Thursday, August 9, 2012

an end of the summer tale about sleep deprivation and vapor lock

We just packed up our youngest daughter and drove her 1400 miles back to school to begin her senior year of college. This is a two day trip, unless you are my husband who insists that he can still drive all night. He is well rehearsed at functioning on little sleep. He is often up late writing lectures, writing chapters or articles for medical publications, or typing notes about the patients he is caring for on that particular day.While he is doing this, he is often on the phone with the organ donation medical team (his other job) giving them guidance for managing and stabilizing patients for the OR. He finally climbs into bed, which I have already been warming for hours, and unwinds with several ridiculous relaxing games of RISK on his iPad. Around 1am he will doze off and begin blissfully snoring. I nudge him to reposition and he is quiet. His german shepherd who is sleeping in her bed in our room begins snoring which wakes my husband who loudly calls out to her to quit snoring. I am fully awake by now. An hour passes and, just as sweet sleep begins to envelope my mind again, his pager goes off and I listen as he discusses sodium levels, x-ray results and a myriad of other pertinent scenarios. This sometimes goes on all night long. When the alarm goes off, he is awake, alert and ready to take on the world. I am in a groggy sleep deprived heap and have to drag my crabby self downstairs to make coffee, lots of coffee, in order to see past the fog to plan my day. This sleep pattern of ours is the norm in our less than normal life! I have adapted to it over the years but you might understand, now, why a 22 hour drive-all-night trip would not be appealing to me. Chronic sleep deprivation also causes me to become easily distracted with connector stories, so, back to the main event.
After a family gathering before everyone goes their separate ways

and a final farewell,

we hit the road.

At my insistence, we stopped at a hotel on day one of the trip after driving 12 hours. The next day proved interesting and challenging. We were 150 miles away from our destination when the van completely shut down as we were driving down the highway. Thankfully, we were in the middle of nowhere so my husband was able to coast us safely off the highway onto the shoulder.

Now, the  middle-of-nowhere posed a problem in that we had no idea how close the nearest exit with any kind of service would be. The van would start and sputter along at 20 miles an hour for a few yards and then quit again. After several inspections under the hood ( I could see his intensive care gears spinning in his head) he phoned our mechanic 1250 miles away for a consultation. He was frustrated that he couldn't figure out the problem so that he could fix it. He was about to throw in the towel when a highway patrol officer pulled over to lend a hand with a cheerful, "How are you folks doing today?" Really?! Are you serious? How does it look like we are doing? By now, you can see that my good attitude was beginning to take flight across that vast expanse of sky and grass that we were stranded in. He helpfully informed us the next exit was 11 miles away and then went on his way. Since the van wasn't completely dead and our mechanic could see no reason not to try to drive it to the exit, we began to make our way there. One hour later, at speeds of 10-15 miles an hour along the shoulder of the highway with frequent episodes of shutdown, we arrived at the Colorado Welcome Center.

We called a tow truck, took the fully loaded-down-with-college-stuff car we were pulling off of the tow trailer and began thinking of how the heck we were going to transport two car loads full of moving-in-to-her-first-house stuff 150 miles away. Big dollar signs were already flashing before my husband's eyes because,by now, the check-engine light was on. One can certainly understand why he was not at all pleased when, in addition, the U-haul Emergency Assistance woman told him that he would have to pay an extra $100 to come pick up the tow trailer. It was past 6:00pm and most businesses were closed for the day. After-hour emergencies cost extra, you know. I'm glad we had all been able to get a good nights sleep in a hotel the previous night. I'm just sayin'. Then, out of the mists of heat vapor, emerged Tow-Truck-Man-Dan. He listened to the symptoms of our failing vehicle and diagnosed the problem--Vapor Lock. What?! What is vapor lock? How much is that going to cost us and how long will it take to fix? Evidently, when you fuel up in Nebraska with premium gas ( we were hoping for better gas mileage because we were towing a car) and the heat index is over 100, it is not uncommon for big vans and Ford vehicles to experience vapor lock---a condition where the extreme heat vaporizes the gas in your tank so it doesn't have enough pressure to get to the engine. Nebraska's premium gas can have up to 80% of highly evaporating corn ethanol so it exasperates the problem.
The treatment, cure and short tutorial for resolving Vapor Lock:
1.Pour a quart of transmission fluid into the gas tank.
2. Refuel with regular gas.
3. Go eat for an hour to let your vehicle cool down.
Brilliant! What about a vapor locked attitude? I'm thinking food in an air conditioned restaurant and a quart of something liquid, restorative and fruity to refuel my waning enthusiasm will definitely do the job.
There happened to be a gas station right across the street AND our hero, Tow-Truck-Man-Dan, was also a U-haul dealer! His place of business was only .3 miles away. Oh happy day! We made our way to our destination without further mishap. We had planned to sleep at our daughter's house because her roommates had not arrived yet. We pulled up to her abode at about 10pm and------SURPRISE! One roommate had returned early and was having a big party! My visions of crawling into bed within the next half hour vanished as I watched several groups of college students, gleefully carrying full size ice chests, go up the steps and into the house. Our youngest went in to see what was happening and moments later, trying very hard to restrain her joy that she is now 21 and life had just become good again, informed us that, indeed, a party was under way. No room at the Inn. We drug her mattress out and a few boxes that she hoped had her clothes and clean underwear so that she could salvage the day college-style  sleep in her new home. My husband and I found a hotel. We had only the next day to help her unload, shop and get settled in before we had to hit the road for the 2 day trip back. Her dad had to be at the hospital in 3 days to start his week of service in the PICU and teach the residents. I didn't have the energy to insist on a hotel so he drove all through the night which made him happy. I was too tired to care one way or the other and have since recovered!
Now that we have successfully executed the back-to-college pilgrimage, it is time to wind down my arts and crafts summer. It has been a great season that I have loved sharing with you and my friends here at home. It is now time to begin planning for Autumn, but first, a little vacation. More about that tomorrow---I have to finish packing!


  1. Oh My Gosh! I was on the edge of my seat wanting to know what happened next! You lead a ...Hysterical life! Never a dull moment for you! I am glad it all worked out in the end. Love ya. Can't wait to read the next paragraph!

  2. haha. Thanks, Jan---will talk to you soon after my next big adventure!

  3. Vapor Lock....what a mess! Great story and such a wonderful sense of humor!! (We did the same thing driving from Germany to Austria to go ski the Zugspitz...middle of the night...the burg we stopped in had a strange Austrian/German dialect that our fluent friend could not decipher!! LOL!) XoxoX! ~frankie

  4. Love you too, Gina and Frankie---have a great weekend and, Gina, have a fun vacation!