Sumeet Jain
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19 Jul 2011

Omaha Loop

Thursday, July 7

I left for Omaha early in the morning. Watching the sun rise during a long-distance drive will always be one of my favorite kinds of experience.

Road to Walden, CO

For about 4 hours, I enjoyed such scenes as the above as I drove through various Colorado state highways. Once I reached Cheyenne in Wyoming, I had about 8 hours of boring interstate to look forward to. Not a problem though - that’s what audiobooks and singing loudly to pop music are for.

I spent a week in Omaha, where I had an experience that was essentially equivalent to the first time - but also unique its own way. I really do love visiting Omaha and spending time with my family there. The time passed too quickly.

My next destination was St. Louis.

Thursday, July 14

As usual, I began my drive very early. Much of the direct route from Omaha to St. Louis follows the Missouri River, which had flooded recently. There were indications that the flooding had affected traffic on I-29, which would have been the quickest path; so I took some detours through smaller highways in Iowa and Missouri instead. Staying off of the major interstate resulted in a more interesting landscape during the drive, but it also increased the amount of attention I needed to pay to directions. I think it was worth it. I did make sure to keep my gas tank full, though.

I checked into the Huck Finn Hostel in St. Louis around 6pm and then found a coffee shop to get some work done. After dinner, I met some locals at Square One Brewery. They were kind and eager to know about me. As much as I tried to move the conversation to other things, all they wanted to know about was India. They were very careful not to offend me - asking repeatedly for the correct term to use for things. “Is Indian offensive? Do you prefer to be called Hindi?”

Friday, July 15

The Gateway Arch is the tallest man-made monument in the country. It’s a steel monument near the riverfront in St. Louis downtown, and it is worth seeing.

Gateway Arch
Photo by SkylineScenes

What’s unusual about the Arch is that it’s most impressive from a distance. Up close, it’s a large, steel arch. Big deal. But from a few blocks away, you can’t help but stare. It’s so unusual. It looks like an alien spacecraft landed in the middle of a city.

Distracted

I should confess that the previous evening and this day in St. Louis were enjoyable but not ideal. I was distracted by the thoughts surrounding an important career (and therefore lifestyle) decision1. Sometimes it’s nice to walk around a new city while mulling things over in your mind. But in this case, the decision was consuming enough that the city was just a distraction. So I left.

Saturday, July 16

I enjoyed clarity of thought on my drive to Hawn State Park - about 90 minutes from St. Louis. I would think, camp, cook simple meals, and return with a decision made.

Hawn State Park

I arrived in the afternoon, chose a marked campsite near the water, and took a walk around the creek. Then I made dinner, cleaned up, and settled in for a night’s rest.

The noise was deafening. As the day faded out, every creature in the woods seemed to come alive. Croaking, snapping, scratching, chirping, singing. The cacophony built over the course of an hour. I can only guess when it peaked, since I wasn’t there for the finale…

Snakebit

Dark had fallen. Amid the heavy noises of the night, I emerged from my tent to use the bathroom. The path back to my tent was lit sporadically by my headlamp. I didn’t see the slithering creature beneath my feet, but it saw me.

A rapid motion. Intense pain.

0.0 - 0.4 Seconds:

I jumped up and away from the source of the pain. It was immediately obvious that I’d been bitten by a snake. I’d seen the shape of the creature. I wanted to be elsewhere right now. My heart rate rose dramatically.

0.4 - 0.9 Seconds:

Gripped by fear and pain, I yelled some very bad words very loudly.

0.9 - 1.0 Seconds:

I felt bad for any nearby families who heard my outburst.

1.0 - 1.3 Seconds:

Forget the families. I just got snakebit. Find help. Relax yourself - venom spreads faster when you panic.

I found three college kids at a nearby campsite and hopped over to them. “Hey guys, I just got bit by a snake. Do any of you know much about snakes?” They stared blankly at me from their seats. One shook his head. “Can you please get the camp supervisor? He might know a thing or two.” One of them replied: “Dude, I don’t think there is one.”

I regretted my choice of helpers. “Yes there is. He’s the guy you paid when you entered the park - he stays at the first campsite by the entrance. Let’s just go there together - get your car please.” They complied, and we drove to the camp supervisor’s site. During the brief ride, I glanced at my ankle where I’d been bitten. Two drops of blood indicated the fang marks where I’d been bitten. Fear began to rise in me again, so I resumed deep breathing exercises to keep my heart rate down.

The camp supervisor asked me what kind of snake it was. “I don’t know.” I felt stupid for panicking in the beginning. I should have had the presence of mind to get a look at the snake.

The camp supervisor explained to my helpers where the nearest emergency room was. They drove me to Farmington (Farmington!), where the nurses took over my care. I thanked my helpers and told them they could leave - I was going to be here for a while.

My nurse gave me a wonderful drug called demerol. It made me feel very, very good. I might have made romantic advances towards the nurse in my stupor. I don’t remember. Everyone wanted to know what kind of snake had bit me. I wished I knew.

Copperhead Snake

I spent three nights in the hospital. Since my heart was still beating and I wasn’t paralyzed, vomiting, or screaming, it was decided that my snake had been a Copperhead. Venomous but not really anything to be worried about. My foot and some of my leg swelled up - a lot. After the third night, I asked to be released. Farmington’s hospital didn’t have wifi (Surprised?), and I was going mad.

I informed the doctor that I would drive to my nearest family. “Where is that?”, he asked. It was back in Omaha - 10 hours away. He was surprised but recovered quickly. After checking me over once more to make sure I would be okay for the drive, he left the room to “get some stuff”. I waited. Twenty minutes later, he entered the room with a garbage-size bag full of snacks and bottled water! And he had the nurses prep two ice packs to keep my foot cool during the drive. Farmington, you’re A-OK in my book.

The nurse wheeled me down to my car (which another Farmington resident had picked up from the campsite for me!) and got me settled in. I couldn’t walk yet, but I could hop around easily enough.

I blasted the AC and began my drive. Straight to Omaha with one stop for gas, which was an awkward experience since I had to hop around the gas station and bathroom. I was back in Omaha by 10pm - greeted by loving family. My aunt hugged me gently and asked repeatedly what she could do for me. My uncle gave me a beer and couldn’t stop laughing at my puffy foot.

  1. More on the decision in a future entry.