Sunday, May 6, 2007

Sixty Is Not the New Forty

Do journeys ever unfold as planned? If I needed reminding that the answer is in the negative, the beginning of my trip on Friday gave me the nudge. First of all, let me say that I survived, and I'm sitting in the library at The Yale Club in New York writing this for an hour before heading off to Newark and my flight to Rome--the first leg of my journey to Jordan. I had thought to spend this hour pontificating/intoning--whatever--about how the Cold War set so much of the Middle East on a skewed path (journeys, again?)--and my sense generally that wrong choices have consequences far into the future.

On a lighter note--but indeed a story about wrong choices having consequences far into the future--let me begin with some poor decision-making back in 1969. My then boyfriend Stephen Sewell, having toked a few too many, ran a stop sign in his ancient Nash after midnight in Berkeley and collided with an oncoming car. I was in the front passenger seat and not wearing my seatbelt, so I slammed into the dashboard and broke my left collarbone. For years, the only lasting consequence of that evening seemed to be Stephen's confidence in my mother (arriving in Berkeley to care for me) that he was thinking of proposing. Curiously, Stephen never mentioned this to me. And given the on-again off-again nature of our relationship, I was surprised to hear that he had marriage on his mind. And over time I have mulled occasionally over Stephen's confidence in my mom. But the accident had another consequence that did not seem too burdensome at first: I lost complete mobility in my left arm. And now, decades later, because my left shoulder/arm is weaker than my right, and because at the same time I am left-handed, I have a recalcitrant muscle in my left shoulder that sometimes complains. And complains mightily, as it suddenly began to do the evening before my departure for New York, in such a fashion that I got no sleep Thursday night before my 7 A.M. flight on Friday morning. And there my story begins.

Having had no sleep, having taken Advil for my shoulder, I, who absolutely hate to fly (hence the three-step journey to Jordan) was nevertheless doing fine until the plane hit considerable turbulence descending into Newark. Did I mention also that I am prone to motion sickness? No--well, I am. And I got such a case of motion sickness that by the time we landed I felt I was going to pass out. I rang the call button, and a stewardess began to ply me with cold towels. Slowly, the plane empties, except for the patient and long-suffering young couple on the inside seats next to me. With me eyes closed--the better not to barf--I say over and over "if I could just lie down for fifteen minutes." Meanwhile, the (very nurturing) stewardesses, who have already had to deal with a young man having a seizure earlier on the flight, just beyond Denver--these young women tell me that they have called the paramedics. And also meanwhile I manage to move across the aisle so that my seatmates can deplane. Once again I murmur, "if I could just lie down."

Soon I open my eyes to six jolly policemen--"where are the paramedics?" ask the stewardesses--I suppose post 9/11 that airport cops don't have enough to do (thank goodness) and are delighted to be called to any kind of emergency. And what chatty, jolly cops they were. "I'm going to open your purse to get out your driver's license, madam." "Oh! look here! We can arrest her!" Eyes closed, I protest feebly at their joke, for I know that my license doesn't expire for another year. "What medication are you on, madam?" "Oh, Prevacid--when did you last have that GERD test?--naughty, naughty, you need to have that test updated." And on and on. I still have my eyes closed and can barely talk. Eventually, the paramedics do arrive--and you, my sisters, will be interested to hear that it was a team identical to the one who ministered to our dad in the wee hours of the morning in Houston a month ago--complete with all the really cool high tech equipment, which they proceeded to use on me.

Even as the stewardess is trying to tell these men that she thinks I just have motion sickness, they are determined to carry me to the hospital. "Can't you just take me to a quiet room?" I ask. But it turns out, probably for reasons of liability, that airports have no quiet rooms anymore (well, actually, there is one in Terminal 4 at Heathrow, should you intrepid travelers ever need a snooze between flights). So it looks like it's on to the hospital--somewhere in Newark. I protest again--remembering the incidents of run-away staph infections when my dad was just in the hospital in Houston, following his paramedic adventure--and I try to hold my ground. The paramedics confer. "Oh, but look here," one says, "she is sixty." Registering my age, these men are more determined more than ever to cart me off.

At this point, I finally throw up, mostly in my wet cloth, but also on the floor of seat 18D. And, because I haven't had a chance to use the restroom, at the same time I pee all over 18D. A low point in my life. But I feel so badly that I don't realize how low until later.

Finally, after an hour, surrounded by six policemen and four paramedics and three stewardesses, I emerge into the terminal, packed with the passengers awaiting their flight, now considerably delayed. I had insisted on walking out, thinking that would make me feel better--my wheelchair proceeding me--and then disappearing just as I needed to sit down. And with the packed waiting area, there were no seats. A stewardess commands a seat! I collapse, next to a woman eating a plate of fried chicken; I commence to barf all over the floor around the seat. At last, my wheelchair reappears and I am wheeled on Toad's Wild Ride down to the baggage area to get my luggage.

Magically, mysteriously, my retinue has disappeared, and I am left in luggage, where I doze for an hour until I think I can make it into Manhattan. As I wooze my way along the taxi queue, I notice that I am covered with the same stick-ums for electrodes that the paramedics used on my dad. At last, I make it to The Yale Club and proceed to barf twice more. I collapse into bed for almost twenty-four hours until revived by the arrival of my daughters into New York from Princeton.

Let's just say I don't recover from these bouts of air sickness as quickly as I used to. And I plan to be well-dramamined before taking off for Rome this afternoon. It is a very windy spring day in New York.

1 comment:

Karen said...

Okay, it took me awhile to see how to leave a comment rather than send an email. Hugh and I have enjoyed this latest installment. It's hard to see how the conference can provide anything approaching the drama of this!