Traveling with Twain

In Search of America's Identity

A Twain trip first: Casualty in Nashville

Not every day on the road is as idyllic as this image. Even we sometimes suffer the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune.

I woke up with the light in my eyes, because I have been sleeping with at least one lamp on every night since the start of this trip (Embarrassing Admission #1). Vestigial childhood anxiety about the dark has made a ruthless comeback after a couple decades of tactical repression. Being on the road and being untethered to the places we visit and the people we meet has made me much more vulnerable to the demons of my past.

But before I noticed the light, I noticed the headache. It was a searing, splitting, shrieking number that conjured Medieval images of tiny demons hammering a man’s head with picks and scythes. I wanted to cry, but doing so worsened the pain, so I writhed on the motel bed, a mute sufferer.

I dialed Alyssa’s number, woke her up, requested pain medication and hobbled next door, arms outstretched, eager for Advil.

“Do you want two or three?” Alyssa the Apothecary asked.

“Three…” I muttered, wincing.

“You don’t look so good,” Alyssa said.

“I know.” I thanked her and downed the pills with a swig of water.

They didn’t help. We were due in an hour at the Tennessee State Fairgrounds to meet Sami Safiullah, a high school friend and student at Vanderbilt. Sami was going to take us to Eid ul-Adha, a Muslim festival commemorating the sacrifice of Abraham. I had grand plans of filming the prostrations and the sermon and capturing an interview with Sami afterward, discussing what it’s like to be a Muslim in Nashville. I grabbed the video equipment and walked out of the motel room, the migraine beating like so many Taiko drums, and encountered the ethereal sight of Alyssa, who, after being trained by a couple YouTube videos, was wrapped up in a green hijab. I thought to myself, Well, if Alyssa has the sticktoitiveness to see what Eid is all about, surely I could deal with this headache.

I ended up vomiting in the Fairgrounds parking lot and hugging Sami (it’s been more than a year since I last saw him) over the putrid content of my breakfast. It was then that Loren and Alyssa decided it would be best if I went to the hospital.

Sometimes it’s hard to remember when you’re putting in a thousand miles a week and meeting incredible people with moving stories to tell on a daily basis that you are indeed mortal and subject to the whims of illness and bad luck just like everyone else is.

In the emergency room of the Vanderbilt University Medical Center, I dozed off for hours at a time in a hideous greenish hospital gown. Nurse Nikeisha Michaeux stuck my arms three times with needles, looking for a vein that wasn’t flat. As the IV drip seeped its saline contents into my body and as I looked over at my travel companions—Loren, ever the workaholic, busy on his laptop and Alyssa, propped against the wall, sleeping and reading in equal measure—I felt incredibly blessed. There’s something about being carted around in a wheelchair, getting a lumbar puncture and a CAT scan and hearing the reassuring beep of the EKG machine that left me feeling especially spunky.

Here I was! Living the dream of every American romantic, a dream fabled in countless travelogues and backed by millions of ad dollars on the Travel Channel. This hospital visit wasn’t an inconvenient setback at all. Indeed it was all part of the package. It was a fine-print clause in the job description for vagabonds. This was so Americana.

What made it all worth it was getting an email from my father.


Beside the headacle yesterday,do you have any chest pain?(Dr.Fox said you have a few abnormal spike on your heart beat and went to the primary hospital for testing).Travel to southern states,watch for insect bites,some can be deadly poison to out of state visitors.Check any spider,insects before using rest room.

I have co worker at work got insect bite on the union business trip,later had infected leg cut off..he’s has to retired.

We pray for you always in good spirit and healthy.



You should watch the CPR video,it will be helpful.

(Embarrassing Admissions #2, 3, 4, 5)

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2 thoughts on “A Twain trip first: Casualty in Nashville

  1. Mike Rodell on said:

    Hey Dan –
    I hope your head is better. I used to get awful migraines in college. The cure turned out to be, strangely, dexedrine. In your case, maybe it is because you have another month until official drinking age. Anyway, hope in general you three are having a great time.

  2. Dan Tham on said:


    Loren had to explain to me what dexedrine was. These days, we just take adderol. I’m glad you could empathize with my situation, Mike!