(Chapter 1 – Cont’d)
Where did I Go Wrong?
It’s now been nearly three hours of pain that gets worse every couple of minutes, and much like that “equation” I was working on during my car accident all those years ago, I again find myself “doing math”. Whoever said there would never be a need for algebra after high school was dead wrong. If I can just make it another half hour, my flight will begin boarding. At that point, I will arrive in San Francisco in a mere two hours. In two hours, I will have access to medical care. I can do this. It won’t be easy, but it is manageable. Not only is the pain in my midsection and chest (yes, it is spreading) nearly impossible to describe at this point, but I notice my breathing has become labored too. I am trying to breathe in a manner that does not hurt. I must be quite the sight – sweating, adjusting in my seat, is becoming more and more sporadic, color draining from my face, etc. I am approached by a second stranger in the last two hours, this time a man. He lets me know his wife (an entirely different lady from before) would like me to take a couple of pain pills. He has them in his outstretched hand. This time, there is no argument, nor internal conflict. I will take anything, so long as the pain is diminished.
At that time, I hear my name being paged on the overhead intercom. My brain instantly runs to the negative. I consider myself a positive person, but in this moment, all I can come up with is they are not going to allow me to get on the plane. I just keep thinking, why am I being called out? Am I going to be denied access to my flight? Did I sit here for hours just to be denied boarding? I approach the gate agent, even though I have done everything in my power to avoid her up until now. She smiles and informs me I have been upgraded to first class. This was a little unexpected and very welcome, as I usually receive this upgrade before reaching the airport. I have flown first class too many times to count and as great as the extra room is for my 6’6” frame, it is the free booze that I really enjoy. Today, I know I will not be ordering anything to drink. I just need to make it to San Francisco.
Pre-boarding has begun and the agent has just announced first class may now begin boarding. Usually, I am one of the first in line. I want to make sure there is room for my carry-on in the overhead bin and I want to stretch out with a glass of bourbon in hand, regardless of the hour of day. Not so today. I am elated to have made it to boarding – a true testament to my determination to make it to my destination. Things should go smoothly from here, I think to myself. I slowly make my way up to the jet-way and walk toward the plane. I look at my ticket and see I am seated in 1C, first row – aisle. I round the corner as I step onto the plane and I see my seatmate for the first time. By the look of excitement, the smile on her face and the drink in hand, I quickly determine this is her first time travelling in first class. As she makes eye contact with me, her smile quickly disappears. The excitement that I saw in her eyes, just a few seconds ago, has been replaced with horror. She sees something in (or around) me that I am not even aware of. As a seminar leader, one gets really good at reading body language and facial expressions – it’s definitely horror she is projecting. I instantly begin wondering what it is she sees. Is it the animated Death character from The Family Guy or Meet Joe Black, others seemed to see earlier. I feel bad for her, as what was once going to be a fun experience for her has now turned into “death watch”. It’s not just my seatmate, but the attendant in first class looks at me with fear in her eyes, as well.
The attendant wants to know if I am feeling alright. Is there anything she can get for me? Am I comfortable? I let her know I am fine and just want to make it through this short flight. A short flight, indeed – it should be just an hour and a half to San Francisco. My mind is working in overdrive; coming up with all sorts of equations and scenarios as to how I will make it. Even though it is 1.5 hours to SF, which is really only an hour of flight time, with the last half hour being the descent. Do you ever do things like that, and break them down into more manageable parts? I do that all the time and in this moment, I thought it was working for me too.
It is settled, I just need to hold it together an hour, and then I can focus on the descent and landing. My seatmate is keeping an eye on me the whole time, like one of those reptiles that can move its eyes independently of one another. I can feel it. I am wondering if (and secretly hoping) she works in the medical field, but don’t want to find out the answer is truly “yes”, so I ignore the inquisitive eye. Just forty-five minutes into the flight (the true half-way point and only fifteen minutes until the beginning of our descent), I am going to be sick again. Until today, I have not vomited in more than 15 years, and now at more than thirty thousand feet, I am about to be sick for the second time today.
37,000 Feet – Somewhere between Phoenix and San Francisco
I am very grateful there are no cameras in this tiny restroom onboard. Seriously, how could there even be room for one to stand in here, let alone get down on all fours?, I thought. I think about how hard one would be laughing; watching a 6’6” man contort his body to make sure what he was expelling was making it into the toilet. This was no small fete. Obviously, I have known for hours now, I am in need of medical attention, but now it is confirmed beyond a shadow of a doubt. There is blood in my vomit. What was in that burrito anyway!?! I am cracking jokes in my head, but reality is taking over. Something internally is greatly wrong and the pain that has now spread from a small area in my midsection to include my entire torso – neck to waist has me convinced I am experiencing a heart attack. What else could this possibly be? The “good news” is that our descent should begin any minute.
Upon exiting the tiny onboard restroom, I finally acknowledge to the flight attendant I am not feeling well. I ask if she can call the gate and have a wheelchair meet us at the gate. The thought of trying to walk all the way to baggage claim and the car rental area is unbearable. She lets me know having a wheelchair meet me at the gate is not possible, because I did not have one to board the plane. If I truly want one, I would be met by paramedics, as well. They would have to check me out, before letting anyone else deplane. As someone who knows how “wasteful” time can be at airports, I decide I could not do that to the other 160 passengers on board. I inform her I will tough it out. After much “tossing and turning” in my seat, we finally land. I know help is not far away. I call my assistant from the runway to find out where he will pick me up. He hasn’t even picked up the rental car, yet. He’s been chilling at a restaurant still inside the airport. What!?! I tell him to get the car as soon as possible and I will meet him at the rental area, just as quick as I could.
Now five hours into the worst airport travelling experience of my life, it takes everything I have just to make it to my feet, grab my carryon bags, and exit the plane. The slight uphill angle of the jet way was incredibly difficult to walk up. I think to myself, I might as well be walking up one of the steep roadways San Francisco is known for, but this is just the 30 feet to get inside the airport. How am I ever going to make it? I am so weak, I’m barely able to pull my roller-board behind me, even though it’s on wheels. With pressure bearing down on my chest and my labored breathing, my suitcase feels as though it weighs 300 pounds. I am walking so slowly, young children are passing me by as if I am standing still.
After what seems like an eternity on the slow-moving passenger tram from Terminal 5 to the car rental pickup at San Francisco International, I finally round the corner to the car company with which I have my rental reservation. I am completely dismayed to see a line of at least thirty people. There is my assistant at the halfway point. Unacceptable!!! I cannot wait any longer; I need to get to the hospital, because I am finally ready to admit to myself I am experiencing a true medical emergency. I notice three kiosks that no one is using. They are all standing in line to deal with an agent. As a seasoned traveler, I utilize kiosks as much as possible. I bypass everyone and check-in at the machine. It only takes 3-4 minutes to have my rental agreement in hand. I motion to my assistant to get out of that ridiculously long line and meet me at the car pick up area.
We get in the car and he wants to know just what has happened to me. We had spoken just hours before and I was upbeat, looking forward to a great week. Sure I had mentioned the burrito, but we both knew that could not be responsible for this hot mess who now sat slouched over in the passenger seat next to him. At this point, seminar be damned, I just need to make sure he is taken care of for the night, before taking me to the Emergency Department. As someone who worked in a hospital through college, I knew once we made it to the hospital, I would be there for a good amount of , and possibly overnight. We arrive at the hotel; I slap down my credit card and get checked in to our rooms. Without ever making it to the rooms, I hand a key to my assistant and tell him “now, get me to a hospital”.
Although the hospital was just fifteen minutes away, it felt like it was taking hours to get there. First, trying to get to the hospital was difficult, because we both had our phone’s navigations set to the same destination, but both of the automated voices were giving different directions. It was frustrating to be talking over both of them, as I tried to explain how I was feeling. Secondly, he wanted to tell me why I was feeling the way I was. Really?!?! He had no idea what I went through to get to San Francisco or the crushing pain I was in. Obviously, this is simply the worst case of food poisoning ever…right? He just kept talking and talking and talking. I was growing more and more irritated.
Finally, the hospital was in sight. As we entered the parking area, I pointed to the ambulance bay. I knew not to be dropped off there; however, the main entrance had to be close. Sure enough, we found the doors I was looking for and I instructed him to let me out, before he looked for a parking space. Feeling completely exhausted and relieved as I limped into the hospital, I walk right past the check-in area and head straight for the double doors leading to the emergency room. I pushed the doors as hard as I could and was thrilled they opened.
The nurses in the emergency room looked at me like I was breaking into the place and in fairness…I was. I had just broke protocol and had not checked in at the front desk. There was no handing over of insurance cards, verifying coverage, or talking to anyone in reception. I needed help and I needed it now. I was a little relieved to see the general layout of this emergency room was similar to the one I worked at while in college. I saw the “cardiac triage” area and made a direct path for it. Now that I was actually on hospital grounds, I allowed myself to think about what may actually be wrong with me other than food poisoning. The only thing I was coming up with was my heart. As I used the last little bit of energy I had left, I layed down on the cart and hoped someone would be in to find me…before I died.
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