The First Aid kit was the first sign that I was in over my head. It was FedEx’d to me only a few short days before my departure for Belize and Guatemala. It was enormous—it wasn’t your home First Aid kit, you know, the little plastic white box with the red cross on its face, the Happy First Aid kit with band aids and Neosporin and little samples paks of Tylenol. No this thing weighed a good eight pounds and it was a true Bush Medical Kit with just about everything I needed to save a life that was dwindling away from loss of blood after a fall from the top of a Mayan Temple. And there was the book—the First Aid Book with pages I couldn’t bear to look at. I pondered the contents of the bag and figured that with all that equipment and the book, I could probably perform field heart surgery if I just put my little mind to it. My instructions were to carry the bag with me at all times during the trip. There was also a sheet of instructions for airlifting out with an injured trip participant. I was the designated attendee of the person to be airlifted. In the case of the Belize/Guatemala trip, we would fly to Houston. The in-country guide would have to attend to the other trip participants, but I would be Florence Nightingale and hold this mortally injured tourist's hand as we helicoptered to Texas. This seemed wrong to me . . . did I miss something in the pre-trip preparation package? Had a missed a paragraph instructing me to take a First Aid course, to be certified as an EMS professional before going on this trip? Nooo, nothing in the package said I was to take a class. Nope, it seemed that carrying the First Aid kit and being available to airlift with the injured was all that was required of me.
I was also instructed to carry a bag full of various snacks, sundries, and water. Crackers, trail mix, nuts, berries, chewing gum, chocolate, peppermints, sun block, Kleenex, and other items to bestow upon my wilting troops during hikes and the long bus rides. There was no mention of a flask of whiskey, something I would regret not thinking of myself . . . the ever-present hootch–in–the–pocket might have improved all situations that were to befall me.
I received a list of all my trip participants. As was ICO’s habit, the list was extremely detailed. I not only had names, addresses and ages, but I now knew the length of their membership of ICO, how much money they had donated over the years, interests (birds, plants, history), their occupations, their educations, whether or not they were associated with a family foundation (none of my participants were) and their giving "potential" as it were. This was the material for my reconnaissance mission . . . not only was I to lead these people through a foreign land, but I was to cultivate their future gifts to our fine organization. This was the seamier side of my duties. The good news was that two of the participants, a retired couple from Maryland appeared to be doctors—that solved my First Aid problem right there, they would know what to do with all that stuff in the bag.
But my good humor about the presence of doctors on the trip was counterbalanced by a letter regarding a participant by the name of Eloise Rockbottom; it was to be understood that she suffered from a heart condition and diabetes both of which she did not treat with drugs. It was to be further understood that her religious views, that of a Christian Scientist, required us to do nothing if she were to fall ill during the trip. Nothing. Now some might find this quite simple to deal with—if the old girl gets sick leave her alone, nothing to it. But this tickled my Worry Bone in the worst way. I began to come up with various scenarios in which I were to do Nothing. What exactly did Nothing entail? It seemed to me that there were degrees of Nothing that needed to be clarified. Did Nothing mean just not opening the First Aid kit and administering whatever pills, creams, tourniquets, smelling salts, and what have you? Or was it more extreme than that? What if she fell to the ground while hiking and couldn’t get up? Were we to leave her there? If she went into diabetic shock, were we to ignore the signs and just forge on without her? My familiarity with Christian Science was basic and somewhat skewed by my reading of Mark Twain’s Christian Science when I was a teenager. Christian Scientists at least apply Faith in the case of illness. Would Nothing entail some sort of call for us to have Faith that Miss Rockbottom would recover? You see? This order to do Nothing in the case of Miss Rockbottom’s potential mortality on my trip was not something I could just shrug my shoulders to—and as it turned out, her well-being would haunt me throughout the trip.
Finally, it was recommended that I pack a Thanksgiving centerpiece in my bag. We would be in the Tikal Inn in Gautemala, under the shadows of the magnificent Mayan temples on Thanksgiving Day and for two days afterward. “To create a festive atmosphere and make your American guests feel like they have a little bit of home with them consider purchasing some paper Thanksgiving decorations to adorn the dinner table with on the day of Thanks. It will surprise and delight them!” I immediately had a vision of one of those Hallmark Turkeys . . . you know the ones made with orange tissue paper that unfurls like a child's pop-up book and the turkey wears a bright cartoon-like expression. I decided to skip the center piece representation of Colonialism. I wondered how the Mayan hotel employees would feel about depictions of Pilgrims and Indians. And besides. I had no space left in my suitcase!
So there I was in the Miami Airport, weighed down by my First Aid Kit, my Snack Bar in a Backpack, and my duffle bag with a few t-shirts, hiking boots, a camera and a bathing suit. I was freshly vaccinated against all tropical diseases and I was high on malaria pills. I held up my sign: IOC: BELIZE and GUATEMALA and they came, like little birds. They all came to me and suddenly my list of names was now a group of living beings. I eyed them all carefully. They were a fit enough looking bunch. And dressed for the voyage ahead. Able to hike up Mayan temple mounds, snorkel the waters of the extreme western Caribbean, and hopefully withstand the bus ride . . . I would find that it was the bus ride that would be the most taxing on all of us. There were two married couples and the rest were single senior women. This phenomena seemed to follow the norm, they were widows or just-never-marrieds who liked to watch birds. Simple enough. But then my straggler arrived. None other than Miss Eloise Rockbottom and the trouble began. She took one look at me, pinched her face and said, “Are you old enough to leave the country without supervision?” and I laughed, even though there wasn’t the slightest tone of humor to her comment. My worst fears regarding her health and readiness for the trip were already realized. Her face was beet red from crossing the Miami Airport. She huffed and puffed and groaned as she lowered herself into a chair at the gate.
I decided to look out the window at our airplane. We were about to board Taca Airlines' flight number 152 and our plane was festooned with a Macaw. My fears regarding Miss Rockbottom were momentarily soothed by the colorful bird that would fly me to Belize. The thought of a great parrot carrying me away was thrilling and I wished that all airplanes were painted like birds, for the magic alone.