The goal for the day was to make it to the park. I had a room at my cousin’s home in London and though there was a small park across the street, a larger park sat about a quarter mile away where a group of people and their dogs gathered each day at five. If it weren’t for Savannah I likely wouldn’t have made it to either park, but because of her I was forced to mobility.
My health was deteriorating. I was losing weight, exhausted, and my cramps grew worse and more numerous by the day.
When I first arrived I saw a private doctor in the financial district who was wholly unprepared for the severity of my symptoms. Beyond the immense bloating and cramps, a stool sample revealed I was bleeding internally. The doctor thought it was either an ulcer or cancer.
Oddly, the ulcer scared me more. The thought of an ulcer exploding inside me left a horrid vision in my head. With cancer I thought of pale skin and no hair – which I was already on my way towards anyway.
But it was going to take some scans and blood samples to arrive at a diagnosis. I went for the blood samples, but there was no affording a three thousand dollar CT scan.
Seeing a private doctor meant expedited treatment, but exorbitant cost.
So with a thin bank account and after an especially terrible cramp I went to the emergency room of The Royal Hospital of London.
At the hospital, despite having two or three cramps within an hour, I wouldn’t have been admitted if it weren’t for my cousin Monica arguing my case.
“I don’t want to see him writhing on the ground in pain anymore,” she told the nurse was watching my pain indifferently.
The nurse thought I was a backpacker trying to get my hands on pain killers. I didn’t want any though, the pain came and went so there was no point in being doped up all day.
Once I was admitted I was shuffled to an elevator and upstairs to have my organs looked at with an ultrasound. Then I was brought to a bed at the end of a long hall. Curtains separated the patients but since I was at the end of the hall I could only really hear the boy next to me who’d been stabbed by his girlfriend and seemed incredulous that she’d do such a thing.
After some basic blood tests and being checked in on through the night, I was released. My organs weren’t failing and though I had a low red blood cell count, low platelets, and a high white blood cell count, I wasn’t a priority.
They directed me to the infectious disease section of the hospital which started me on a month of back and forth for increasingly obscure tests. As my weight and energy dwindled I was tested for everything from giardia to HIV. I came to know which nurses were best at inserting the needle and secretly hoped I’d be escorted into one nurse’s room over another.
Yet after a month I had only a list of negative results – no parasites, no STIs, no common bacteria, no idea at all.
By then I had exhausted my time in London. I couldn’t impose myself and Savannah on my cousin any longer. I booked a flight for a week later and the thought of it hurt worse than all the physical pain I lived through during the previous few months.
It took me eight years of absolute focus to realize my dream of walking around the world. After college and working and saving and living at home I found a sponsor in Philadelphia Sign and made it through the roughest part of my walk – South and Central America. Now, after all that fortune and focus my dream was suddenly wavering in front of me like a mirage. Because of some undiagnosed illness, the dream I turned to reality was reverting to just a dream.
But still being in London with nothing but time I could only push on day to day. To dwell on The World Walk slipping between my fingers would do no good. I had to push on and hope my health would return and that Philadelphia Sign would stick around.
So as it was, the goal of the day was to make it to the park.
The small park was a block to the left, but the large park was four blocks and a grocery store parking lot away – which with each passing hour felt more like a push through the Chilean desert than a stroll through London.
At four-thirty I opened the front door and staggered into the sunlight.
I didn’t put Savannah on a leash. She listened well and I was so weak I feared that if she tugged with enough force I’d fall over.
Savannah walked along the walls away from the street.
At the corners she waited to cross by my side.
After two blocks I wanted to lay down. It was overcast and I was freezing. When the sun broke through it felt nice, but I kept my hoodie up to keep the wind from brushing my neck.
After two blocks we turned left and walked by the mosque. Women there always clutched their children to their legs as Savannah walked smiling by.
Then it was to the right, through an alley, then to the left.
A few houses down was a house with a rosemary bush eight feet tall and stooping over the sidewalk. I paused there to catch my breath and crush a rosemary needle between my fingers so I could keep its scent with me for a little while.
We crossed the street together then it was through an alleyway to the grocery store. We turned left and followed the sidewalk around the perimeter of the parking lot.
Savannah was far ahead of me and waited at the park entrance where poles were a sieve to allow in bikes and people but not cars.
Eventually I caught up to her and Savannah turned right and was walking far ahead because my pace was so laborious. We were in the shade from the tree branches hanging overtop us.
To my left was a fence which kept in sheep that were sometimes there and sometimes in another area. The ground was uneven and the grass patchy.
The path solid and a mosaic of flattened cigarette buds and wrappers but it became cleaner the further we moved from the parking lot.
After the wooden fence keeping in the sheep was a solitary young tree and beneath it was a spot where the grass had been worn to dirt and many times Savannah and I passed someone smoking weed there. It was exposed and breezy, but was for some reason the place to smoke. Maybe because the grassy hill made for a nice place to lay down.
After the smoking tree the path bore left and rose slightly. From there I could see a large area enclosed by a wooden fence with a half a dozen people milling about and their dogs sprinting and sniffing and chasing after balls. Once Savannah saw them she paused then looked back to me.
“Go ahead,” I said, throwing my arm forward.
At that she sprint off.
I followed her in and reached the middle and greeted everyone and patted the good boys and girls on their heads and wanted very badly to be laying down but was also happy to see Savannah playful and alive and thankful that I had her.