On top of Haleakala

Return to Maui

I first visited Maui years ago when I was just out of college and lived for a year in Honolulu.  Waikiki was fun, but when I first saw Maui, I fell in love with the beaches, the mountains, the gorgeous valley that lay between towering volcanic peaks. 


It's been ten years since my husband and I had been to Maui, and we were taking our first trip together as a couple with no kids in tow.  After months of anticipation, we got to Maui and it was gorgeous.  Of course it was! 


We spent the first few days getting over jet lag and lazing around on the beach, but one of the most awesome sights on Maui is the summit of Haleakala, a 10,000 foot dormant volcano that rises gently from the valley island floor.  


I wanted to get up to the summit, partly to enjoy the wild beauty there, but partly, I must confess, to see if the volcanic crater at the top lived up to my memories. 


You know how it is with memories - you go back to the house where you lived as a child, and everything is so small!  The huge back yard you played in as a child has shrunk to postage stamp size, the living room is tiny, and how did you ever cope with four people in the house and only one bathroom?


I wondered if Haleakala would be as wonderful as I’d remembered it. On our fifth day on Maui, we jumped in the car and headed off to see.


Yikes!  The road was scary!  Sharp curves, a tiny little guardrail, than a drop of thousands of feet to the valley floor below.  I coped the way I always do with scary drives - stuck the camcorder out the window and closed my eyes.  


“I’ll look at this later,” I told my husband.  I was also giving Ken driving directions - “Not so close to the edge!”  “Slow down!”  and “Watch the Road!”  God knows what he’d do without me.


I found out soon enough.  As soon as we got to the summit, I jumped out of the car and starting dancing around, snapping pictures.  Ken slowly opened the driver’s door and leaned on the hood.  “Altitude,” he said.


“Take a couple of deep breaths,” I said, as I took off to get more pictures.  After a few minutes, Ken was still standing next to the car.  I dragged him over to the sign that said, “Elevation 10,023 feet.”

A woman was standing next to us. “Will you take our picture?” I asked her.


Looking back, it’s amazing to see how good Ken looks in that photo.  A minute later, as I was thanking the woman, Ken was bending over.  Then he was popping a nitroglycerin pill.

“I’ve got to get off this mountain,” he said, breathing heavily.


Ken had an angioplasty several years ago, and often gets what his cardiologist calls “extra beats.”  He was getting lots of extra beats on top of Haleakala.  He was also feeling pressure in his chest.  


“You should have called 9-1-1,” the nurse at the Maui Medical Center said later.  

“And then what?” I asked.  “Helicopter evacuation?”

She didn’t answer. By that time, I had driven down the mountain with Ken breathing heavily beside me, we had been whisked through the emergency room and he was lying in bed hooked up to an IV and an EKG machine.  I shivered next to him.  


We spent seven hours in that emergency department, through two different shifts of nurses and doctors and aides, who kept taking Ken’s blood pressure, sticking needles into him and saying they really didn’t think he’d had a heart attack, but we had to wait for results of the blood work to be sure. I spent six and a half hours of that time kicking myself for insisting that he run around on top of a volcano.


They agreed that Ken didn't have a heart attack, but they admitted him anyway, and  I made the lonely drive back to our condo alone.  It was midnight and the moon was almost full.


I took a wrong turn, found myself lost in the sugar cane fields, and suddenly realized just how far we were from home.  I’d been waiting to get to Maui for months, and now there I was alone in the dark, trying to get a fix on my cell phone’s GPS  before the battery died.  My husband was in the hospital. This was NOT the story I’d planned on!  I started to cry.


Well things turned out fine in the end.  Ken did not have a heart attack.  

We spent the rest of our vacation at sea level and Ken felt fine.  He saw his cardiologist when we got home, and got a clean bill of health.  


Sometimes, the things that make for the best stories are the unexpected things. If everything went according to plan, life could get pretty boring, no?


We loved our trip to Maui, but our adventures on the mountain, and our time at the Maui Medical Center made us even more grateful for our good fortune.


I'm especially glad we both lived to tell yet another great story.