and I was more relieved because they spoke better English. There was a point where I passed out. When I awoke it felt like everything happening to me was a dream. It wasn’t real, but it was. They moved me to a stretcher and into an ambulance. They were going to take me to a helicopter. I was scared again.
The only thing running through my mind was how was I going to tell my love. What was I going to say? The fear of making him worried. I didn’t want him to worry or come here. I was also worried about telling my parents. I didn’t want to scare them either.
We got to the helicopter, and the medic spoke better English. She said we would be going to Osaka or Tokushima. Someone kept wiping my forehead. Someone held my hand. I was comforted but still was scared.
It was going to be to be Tokushima. The flight was only 5 minutes. They put headphones on my and I was left with my thoughts. I thought about those who refused to help in the village. I was angry but had no energy. My love dominated my mind.
We got to the hospital and was rushed into Emergency Care. I was placed on another gurney but almost fell off because of my weight. The heart surgeon said it could be a heart attack, but they had to check. I’d need a CAT Scan and was rushed through. I thought about the costs for all of this. I thought about the time I would need. I was scared but relieved to be in better hands.
After the CAT Scan, I was taken back to Emergency and became a curiosity. There were 5 or 6 people around me at all times. They did their tasks and tried to help. I thanked them a lot while explaining what happened. The woman came about the money – $1000 US. I had insurance but need to find out how to use it.
The CAT Scan came back – no heart attack. Everything is fine. It was an extreme heat stroke with a kidney failure. I needed to spend the night in the hospital. They moved me to the Intensive Care Unit.
The room was private. IV drip was going. A machine-checked my blood pressure every 10-15 minutes. I was uncomfortable. My mind was all about the next steps and what to do for the next few days. I need to recover – sleep, water but I need to eat healthier and eat less.
But rest was most important.