Everglades National Park and the Unexpected Helicopter Ride
Updated: Mar 27
We arrived at Everglades National Park on Saturday, March 14th, for 4 nights. Our campground was located at the southernmost tip of the Everglades which is almost 40 miles from the park entrance and another 20 miles to a larger town. We planned to check out a few short hikes they have and maybe get in a kayak trip to see more manatees, alligators, and crocodiles.
Did you know that Southern Florida is the only place in the world that you can find both of these animals living together? Alligators are only found in the Southern United States and China. Crocodiles, on the other hand, are found all over the world. We have learned quite a bit about both of these animals over the last couple of months. Lila is very good at letting us know the key differences in them and how to tell them apart.
Jen and Lila were able to attend a Croc Talk through the park and here are some "Tips and Tricks" on how to tell Alligators and Crocodiles apart from eachother:
* Have a darker skin tone, that looks to be a very dark dark green.
* When their mouth is closed you can only see the teeth on their top jaw.
* Their snout is more u-shaped.
* Have a lighter skin tone, almost a tannish brown color.
* When their mouth is closed you can see both the top and bottom jaw teeth.
* Their snout is more v-shaped
* The armor on their back and tail is more pronounced than on alligators.
Anyways, back to the rest of the trip.
Day 1 went well, and we were lucky to catch up with some friends, Lucas and Brittany. We first met them 2-3 weeks ago in Northern Florida at a Boondockers Welcome (Follow their blog here). That night we had a campfire and hung out most of the evening.
Side note - Given all the chaos of the coronavirus going on, you would think that being 60 miles from a city would be a great place to go self-isolate...
Day 2 - Sunday morning started just like any other morning with all of us making our normal breakfast, and Jen and I making a latte. Normal for me is a bacon, egg (sometimes 2), and cheese breakfast sandwich, which I've had at least 75% of the mornings so far, so nothing unusual there. Later, Lucas and Brittany came over to have coffee and chat a bit before they left for their next adventure.
We were all hanging out at the picnic bench outside our trailer when I started to get bit a couple times by some pesky ants. I didn’t think anything of it until I felt like my lips, eyes, and ears seemed like they were tingling a bit. I didn’t mention anything to Jen but said I needed to go inside for a bit. I went into the trailer thinking I should wash my face and hands in case I had gotten something on face from my hands. Unfortunately, that didn’t seem to change anything. As I went back outside to sit with them again, Jen asked if I was ok (she thought I was looking a bit odd and noticed my skin tone had changed), and I said I felt like my lips were starting to tingle and puff up.
Little side story -
Brittany had just told us the day before that she had a breakout of hives a couple weeks ago and it lasted for 7 days. 😲 She had to go to the doctor to get Benadryl and steroid injections to get rid of it.
So, as I was mentioning the tingling, Brittany jumps up and says, "you should go take a shower quickly to wash off whatever it may be." So off I went to take a shower, that's when the craziness really started.
As I was showering, I could see hives breaking out all over my body. I got out of the shower, got dressed and told Jen we needed to go get help because something was not right. My whole body was swelling up and fast. While I was in the shower, Lucas rode his motorcycle back to his site to see if they had Benadryl for me but no luck. So we got Lila in the truck and started heading for that 60+ mile trip. I forgot to mention that there is no Verizon cell service either.
Thankfully, we stopped at the campground office to see if they had anything, and they didn’t have medication, but they did say that the National Park has emergency personnel so they called and gave the phone to Jen. In less than 10 minutes, a Park Ranger in his car and another in an ambulance showed up. They got me into the back of the ambulance, got me on oxygen, checked my vitals, and started evaluating our options. Luckily, I never got to the point that my throat started to close, but I did have almost 100% coverage of hives as well as swelling of my face. They had a Miami-Dade ambulance en route as well as a helicopter, and at one point they started to think I was getting better so they called off the helicopter, but then the Park Ranger / EMT took another look at my breathing and immediately grabbed the radio and said to cancel his last request and continue with the helicopter. 😖 Now, I am getting really nervous. They drove me over to the landing area in the ambulance and I could hear them talking on the radio about blocking all traffic with an eta of 7 minutes. Jen and Lila had to meet us at the landing zone because there was only room for one extra in the ambulance.
As we waited, the Park Rangers continued to measure my vitals and they said things seem like they were getting better, but I was still really swollen, so he wanted me to get to a hospital soon. The helicopter arrived and the crew asked if I could walk and if I wanted to sit down or lay down. I chose to sit. A couple of minutes later, I was buckled in, and we were off. Within a minute, the helicopter paramedics had me checked out, hooked up to some monitoring equipment, and gave me a shot of Benadryl. The next 20 minutes or so was a great way to take in the view of the Everglades National Park without having to go on another hike 😉. There was also no room in the helicopter for Jen and Lila, so they were told to meet me at the hospital in Homestead.
We arrived at the hospital and walked into the emergency room where I was taken to a room to lay down and get checked out. After getting checked out by an RN and getting an IV line (Terminology??) put in my arm, someone gathered my insurance information, and then I saw the doctor who asked a bunch of questions regarding what I ate that morning, and I also told him about the ant bites I had received that morning. He left and while he was away they injected me with more Benadryl, Solu-Medro, and Pepcid, and then I waited. Jen and Lila arrived but Lila couldn’t come back due to the coronavirus, so she had to stay in the waiting room. The doctor came back in with a 20+ page print out about the Red Imported Fire Ant (RIFA) that live in the Southern US. In rare cases, these ants can cause severe allergic reactions. huh!
I have never been allergic to anything in my life, and now supposedly this tiny little ant can put me down. Fortunately, I have the National Park Rangers, Miami-Dade Fire and Rescue, and Homestead Hospital to thank now that I completely fine. I now need to carry an EpiPen with me at all times, or at least until I can find out what I am truly allergic to. Definitely a learning experience!
As for days 3 and 4 of the rest of our Everglades park visit, I decided I would be a hermit in the trailer and stay away from anything or anyone, especially the ants. Jen and Lila did get a couple of hikes in, but due to the Coronavirus, they shut down all the visitor centers and ranger programs. Luckily for Lila, some full-time Skoolie friends, Sweet Sweet Bus Life, that we met in New Orleans unexpectedly showed up, and Lila was able to play with their 3 girls for the rest of the trip.
Like everyone else nowadays, our plans are changing. We had planned on going on a Dave Ramsey Cruise (Nerd Alert, I know), but that got canceled, and fortunately, we will receive a full refund. So we thought we would try and get the Dry Tortugas National Park in, but that got canceled as well, and Key West is pretty much shut down so we canceled that too. Now we are heading North towards the Smoky Mountains and hoping the campgrounds will still be open as they say they are now.
We will keep you updated on our travels. Help your neighbors if you can. We have given some of our supplies to fellow RV’ers recently that couldn’t find any. Can you guess what it was? Yep, toilet paper! Even special TP for RV’ers is flying off the shelf.
Stay safe and remember, this too shall pass.