Worlds apart

First World problems. A phrase I have often heard in conversation between people who are discussing their “hardships” when it comes to life in Durango. Sure, it could always be worse. Third World problems – living in poverty with no access to clean water, let alone health care or education
– is no joke. Not to mention worrying about suicide bombers or missile attacks.

However, First World problems – or FWP, as pathetic as it sounds – is something to joke about and there’s actually websites that gather peoples tweets, texts and Facebook posts of their FWP. For example, “I want to take a **** but the maid is cleaning the bathroom,” or “my iphone fell out of my pocket and cracked my ipad” and how about “my Mercedes has heated seats but doesn’t have a heated steering wheel and it was really, really cold yesterday.” The list goes on and on, and it’s certainly funny but it’s also scary to consider that these people might actually think they have a real problem.

Now, don’t get me wrong. Many of my friends are currently going through some serious difficult times and I definitely do not consider the loss of a parent, a broken heart or an emergency hysterectomy a FWP. Those life changes are brutally painful. As for FWP, Urban Dictionary contains a dozen or so definitions that all relate to the fact that these are not really problems but complaints by typically wealthy, oblivious First Worlders.
As a First Worlder, I am by no means swimming in the dough but I do manage to eat sushi a couple times a week and live a pretty comfortable life. So let me tell you about my recent FWP. OK, don’t laugh, here it is. I had to raft down the Grand Canyon with a herniated disc and severe sciatica for 21 days.

For those who have suffered this condition, one might ask why the hell would you put yourself through that? I told myself that if I could get up everyday and go to work, then I could be a princess on my paco pad, kick back and drink some beer. And while my wonderful boyfriend rowed my broken ass 226 miles through one of the most magnificent places in the world, I would politely ask him to “please don’t flip us” before every major rapid followed by “I love you,” of course.  

Fortunately, I discovered that I had a herniated L5-S1 just days before I attempted to kayak the mighty Colorado. The nurses informed me that the radiologist wouldn’t read my MRI until the following week. Knowing that I would be out of reach by then, I requested a copy of my images and started looking for the problem myself. I texted a friend in the medical world a frame of my lower spine that caught my eye. The large black bulge that oozed into the white space of my spinal cord area seemed wrong. And sure enough, my doctor called that day and confirmed what I had found. He advised me that if my leg went numb or I lost control of my bladder, that I needed to get to an ER right away. That night I researched helicopter evacuation out of the canyon. I told the trip leader of the worst case scenario and that I would be unable to lift much of anything during the trip. He understood and simply said, “see you soon.”

My survival tactics involved stretching two to three times a day, taking a hydrocodone with every meal and popping Zyflamend, turmeric, vitamin C and arnica until I ran out. I realized that being in chronic pain, no matter what the setting, is tricky. When pain mixed with hangry, I turned into a grumpy muffin. Like when I yelled at the vegetarian about not keeping the meat out of the chili and that I would make him his own damned chili. Limping around camp, I opted to go to bed at seven every night and hoped I wasn’t being a buzzkill.

By the 18th day, we had managed to get through the majority of the rapids with no flips. That left one more: Lava Falls. We were camped a mile above the notorious rapid so we wouldn’t have to listen to its roar all night and ponder our lines. Getting up extra early to catch high water, which supposedly improves the chances of getting through upright, everyone had pre-Lava jitters as we rigged the boats. Then, out of nowhere, an abrupt explosion covered me in water as I sat on shore taking my pills. Everyone stopped what they were doing to figure out what the heck just happened. In seconds, the largest gear boat slowly started to sink into the mocha brown water.

With a major FWP in progress, everyone quickly got to work to fix it. Derigging the craft in under 10 minutes, we hauled the rubber out of the eddy and propped it up so the water could drain out of the 2 foot gash on the left rear tube. It appeared to be the end result of an over inflated raft in combination with hundreds of pounds of gear. I thought for sure we’d be camping there again.

As all of the repair kits were pulled apart, we came across our second FWP: rotten glue. Hence, a strategic surgery with very little salvageable glue began. An inside patch, a baseball stitch and an outside patch. Everyone had a job in the process. Mine – drink beer and document. We let the patch cure for an hour before pumping it back up. No one brought up the notion of letting it sit overnight. They all wanted to be at Tequila Beach in time for happy hour: just another FWP to add to the mix.

By this point, the afternoon water levels allowed for one line through the massive hydraulics, chundery holes and gigantic waves. I said my “I love you” and held on tight. We got spun around backwards, and I coached my savior down the rest of the run. We made it. I looked back to see the freshly repaired boat disappear and reappear a few times. “Woooaaah, are they gonna make it?” I cried out. They did. And Tequila Beach, a place of celebration after Lava, felt more earned than ever.

After celebrating our safety, we noticed the patched boat blowing bubbles like a jacuzzi jet. For the remainder of the trip, it was someone’s job to sit in the back and pump the boat while another rowed. Ahhhhh good ol’ FWP, it’s generally something to be grateful for because, yes, it can always be worse.

Stacy Falk

In this week's issue...

January 25, 2024
Bagging it

State plastic bag ban is in full effect, but enforcement varies

January 26, 2024
Paper chase

The Sneer is back – and no we’re not talking about Billy Idol’s comeback tour.

January 11, 2024
High and dry

New state climate report projects continued warming, declining streamflows