It’s been nearly a month since I last posted an update on Merav. The news, thank God, is all good.
Our eleven-year-old daughter seems to have recovered completely. No more pain, no fever, no jaundice. Whatever it was – and the doctors never were able to come up with a diagnosis – it seems to have passed and gone forever.
In celebration, we decided to go away for a few days of vacation. Friends invited us to join a camping trip and tiyul – the Hebrew word for hike – along the Jordan River just north of the Sea of Galilee.
Only two weeks earlier, Merav’s doctor had told her she wasn’t strong enough to participate in a hike sponsored by her scouting troop, but since then, she’d recovered so quickly and had been so full of energy, we figured why not. Plus we’d never seen that part of the Jordan. It sounded lush and lovely, even exotic.
The day started out promising. We left Jerusalem at 7:00 AM for the three hour drive to our starting point at the B’not Yaakov Bridge just east of Rosh Pina. Some of the group had gone ahead and parked their cars at Karkum, the hike’s end, so we wouldn’t need to double back on the hike itself.
We began by walking along the banks of the Jordan, watching groups of merrymakers in bright orange rafts and kayaks go sailing by, bumping down the mini-rapids in this stretch of the river.
Soon, however, the trail began to meander higher up the hill away from the river. Not quite as nice, but the Sea of Galilee was always in sight, its vast mass (for landlocked Jerusamelites like us, at least) shimmering in the near distance. We plowed on through the fields and enjoyed our brief respite from the pressures of work and technology.
As the path went on, though, the trees became sparser, and soon we were seemingly in the middle of nowhere, on a rocky hill entirely devoid of vegetation.
Well, not entirely devoid: thorn bushes assaulted us at every turn, tearing clothing and skin.
By now the day had turned hot and our relaxing hike had become more one of figuring out how to avoid getting pricked and how to stay to the path which was now overgrown by thick bushes, obscuring the black and white markers painted on rocks to mark the trail.
It was just about at this point, half way through the tiyul, that Merav started to poop out.
That’s also when we realized that none of us actually knew how long the trail went on. Someone had said it was a four to six hour walk. OK, was that four, six or possibly more?
Rule #1 of hiking in Israel: never go out on tiyul unless someone in the group has done it before.
“I need to rest,” Merav said, as she plopped down on a rock shaded by an especially large thorn bush.
The rest of the group continued on while my wife Jody, seven-year-old Aviv and I stayed back with a couple of other semi-stragglers.
We got up after a few minutes and continued, but it soon became clear that after nearly two months at home and a week in the hospital, Merav was not yet up to a trip of this length.
We rested again.
“Drink, sweetie,” I told Merav. She weakly grabbed the plastic tube extending from her shlucker, the water pack she wore on her back.
“Have some chocolate,” Jody offered.
“Don’t want,” Merav said. “My tummy hurts.”
And that’s when I lost it. “My tummy hurts” was her constant refrain during the height of her illness. It had stopped aching before we embarked on this journey. If it was acting up again now, did this mean she was heading towards a relapse?
I began to beat myself up with guilt. What were we thinking? Taking Merav on a tiyul so soon after she had been so sick. How irresponsible could we be? School started only a few days later, would she be out another two months?
We valiantly tried to continue but Merav wasn’t wearing her exhaustion well. At each subsequent resting point, she looked more and more like the girl I remembered from that hospital bed.
Chana, one of the members of our group of stragglers, broke with our refrain from technology and whipped out her cellphone to call our group leader.
“Where are you?” she said.
“About a half an hour ahead,” came the response.
“Are you near the end?”
“I don’t know where the end is.”
Mearv must have overhead the conversation. “I can’t do this anymore,” she whined and promptly lay down.
And then, just when things didn’t seem as though they could get any worse...
“Drink again, honey,” Jody said.
...we realized we’d run out of water.
And the sun started to go down.
So there we were, in the middle of a field of thorns, no water, our light dimming, and no idea how much farther we needed to go.
“We’ll have to call in the helicopters,” I said, no longer even trying to conceal my panic. I don’t even know what that means, “call the helicopters,” but it sounded like the kind of dramatic rescue we were going to need.
“Party of five airlifted out of perilous valley. News at 11:00.”
It was at that point when, leaping from the trail in front of us, like a superhero straight out of a Spiderman movie, came Tuvia, Chana’s son. He was on a day’s leave from the army where he serves as a medic and apparently had gone tiyuling on his own nearby. He’d been in touch somehow with our group and had arrived bearing water...and a strong back.
“Climb on,” he said to Merav.
Then he, along with his equally strong-spined father Tzvi, took turns piggy-backing Merav out until, another hour later, only a few minutes before the sun was completely down, we reached Karkum, the end point where our cars were waiting.
Merav collapsed into the soft seat of the car as we drove away from the hike area and towards the campsite where we’d planned to spend the night. The earlier members of our group had arrived before us and the hamburgers were already hot. Merav began to revive.
By the morning, she was sore, but feeling peppy and ready for more adventures.
Three days later, she went back to school for the first time since she became ill.
I still don’t think this particular tiyul was the best idea for Merav and her condition. But in a strange way, it served as the final test of her prolonged recovery. If she had crashed back into a relapse of her illness, we would have known that what she had was something chronic that we’d have to watch and wait for.
If, on the hand, she got through it with no adverse effects, there’d be no question that she’d had nothing more than a particularly inexplicable, nasty and long-lasting virus.
This may have been the most grueling exam Merav’s ever had to endure. In the end, though, she passed...even the thorniest of questions.
Today is Yom Ha'atzmaut in Israel. If you're going out for an Independence Day hike, I wish you a less gruesome tiyulsome!