Worst Van Life Week Ever

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This is one story I wish I couldn’t tell. It’s a blog post I didn’t plan. A week I want to pretend never happened. However as I type this, I’m sitting in a hotel room cuddling my Ella with the home that takes us around the country parked in the lot. I got actual sleep last night for the first time in 4 days and my friend’s house is still standing. This may not all make sense now. But I need to start off by saying that I am okay. Ella is okay. We made it out on the other side. I don’t say this for you. I say it for me. To remind myself before starting the story that all is well and we. are. okay.

Funny thing is, the week before all of this.. was in fact one of the best weeks of my life. Maybe you’re confused or have no idea what I’m talking about, but you’re here for a reason and I’m happy that you are.

So grab a snack, a cup of coffee, and let’s rewind…

ON TOP OF THE WORLD

Women On The Road

It all started on my way to Taos for the Women On The Road gathering with over 150 women coming together to find community and connect with each other. I hesitated on going because it was a 13 hour drive from San Diego which is where I happened to be a couple weeks before the event. I had just driven from Indiana to Montana and all the way south to San Diego, so another 13 hours just didn’t seem to make sense. Then Laura, the founder of Women On The Road asked me to speak on a panel and I thought, “Just say yes. You never know.. Something may come out of this.” So I purchased my ticket and headed to New Mexico.

Finding My People

I hadn’t so much as pulled into the event and got parked before I started talking with a couple ladies that I felt like I should’ve known my entire life. It’s not a common thing for me to feel understood by people. My family supports me and loves what I’m doing. But really, truly understood on a – haven’t showered, dirty feet, live in a van full time – level is incredibly rare and suddenly I was surrounded by not just any people who get it.. But women who are the exact same. Women running through the New Mexico desert barefoot with giant smiles. Wine in one hand and vegan burritos in the other.

You mean.. I don’t have to explain myself? I don’t have to explain why I live in a van? Or why I’m wearing the same shirt I was yesterday and probably will be in tomorrow. Why I choose to be vegan or why I… am who I am? Who I woke up as.

Now it’s important that I tell you, I do not mind explaining myself. We are all curious people and I never have been bothered by explaining my choices. But it’s the biggest breath of fresh air to just not have to for once. To be surrounded by my people. Strong, independent, women who don’t even notice the things that usually make me the weird one in any room. I wasn’t “the van girl” for once. The same things that are constantly separating me from others were the exact things that were connecting all of us.

I sat in my van the second night with 7 other women and we talked until 3am. We talked about politics, religion, and really personal stories that had all of us crying one minute and hysterically laughing the next. You may think I’m being dramatic but ask any of them; it was a night that we will all remember. I think I said over a hundred times, “This is the greatest night of my life. No, seriously. This is the best night ever.” One by one, as the hours ticked by, each girl left the van to get some sleep before saying goodbye the following day.

That night however, I laid wide awake. Recalling each conversation to make sure they would be locked in my memory forever.

To Sloane, Taylor, Annemarie, Nicole, Tara, Michelle, and Katie: I love you all and thank you for that night.

A Perfect Life

During the Women On The Road Gathering, I got to sit on a panel with a few other women and answer questions about van life for a podcast episode. I remember being asked what one of my biggest challenges has been on the road. This is a common question that I get asked frequently especially being a “solo female van lifer”. Every time, I would say the same thing with a little embarrassment that I didn’t have something better.

I would simply shrug my shoulders, apologize for not having a great response, and say something like, “There haven’t really been any challenges yet. I’m having the adventure of a lifetime with the greatest dog in the world. Getting to know myself deeply while exploring beautiful places constantly. Even the small daily problems that arise don’t seem to be anything to ruin my day over.”

Life was.. kinda perfect.

The Women On The Road panel at the gathering. Joined by @idletheorybus, @s0weboughtavan, @emilyventures, @vacayvans, and @luv_martha, along with the host @howsheviewsit.
A few ladies I caravanned with part of the way back to California. @allenvanlifers and @sloanedoggg

WHEN EVERYTHING CHANGED

One Sick Puppy

At the event, I had met a friend that is a once in a lifetime kind of relationship. Someone who you instantly connect with and feel like you’ve known for an eternity. Sloane was equally as crazy, just as loud, and made me laugh until I was desperately crossing my legs trying not to pee my pants… I had returned to San Diego after the gathering, and she had gone home to Thousand Oaks. It was only 1 day later that I realized I might as well go visit her because it was an easy 3 hour drive north, and I didn’t want this to turn into another friendship that dies because of my endless leaving.

On the way to her house, I had to let Ella out of the van 3 times to do her business. Each time was worst than the last and I could tell she wasn’t comfortable at all. Knowing that dogs can have stomach aches, I tried to tell myself that this is normal and it was just her first time being a little sick.

The next day I put rice in her food to help ease her stomach and she threw it up immediately. I convinced myself again that this was just a bad bug and it would go away. So I tried the rice again for dinner.. It was on the carpet within 5 minutes. I told myself that if she couldn’t hold down her breakfast the next morning, we were going to the vet.

Going Downhill

Nothing changed and Ella was clearly getting more uncomfortable. She was super lethargic and for those of you who don’t know, this is a 4 month old puppy with more energy than I’ve ever seen. Something was wrong. But it was going to be okay and the vet would tell me it was nothing major.

We got there and the vet started feeling around her belly. Ella suddenly jumped and cried so loud in pain before running over to me and hiding behind my chair. To say that I lost my sh*t is an understatement. I had never seen her in any pain and knowing that anything hurt her that bad was the worst feeling ever.

We got x rays which showed, what looked like, an obstruction of some kind. I was told that she is a puppy and puppies eat things. It might pass with fluids and we would come back first thing the following morning to check again. In the meantime, the vet did an ultrasound and sent it to a radiologist which would be back by the time we returned the next day.

The Worst Phone Call Ever

I woke up hopeful that the fluids worked and Ella would be fine. We returned to Anza Animal Clinic and the vet immediately said she had been looking at the ultrasounds since she first got into work.. Not a great sign. She said the radiologist thought it was something called intussusception which is when the intestines telescope basically engulfing itself. She said surgery was an absolute must in this case and it needed to be done right away. I had to leave Ella there, and I wouldn’t get to see her until the next day. Best case scenario, the vet could fix the telescoped intestines and not need to remove any. Worst case, she would have to remove the damaged section.

I got a quick photo with my girl, gave her lots of kisses, and left with a bad feeling in my gut.

The surgery would start at noon, last two hours, and I would get a phone call as soon as it was over. Two o’clock came and went… Three o’clock passed.. Maybe it started a little later than expected? Four o’clock was long gone. Something isn’t right. I called and a vet tech said they were still in surgery and to sit tight. At 5pm, my phone rang and my stomach sank.

The vet opened Ella up and saw her intestines were tied in several knots with adhesions everywhere. They were on most of her organs, all over the intestines, and surprise.. Her colon was attached to her bladder (I was thinking exactly what you’re thinking, how tf?). She had to remove about 8 inches of intestines that couldn’t be saved, fix the knots, cut each adhesion individually, and separate the bladder from the colon. But,

She was alive.

The picture we took right before I left Ella at Anza.
The clinic sent me this right before the vet called after surgery.

Taking Her Home

More than likely, it would be a few days now before I got to bring her home. She needed to stabilize and show signs of progress before being released. We still have no idea how it happened, whether it was a birth defect or she ate something that could’ve caused all of the damage.

I called as soon as they opened the next morning because I wanted to make sure she was still okay. I would later find out that the vet who did the surgery was also laying awake that night and called before I did because she was off that day and needed to know if Ella survived the night.

She woke up with an appetite (shocker) and was eating a little bit of wet food by early afternoon. That’s when they called me to tell me that I could even take her home at 6pm! The first happy moment in days.

I came, got well- versed in all her medications, and drove home with my girl right next to me. I was planning on staying at Sloane’s house for the next few days so Ella could have an easy recovery and we could stay close to the clinic.

But by 10pm, we were packing our bags in a hurry.

Fire Everywhere

Like I said earlier, Sloane lives in Thousand Oaks, California. There is literally a “fire season” which they are currently in but had managed to get away with very little fires up to this point. We had actually seen a small fire previously in the day but Sloane assured me that it probably wouldn’t be a big deal. “They always direct them towards the beach and then they run out. There may be some evacuations but it shouldn’t be bad.”

Around 9 pm, several fires had broken out and several neighborhoods were being evacuated. Sloane was trying to hold onto the hope that we wouldn’t have to leave but I could tell she was starting to get a little nervous.

An hour later, we got the notifications on our phone that we had to leave. Ella was in the bedroom and I so badly didn’t want to have to move her. She needed to stay put to heal and recover without any added stress, but I had no choice.

I won’t go into detail about the next few hours because it’s pretty personal for Sloane and her family. Not to mention, it’s still a blur. I hadn’t slept in 2 nights and I knew this night would be no different. But we weren’t able to pack everything up and get out of the house until after 1 am.

By the time we left, the air was so smokey we had to put our shirts over our faces. It sounds so crazy but we were literally struggling to breathe and could see the fire behind her house getting closer. We pulled out of the neighborhood in our vans and roughly 15 firetrucks were pulling in at the same time. I called Sloane and asked what was happening and she explained that they were going to barricade the houses to try and save them.

It’s now the most destructive fire in California state history and thousands of people have lost their homes.

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Sleep Deprived & Tapping Out

Thankfully, Sloane’s parents have a house in Oxnard on the beach which is where we headed. We got there around 2:30 am and sat watching the news to see if her house would still be there when we got to go back. Ella was fine but I knew she was freaked out from how stressed everyone was. There were so many people in the house because they had opened their doors to neighbors who needed a place to go plus 7 dogs between everyone.

We were all still awake around 6 am, and a family friend dropped off coffee and groceries because she knew there was nothing there (bless that woman). At this point, we needed to run a few errands for her family. We were so sleep deprived that we just started going out of our minds during this trip. I have never laughed so hard in my life the way I did that day. I MEAN, HOW COULD THIS BE HAPPENING.

Everything was going so wrong that we couldn’t even think of it as real life anymore. It was like one big, sleep deprived joke/nightmare. This is not to say we thought it was actually funny. My dog had just gone through a terrifying surgery and people were losing everything they have. We were simply going crazy. It was either uncontrollably laugh or uncontrollably cry, but we had things to do. So laughing it was.

It was later that evening when I went to feed Ella and she refused to eat. She had been pretty lethargic for a few hours (rightfully so) but I had never seen her not eat. I mean this is the dog that had an appetite immediately after waking up from surgery. Now let me remind you that I’m still a new dog mom and I doubt my own abilities often. Things were so hectic during the evacuation and I knew she had walked around too much.

So I called the clinic and was told to take her into the animal hospital immediately because she could have a leak somewhere. The next few hours were spent getting more ultrasounds and sobbing in a tiny room because this one.. was my fault. They showed that she had free fluid in her belly which could’ve been from the surgery or from a leak. A second surgery was brought up as a worst case scenario, but it looks like that won’t be necessary and she is now in the clear.

That concludes 4 days without sleep. Never again.

RECOVERING

Mom Saving the Day

My mom had already planned on flying into San Diego this week because she wanted to spend a lovely vacation weekend with her daughter and grand dog. Instead she flew into a state that was literally on fire with a daughter that was out of her mind and a puppy that was recovering. YAY.

I hadn’t left my friend’s house in Oxnard because I wanted to stay relatively near the clinic and really had no idea where I could even go that wasn’t on fire. However, my mom did what mothers do. She scooped me up with my pup and got a hotel for all of us. She just wanted us to finally sleep and be out of any danger zones. And that my friends, was the end of my week from hell.

Hotel Life

I’ve stopped maybe 10 times while typing this to cuddle and kiss on Ella. She is laying right next to me on a cozy bed that I’ve slept in for about 48 hours straight. She is still healing but she’s eating much better. I have to carry her every time we go outside because she can only walk for 3-5 minutes at a time. She has to take a ridiculous amount of medication each day and seeing her scar always makes me a little sad. But she’s here and that’s all that matters.

My mom is in the other bed and leaving tomorrow which means we’ll be back in the van tomorrow.

Ella, me, and the van.

Exactly how it should be.

Cute little cone head for the next couple weeks.
Her scar is only about 6 inches long with dissolving stitches.

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Lessons Learned

I remember taking a mental picture about a month ago. If I close my eyes and think about it, I can relive every detail of that moment. I was parked somewhere beautiful in Utah on my way to my favorite place, San Diego. I was laying in bed on my side and Ella was behind me big spoon-ing me with her little paw thrown across my ear. I felt her head lay on top of mine and press down. I immediately thought to myself, “This moment is one of the best that I’ll ever have. The happiest I could ever possibly be.” Life was perfect.

Then she moved her head and rolled around… And the moment was over just like that. If you take anything from this story, please notice the good moments. The best ones that you’ll ever have.

Take a mental picture.

Because you never know when they’ll be gone and everything will change. It can happen in an instant. But even in the midst of your worst days ever, keep in mind that it isn’t just the good moments that are fleeting.

The worst will pass and another perfect moment will come soon enough.

During one of my many breaks while typing this.

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