The Ascent of Blackford Hill

The 1896 building and telescope dome at the Royal Observatory.  It's really beautiful!

The 1896 building and telescope dome at the Royal Observatory. It’s really beautiful!

I did not intend to climb Blackford Hill.  Or rather, I did, but it was supposed to be a minor footnote in a list of grander Corbetts, Munroes, and other great deeds during my visit to Scotland.

Life, as they say, is what happens when you’re busy making other plans.

Sunday: Flew into Edinburgh 30 hours later than planned.  Food poisoning (or something) had laid me pretty low in Leiden and I’d opted not to fly on Saturday, thus forfeiting a 36-hour binge of Highland adventures with Stephan.  Feeling much better now and looking forward to a productive conference and some local Edinburgh carousing and cavorting.

Monday: Hiked a mile or two from my guest house to the base of Blackford Hill feeling increasingly poorly.  By the time I stumbled across the doorway to the Royal Observatory near the top, I was feeling pretty bad.  Went for a lay-down for three hours in a quiet office but felt increasingly bad.  The food poisoning had returned…

The Royal Infirmary of Edinburgh

The Royal Infirmary of Edinburgh

…except that food poisoning shouldn’t come back, should it?  Pretty intense pain that was only getting worse.  Something was definitely wrong.  My good friend Nick, who works at the Observatory, drove me to A&E at the Royal Infirmary.  X-rays and blood work show nothing particular.  Admitted to the ward and put on blessed pain killers.  Nick and various of my conference colleagues come to visit which is really nice.

Tuesday: Life on the ward with three older Scottish gents of various demeanors.  Profuse vomiting.  CT scan reveals obstructed small bowel, probably from an adhesion left over from my infamous spleen incident of two decades ago.  Seems improbable to me, but they all seem pretty sure.  Surgery tomorrow.  No idea what is going to happen.  I’m a long long way from home and emotionally lower than I’ve ever been before.

Wednesday: Surgery.  Blessed oblivion.  I am told it went very well.  Things got a little hazy.  Much behind-the-scenes scrambling by my family.

Thursday (and rest of Wednesday): mostly spent in a morphine haze.

Friday: Steady improvements but the complete emptying and subsequent re-inflation of a GI tract is fascinating and horrible.  Kicked the morphine habit.  Mom arrived on the red-eye from Boston.  Thanks to Nick and John for getting her established and oriented.

Nick and Mom in the telescope dome

Nick and Mom in the telescope dome

Saturday:  Thankful to be tube-free and slowly mobile.  Mom is now coherent and more chipper about an unplanned trip to Scotland.

Sunday again:  Released from the Royal Infirmary and resting at the Cherry Tree Guest House with three days until we fly home.  Still feeling pretty fragile, but definitely nice to be on the way to normal again.

Monday again:  Beautiful morning.  Nick picked up Mom and I from the Guest House and gave us a tour of the Royal Observatory.  Very nice to finally see the place I was supposed to be spending most of last week in.  Beautiful setting and very historic.

Finally on the summit of Blackford Hill.

Finally on the summit of Blackford Hill.

More meaningful, however, was that the observatory is a short quarter mile walk from the top of Blackford Hill.  Mom and I made our slow way on gravel paths, through beautiful fields full of flowers, past a radio mast, to the grassy summit of Blackford hill almost precisely one week after I started my ill-fated expedition.  Should I have been climbing even the modest heights of Blackford hill a day after being released from hospital?  Probably not, but it’s hard to capture the emotional importance this had for me.  The views were spectacular.  We hiked slowly down the north face of the hill and caught a bus back to the guest house.

Great views of the city.

Surely one of the greatest views in the world.

My many, many profound thanks go out to everyone who has pulled me out of what was the most emotionally challenging experience of my life, bar none.  First, of course, my mother who flew to the rescue on little notice, and Amy and my father who made calls and pulled numerous strings behind the scenes.
Second, Nick Cross and John Stocke who took care of me and ran local interference until Mom arrived.  Also Mat, Stephan, David, Ben (and probably a few other friends whom I don’t remember in my drug-induced haze) who would trek out to the hospital to make sure I was provisioned, entertained, and kept abreast of the various wild claims one person or another had made that day at the conference.  I never really appreciated before how nice it is to see familiar faces when in hospital.

Third the doctors, nurses, and other staff of the National Health Service (RIE, Ward 106) who took compassionate, gentle, and thorough care of me.  Similarly, ward-mates Andy and Steve who helped pass the time in what was otherwise a pretty maddening time.

Finally, to many other friends who offered help and moral support to me in Scotland and Amy at home.  We both appreciate all help and the good wishes.

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2 Responses to The Ascent of Blackford Hill

  1. Celina says:

    Glad you’re OK!

    • cdan4th says:

      Thanks! I’m sure this was a character-building experience, but I’d really rather build character via a less painful means.

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