On our excursion to the Amazon in Amboro this past weekend, I went head to head with mother nature, and she almost killed me.
Allow me to elaborate. When I say I had a near death experience this is not hyperbole, I literally experienced an allergic reaction in which my airway began to close, and I thought that I might suffocate to death. As we reached the final stop of our “short” hike on our first day in the Amazon and were getting ready to turn around and head back to camp, Laura slipped on some wet rocks, creating a huge scrap down her thigh and onto her foot. She asked me if I would administer first aid, to try and prevent infection from growing in her open wounds, and of course, I happily obliged. One of our two guides handed me the first aid kit, and I started to clean her scrape with hydrogen peroxide, and then put an antibiotic cream on it. As I was doing this, my fingers began to burn, not too badly at first, so I ignored it. As the pain increased, I noticed that my finger tips were covered in a white scaly substance. I figured that whatever this white substance was, was what was most likely causing my pain, so I plunged my hands into the cold water of the nearby stream and started rubbing them together to try and remove the white coating. This did not work, and the pain only intensified, growing from a light burn to an excruciating stinging sensation all over my hands. When I withdrew them from the water to see if I was making any progress with the white substance my fingers were red and very swollen, and I yelled to Laura that my hands were killing me. I put my hands back into the water, but the stinging sensation started to climb up my arms, and I quickly realized that my tongue and throat were beginning to swell up. I stood up and struggled with shallow breaths to say to Laura and Dr. Kate who had come to investigate the situation, “My throat is closing, I can’t breathe.” In that moment I genuinely thought that I might not make it back to camp, but fortunately, our guides were well prepared, and Dr. Kate was able to administer to me antihistamine from their first aid kit before my throat closed completely.
After I had been medicated, the whole group made a b-line for the trail, to try and get me back to camp as quickly as possible. The swelling in my throat and tongue that was severely restricting my breathing, combined with my sheer panic, and the seemingly blistering pace with which we were hiking back, caused me to hyperventilate. After stopping to allow me to catch my breath and calm down, we hiked the rest of the way back to camp, which seemed like an eternity due to the difficulty I was still having breathing, and how slowly I was having to hike. When I saw the path open into the clearing where our eco-lodge was, I wanted to kiss the ground, as I was so overjoyed to have made it out of that terrifying situation alive.
This experience not only reassured me of the fact that I am NOT cut out for “roughing-it” in the wilderness, but it also reminded me of the respect and reverence that I and all people owe to the earth. Mother nature can be beautiful and nurturing, but this experience demonstrated the strength and ruthlessness that also exists on our planet. It also gave me a newfound respect for the people who live not only in the Amazon but also in places like the salt flats and other places that don’t necessarily have access to modern comforts such as running water, electricity, healthcare services etc. It reminded me of their strength, resilience, and resourcefulness to be able to survive and thrive in what can be very hostile environments. There are Amazonian tribes that have existed in that very region for thousands of years, and yet I was only there for a grand total of about six hours before I had a brush with death. While I am certain that I will never return to the Amazon, I am in some ways grateful for the experience that I had, as it was sobering, and renewed my healthy fear of, and admiration for the great force that is nature.