Cross-Country Road Trip: Magic Medicine in Grand Canyon National Park

Previously: Cross-Country Road Trip: Speeding Tickets and Cold Water Rafting in Arizona’s Glen Canyon

After our easy rafting trip down the upper portion of the Colorado River, we slowly made our way back to the campsite on the shores of Lake Powell. Slowly, because I learn from my mistakes with speed traps. But also because we were all weary from the hot Arizona sun, the cold Colorado water, and the satisfaction of a lifelong mission checked off the proverbial list.

Campground cooking and a whiskey nightcap led to an early and welcome bedtime, and all four of us needed the rest. With a relatively short drive to the North Rim of the Grand Canyon ahead of us the next day, we agreed to a luxurious late-morning wake up and a brunch of leftover steak and biscuits on the road.

But adventure is unscripted, and the dawn roused us with the sound of Ben coughing and running a fever. Angela had not ventured forth unprepared, and she began plying him with over-the-counter medicines.

Ben rested easy in the back seat and soon said he felt better, so we sallied forth, through the Kaibob National Forest and on to the Grand Canyon’s North Rim. The views were stunning as we wound through surprisingly thick pine forests and past herds of grazing livestock perched precariously on sloping meadows and dubbed “mountain cows” by Angela and the boys.


A “mountain cow” sighting

Ben championed through the journey, laughing and participating happily along the way. But when we made camp that afternoon in the heart of Kaibob, only a few miles north of the Grand Canyon itself, Ben’s fever returned with a vengeance. Up to 103º, we couldn’t risk another night of him feeling that bad and decided to seek some professional help.

The closest town was over an hour away, and we didn’t recall passing a hospital along the route. We inquired at the campground office about the closest doctor’s office but didn’t find much comfort. It was Sunday afternoon and we would be lucky to catch the doctor before he left for the evening, even if we departed immediately and broke some more park speed limits. There was no other choice but to make for the one-horse town and hope for the best.

We careened into the parking lot just in time to see the lobby lights turn off. The door was already locked, but we banged and yelled until a nurse emerged from a back room and hurried to open the door. Ben was listless, I was frantic, and we were both crying a little bit with relief as she ushered us in.

A handsome, tan young man strode into the lobby from behind the reception desk. He could have been fifteen or fifty. With no lab coat or stethoscope, he said very little other than hello, but frowned and began laying his hands on Ben’s head and chest. He looked down Ben’s throat, felt his neck and back, tilted his head and thumped Ben with palm and index finger, listening the whole while and saying nothing.

“This is an easy fix,” he declared and disappeared once again into the back rooms of the office, only to return moments later with a single white pill. “Take this,” he said to Ben, “And you should feel better by the time you’re back to camp.”

Now, I’m all about some trust and spiritual healing, but I’ve never seen a doctor prescribe a single pill to cure anything.

However, there was something so certain in the way he said it that I found myself taking it all on faith. Ben popped the pill before I could ask clarifying questions, and we were already on our way back to the campsite before I realized they didn’t even charge us for the service or ask to see my insurance card. It was as if I had been hypnotized and was just waking up 30 miles down the road.

Ben was sound asleep, breathing easily when we pulled up to the camper. I carried him to the door (he was still small enough to carry back then) and met a worried Angela who ushered us both inside. Quietly, she asked what happened, but I just shook my head and smiled. Ben’s fever was gone. He was resting. And, exhausted, we fell asleep too.

The next morning, Ben was back to his regular self. Still a bit hollow around the eyes, but joking with his brother and scarfing down his breakfast like a normal adolescent. We asked if he felt up to a short hike along the Grand Canyon, and he said, “That’s why we’re here, right?”

I don’t know what was in that pill. The whole thing seems like a dream now in the retelling. But I think a bit of magic happened that day.

And I’m thankful for it.


Next up: Cross-Country Road Trip: What Happens in Vegas Stays in the ER