Joshua, USA

“Many people have amazing stories and incredible memories from their Camino. I don’t want to minimize anyone’s experience because they are all truly special… but my experience was a step beyond.

My 2014 started chaotic and stressful after discovering my fiance had been cheating on me. It was revealed a month before our fully planned, March destination wedding to Cinque Terre, Italy. After finding out, the relationship was finished in my mind. However, if you have ever experienced a break-up of this kind you know that there is a long process of moving on. Going in and out of depression, I decided to walk the Camino to help clear my head and jump start recovery. My fiance and I had said about a year earlier after watching The Way, that the Camino was something we would like to do someday. Of course at the time her nor I were all that serious about it, but fighting depression, I decided that now rather than later was the time. I left for Santiago from Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port on May 21st, 2014.

Like most, I started waaay too fast and then had to deal with the consequence of incredibly sore feet. My body wasn’t happy and simply couldn’t recover each night. Luckily, through some real-time conditioning combined with a daily dose of ibuprofen, I was able to maintain a 35km per day average (yes that is fast, but I have one speed). Three weeks later I was in Santiago. I had a wonderful time meeting new people and learning more about myself along the way. My mission to clear my head was successful. I felt rejuvenated and ready to go back home. But I didn’t know my story was only about to begin.

The day before I walked into Santiago I woke up ill. Like many along the way, I had fought-off a couple of head colds already, so although feeling terrible, I dealt with it and made my “victory stroll” into Santiago with only slightly less optimism. Naturally, I treated myself to a hotel room and rested for a couple of days. Once I started feeling better (although still a little weak) I decided to walk the three days to Finisterre and meet up with some friends. We enjoyed an unusual warm and sunny set of days on the beaches in Galicia. Calm before the storm was an appropriate description in hindsight. After three days of laying around in the sun, Marjorie (a friend I had met around Ponferrada, an Emmy nominated actress and producer, Puerto Rican queen and all around kick-ass person) and I boarded a bus heading back to Santiago. After that bus ride was when everything changed.

Arriving in Santiago I felt like death. I could barely walk… each step was a chore and I was continuously out of breath. My heart was pounding. Not knowing exactly where we arrived in the city, Marjorie and I opted for a cab to take us into the city center. Once there I tried to break back towards the hotel I had stayed in earlier. Marjorie objected, insisting I join her and some other pilgrims for a traditional pilgrim lunch. After a harsh but short argument, I caved and decided to join her and the others.

It was there where I met a Polish doctor (who’s name I was never given), and with him noticing my extremely pale face and deathly demeanor, decided to diagnose my symptoms. Just about the time he said that I was very ill and needed to get to the hospital ASAP, I fainted. I came back into consciousness with the help of a feisty Flemish woman literally slapping me in the face each time I began to fade away. It worked, and I was able to get back on my feet for when the ambulance arrived.

It was at the hospital where I learned that the combination of walking 35km a day, chorizo, vino, cerveza and heavy doses of ibuprofen didn’t make for a good daily cocktail. Almost as soon as I entered the hospital they were giving me a blood transfusion. They didn’t know what was wrong, but they new I needed LOTS of blood, so they placed me in a room for staging an exploratory endoscopy the next morning.

Later that day, the last thing I remembered was the room full of nurses calling for the doctor. I passed-out again. When I finally awoke around noon the next day, I was in the intensive care unit. The nurses noticed my eyes open and they rushed over. They wouldn’t tell me then, but a week and a half later when I checked-out of the hospital, I learned that everyone was bracing themselves for my death that night. I learned that the ibuprofen ate away my stomach lining, and when combined with stress on the body from the walk, I developed three ulcers. Two were bleeding profusely. They were trying to staple them shut. After the second attempt they were successful. I recovered very quickly once the bleeding stopped. I am lucky and I am forever grateful.

About a year after this ordeal, I randomly met a gastro surgeon on a plane. Telling him about my condition, he was listening with astonishment. After pausing for a bit, he said most people wouldn’t have recovered… that the amount of blood loss and the risks of the procedure would have been too much for the body to handle. He told me my age and physical health were in my favor, as well as what sounded like a quality procedure. However, there was probably something else that saw you through.”

-Joshua, USA