Ambassador Cameron Davison ignored chest pains—chalking them up to stress or a pulled muscle—until they nearly killed him. This is the story of how he regained his health and how hiking with his family was integral to his recovery. All images: Cameron Davison
Back in September I had pains around my chest/lungs. I thought it was just stress or a pulled muscle. You know how life on-the-grid can be…work and all. Being stubborn, I blew it off. Went for a few power-walks, stretched, and tried to just shake it off, with no luck.
One night I was sitting in the dining room watching the moon pass through the night sky as I couldn’t lay down to sleep due to the pain. That’s when I realized something serious was going on.
I wound up passed out on the bed that morning, woken by our twelve-year-old son who was texting with his mom that he was worried about me. With the help of my wife over the phone, my kid took my vitals and realized my heart rate was abnormally high. From there, my wife raced home and took me directly to the Emergency Room.
The ER is an interesting place. I really thought I’d be sent home with nothing wrong. Just some anxiety or something… The doctors ran an EKG, it was good. Did some other tests, all good. Drew blood to run some more tests, not good. We were pulled back into the ‘triage’ area to discuss my blood work. The doctor told us the D-dimer test came back high which could be the result of a blood clot and they had to get me set up for a CT of my chest.
Within two minutes or less I was out of the waiting room, in a bed, getting hooked up to a Heparin drip with a new staff of doctors and RNs asking me all sorts of questions and talking to me in a foreign language (medical terminology). My wife is an RN, so she was my official translator.
The results of the CT confirmed I had multiple bilateral pulmonary emboli. My upper and lower right lung and upper left lung were filled with blood clots and I had a damaged upper left lung.
Fun times, right?!
You know when someone says, “You look like you’ve seen a ghost!” Apparently, that is how I looked at my wife and son after the doctor explained to me what was going on. I lost all color because I was terrified.
What followed was an extended hospital stay. I wasn’t even allowed to leave my room, only permissions granted were to the bathroom. Which was about three feet away from my bed. What kind of hike is that? They had monitoring devices attached to me taking vitals and they knew where I was at all the time, a Hospital GPS! Through it all, I was extremely grateful for each and every individual that had a part in my recovery.
If it weren’t for my wife and son, you’d be reading my obituary. That haunts me. I’m lucky to even be alive. So lucky.
My last day at the hospital I was granted permission to walk around the nurse’s station and I took full advantage. Off to the races! Make that: a snail’s race. It was exhausting. And hard. And discouraging.
After I was discharged, it took me awhile to get back into the swing of things. I was posting Instagram stories, #truetothesidewalk about my neighborhood strolls.
How’s that for an adventure?
But I stayed at it and eventually my doctor gave me the "all clear" to hit the trails again. I preparedto go on my fourth backpacking trip into the Grand Canyon! (Disclaimer: He also gave me fair warning, that because I’m on medication, if something were to happen to me in the backcountry, I’m SOL!) Noted! I was elated; time to backpack up!
That fourth trip into the Canyon was amazing. We took the Grandview Trail down to Horseshoe Mesa and then out the Tonto East to Hance Rapids and watched the Colorado River transform during the High Flow project from Glen Canyon Dam. Seven days of just pure fun adventures and I had no health issues. Everything was great.
That leads us to the fifth trip the first weekend of December, our son’s first backpacking trip into the Grand Canyon.
We took him down the South Kaibab to Bright Angel Campground for a few nights, out the Clear Creek Trail, then up the Bright Angel Trail to Indian Garden for another night with an obligatory stop to Plateau Point and then out then next morning.
I can officially say, he caught the Canyon Bug and loves it! He now has that memory of backpacking with his dad and grandpa, a once in a lifetime opportunity or the first of many lifetime trips to come.
Which is to say, this past year has been such an adventure. I completed five backpacking trips into the Grand Canyon, section-hiked portions of the Arizona Trail, and completed the 52 Hike Challenge ahead of schedule. The Southwest has such a rich and diverse landscape from desolate deserts to the pine filled high country, every adventure left me wanting more off-the-grid experiences.
But it was getting sick and then getting better that truly transformed me.
The doctors still have no idea what caused my unprovoked PEs. I’m on medication and will be for a while. When hiking/backpacking, I always have GPS tracking on me, so my wife and son know where I am. My first aid kit is extensive these days. I take my time, there is no rush and always side with safety first. I used to consume myself with work, now I’m consumed with finding new adventures to take with the family.