Oregon Trail was the cornerstone of my elementary school computer education class. In fact, the only memories I have of that class are: 1) how techno savvy I felt when I held that giant black floppy disc and 2) the way my teacher pronounced calculators as kack-a-laters.
The game begins in Independence, Missouri and a successful mission meant arriving in Oregon’s Willamette Valley with as many original team members and supplies as possible. Along the trail you could trade for goods at frontier outposts and hunt for food whilst trying to maintain your team’s health and morale.
“You have died of dysentery.”
Are you kidding me? Why did I always have the team that pooped themselves to death? I don’t know about any other ten year olds, but I was not an empathetic leader. Broken legs, exhaustion, snake bites- were they even trying?! And don’t even get me started about all the oxen that drowned every time we forged a river.
It was only after our vacation to Vanuatu that I recently revised my opinion of early pioneers; more specifically, it was only after I got one blister and three mosquito bites on my feet.
For the record- I couldn’t count how many times I’ve gotten blisters from new shoes and I have been bitten innumerable times by mosquitoes (I’ve even slept in a van with a few hundred of them).
However, when you are in the middle of nowhere, without running water, a rat has chewed through your medical tape, and flies use your blister like a helipad, no amount of anti-bacterial cream is going to heal your wounds. Especially after you scratch them.
Three days after returning from Vanuatu my feet had progressively gotten more swollen and infected. The wounds throbbed at night and the searing pain kept me awake. After a bad night’s sleep, I limped around the office and kindly asked others to pick up my printouts for me. I bought antiseptic powder, which dried out my gooey blister, but still nothing was healing.
Finally I did what any rational person would do- I looked up my symptoms on the internet and convinced myself I was going to die.
The next morning I hobbled to doctor’s office. After waiting an hour in the lobby my name was finally called.
“What seems to be the problem?”
“Um, well, I think my feet are infected and it feels like there are swollen tubes under my skin.”
“Yes,” the physician replied as he swiped a Q-tip against a dribble of pus, “these wounds look pretty bad.”
“Yeah, I was worried I might have blood poisoning because my ankle joints have been aching.”
“Well, I think you would be feeling much worse if you had blood poisoning.”
I didn’t know how it was possible to feel worse, so I persisted. “You see that- is that an infected vein?”
“Hmm…” He replied. “Let’s take your temperature.”
It was 37.3 Celcius- just under a fever. He looked a little surprised at the reading and paused a second to consider the severity of the infection. “I am going to give you a really strong antibiotic.”
Never have I felt more humbled by nature or thankful to have access to proper medical treatment. Did Oregon Trail have an option for death by mosquito bites (non-malarial)? I don’t think so. Maybe you don’t know this, but those early settlers were tough, like tougher than a motorcycle gang.
Actually, they were total badasses and it takes a mountain lion (or cholera) to kill a badass, not one blister and three mosquito bites.