Tuesday, January 21st
As I prepared for my morning lectures at the North American Veterinary Conference, this was all the talk around town. A giant snow storm was about to swallow the Northeast. What do I hate the most in this world: flying. What is the second thing on my hate list: snow. (Reference my snow blog: The Four Letter S Word.)
Now, just how do you think I feel about flying in the snow?
At noon, my OM (office manager) and I collected our sandwiches and headed back to our hotel room. As you may remember from last week’s post, we had scheduled our trips at different times. Because of this, I was flying back earlier than my OM. That afternoon, Southwest was flying my terrified ass back to Virginia. Take off was schedule for 5:10 pm.
We sat down and opened our lunch bags. The OM turned on the television and this media frenzy was on every channel. Everyone in the Northeast was going to die because of the savage beast known as Janus. (When the hell did we start naming snow storms?)
“You may have to reschedule your flight.”
“No way. They are taking me home or I’m getting a rental car.” The panic had struck early that morning. It had started at breakfast. I was spreading jelly on my toast and thought to myself, I think we’re out of jelly. I’m going to have to pick some up from the store when I get home. And then I thought, if I get home. Oh my God! I’m going to die! This plane is going down. Janus is going to snatch her from the sky, tie her in a big tin can bow and toss her into the Atlantic. Fuck, fuck, fuck! Why on Earth did I ever agree to this! I’m going to die, die, die, die, die, die. Oh, I hope it’s an explosion. Then it will be over with quick and I’ll never know what happened. Wait! What if it’s not an explosion? What if we go down? The anticipation will kill me! What if it doesn’t? Will I need my flotation device? How will I know if I need my flotation device? What if we land on the ground? Dear God, what if I survive the crash and then die like that Chinese student, Ye Mengyuan?
phobia /pho·bia/ (fo´be-ah) a persistent, irrational, intense fear of a specific object, activity, or situation (the phobic stimulus), fear that is recognized as being excessive or unreasonable by the individual himself. When a phobia is a significant source of distress or interferes with social functioning, it is considered a mental disorder.
Look, I know I have a problem. I know that millions of people fly every single day. I know that your more likely to die in a car crash than in a plane crash. However, that last statement isn’t exactly true … if I never get on a damn airplane.
The airport shuttle was coming to pick me up at 2:00 pm, a little over an hour from the time we arrived at the hotel. I popped a sedative and picked quietly at my potato chips. My motion sickness had haunted me all week from riding buses from the hotel to the convention center and had left me unable to muster up the ability to eat my sandwich. Since getting back to the hotel and watching the news, my guts had also gone into a full blown panic. The nausea was becoming more intense by the moment. I was starting to sweat and get clammy. I began to focus on my breathing which seemed to become more erratic by the moment. My hands began to uncontrollably vibrate.
Physical symptoms of the fear of flying may include shaking, sweating, gastrointestinal distress, and heart palpitations. You may become flushed, disoriented, and unable to think clearly. People with a fear of flying may feel upset and irritable, and even lash out at friends, relatives, or airline personnel.
I had noticed on my flight down, that one dose of my sedative hadn’t quite cut it. At this point, I felt that if it was going to work I should be feeling some relief by now. I walked into the bathroom and took another sedative.
Fifteen minutes before shuttle time and I started sobbing. As a distraction (and a bit of a compulsive behavior), I used my phone to check the Southwest and Accuweather websites. Accuweather was still reporting that snow would not begin falling in Norfolk until 8:00 pm. That gave me a whole hour after landing to get my bags, cross the Chesapeake Bay Bridge Tunnel and get home. A whole hour. Ten minutes before go-time, Southwest had made an adjustment to my flight. 15 minute delay, departure time 5:25 pm.
Still, fifty minutes to get my bags and head on my way.
Have you ever seen those news reports where they are interviewing someone who just found out a loved one died? The ones who are screaming and speaking in tongues? Congratulations, you just saw a vision of what I looked like getting into the airport shuttle. To the lovely couple that had to sit by me in the shuttle, I apologize for making it seem that you were on candid camera … as I wailed and begged God, Buddha, Shiva and Allah to protect me during the voyage I was about to take. If I had a snake, I would have kissed it for good measure.
Luckily, by the time I made it to the airport, my second sedative was starting to take some of the edge off. I tried to think of happy thoughts, like getting home to the beau, our meatheaded dog, and our hateful cats.
I checked in my baggage and headed to the security gates. I carefully slipped off my shoes and my belt and put them in a grey bucket with my carry-on. I entered the full body scanner, cracked a joke about it looking like one of those ‘money-grabbing booths’ and exited on instruction. I was about to get my belongings when the security officer asked me to come stand with her.
*Note: I am ALWAYS, ALWAYS, ALWAYS the person who gets the RANDOM search. ALWAYS.
The officer explained to me that because of my the sequence on my jeans, I was going to have to undergo a pat down. “That’s fine. I’m usually the lucky person for the frisking. I understand.” I could feel myself starting to get anxious again. All I wanted was to get this over with quickly before I got riled up again. I was relieved when she said that I was clear.
“Before collecting your items, I’ll need you to see this officer over here.”
I really wanted to get my items. Don’t they listen to their own message? The continual audio loop that says you should never leave your belongings unattended? I need to get my damn belongings.
My next task was to undergo a hand swabbing. That’s right, me! The girl who is totally freaking out and wants this trip to be as safe as possible. Me! The only person on the plane who listens to every single detail about my flotation device and oxygen delivery. ME!
As she swabbed my hands, a thought came across my mind. Just how long do explosive like materials stay intact with your hands? Before leaving for Florida, we had admitted a cat from a house fire to the animal hospital. She needed lots of hands on care and because of her delicate condition, we could not bathe her to get the residual soot off of her. As I stood there, waiting for my swab to come back I could hear the kitty’s mom telling me about how her boyfriend’s paint thinner and other chemicals had been near the space heater that had tipped over.
Jesus, I’m about to be locked up.
“Alright, ma’am. Have a nice flight!”
Oh thank Allah, I passed!
I stopped at a store, bought a ginger ale and a bag of Raisinets (can’t go down without enjoying my favorite candy first). I located my boarding gate and hunkered down for the wait. I thought I was feeling okay. That is, until they made the announcement that our flight may be further delayed … or canceled.
I threw back my third round of sedatives.
The fifteen minute grew and grew. We finally boarded the plane with the knowledge that this may be a practice run. We may all be unloaded and be finding a hotel for the night. Everyone but me that is. I knew that if this plane wasn’t getting off the ground, I was heading to Enterprise and starting the long haul back to Virginia. I couldn’t do this all over again the following day.
At 5:59 pm, I switched my phone to airplane mode. At 6:01 pm my mother sent me a message I didn’t get. “Shit, it’s starting to s@&w.” I was an hour delayed and the snow had began two hours early in Virginia.
You may recall that my flight from Virginia I was pretty ill because I had watched television on my tablet. In light of how badly it effected my motion sickness, I had found a different form of entertainment for the way home. I downloaded the Audible app for my phone and had found the perfect book for my listening pleasure. Ireland by Frank Delaney, who also narrates it. Some old fashioned storytelling with an Irish accent? What more could I ask for? Well, I’ll tell you what. More than fifteen minutes. For some reason (likely a punishment for all the sins of my lifetime), the audio book did not download in its entirety. I nearly started crying again. I calmly switched to my phone’s MP3 player and listened to the five songs I had on my phone… over and over and over. Mind you, these are serious walking the dog songs. These aren’t relax and settle down songs.
Forty-five minutes after my audio book catastrophe, the flight attendant made an announcement. I heard the beep that they use to get your attention and began to frantically pull my ear buds. Damn my sinuses and inner ear canals! I could not make out a word they were saying. I looked to the woman beside me and asked her to relay the message. She didn’t quite catch it all either. She knew they wanted us to fasten our seat belts (Hilarious, I never EVER unfasten mine) and be prepared to land soon. The weather was really bad in Norfolk and they wanted us to be ready for what would be a very bumpy descend from the sky.
I started to put my earphones back in (if we were going to crash and burn now, I didn’t want to hear the screams of others) when I heard a woman say, “Isn’t that amazing?” I could see her looking out her window, but couldn’t see what she saw. Against my better judgment (I never EVER look out the window), I glanced out my window. White, nothing but white in the black sky. Flakes fell as we zoomed three hundred miles an hour past them. “How the hell do you think that looks out the windshield?” I asked my neighbor as she stared out our window.
As we returned closer and closer to the Earth, the turbulence grew worse and worse. My neighbor kept reporting to me that she still couldn’t see the ground. It was a complete whiteout.
“I see lights! I see the ground!” I nearly reached over to hug her, but that would require me unlatching my seat belt, which I never EVER do. “The ground is completely covered. Do you think the bridge tunnel will be open for you to get home?”
I had discussed with her before takeoff how worried I was about the twenty mile long bridge being closed for weather conditions. My step-father is a police officer for the bridge and was on standby to report any closings to me.
We were coming down hard and the minute we touched down with the runway, I was certain we were going to die after all. I could feel the plane skidding. Not like your normal come to a sudden halt from the sky, no… coming to a sudden halt in disastrous snow conditions skid. My neighbor and I desperately held on to the armrest, bracing ourselves for what was surely going to be the worst. Finally, the plane stopped. I looked up and saw the little boy ahead of us with his hands up in the air, yelling, “Wee!”
The cabin broke out into loud applause. The flight attendant said, “Thank you ladies and gentlemen. And that’s why pilots are paid the big bucks.”
We all laughed in that sort of cautious way, like gee that was funny but is this really over with? Everyone began turning their phones on. I texted my mom, the beau and my grandparents. My grandparents later admitted to me they had been watching the clock since 5:00 pm. My phobia is well known in our family.
I grabbed my luggage the minute it hit the carousel. Heading out into the frigid air made me well aware that I should have packed more than a light jacket. Shouldn’t I have seen this sort of scenario coming? In a drugged haze (because now my sedatives were starting to hit me), I found my snow covered white car and began cleaning the white powdery mountain off the windows and lights. I had to get over that damn bridge before they closed it.
Oh, lucky for me. The signs in the parking lot were covered in snow. It took me ten minutes to find that damn exit. As I pulled out of the airport, I glanced at my gas gauge. I had half of a tank. Plenty to get home… but…
I could hear my grandmother’s voice in my head. It was a winter storm. I had packed no blankets, no water, no food in my car. I didn’t even have a decent coat. What if I was stranded or stuck? Wouldn’t I be thankful for a full tank of gas to occasionally warm the car up with while I waited to be rescued?
I slowly slipped into a gas station. The wind was so freezing cold I squealed when I got out of the car. I quickly swiped my card, removed my gas cap and placed it on the curb and started the pump. As the gas started to flow, I jumped back in the car and shivered. I suddenly heard a noise outside of my car.
Clunk, clunk clunk clunk, clunk.
“What the hell?”
I’m glad the drugs hadn’t made me a complete zombie or I may not have realized that soft little thump-thump was my gas cap blowing away. I hope if I ever become a well known writer, that video footage from the surveillance camera will surface. Then everyone can watch me run across the slushy parking lot to catch my runaway cap.
I’m happy to report, at a slow and steady pace I did indeed cross the bridge and get home. Half of my drive was done on snow covered roads, but luckily at that point I was on my own turf and had an idea of where the ditches were.
The beau was glad to report I was home as well. The next day he admitted when I got home that my eyes didn’t look quite right. Was it all the sedatives? Was it the physical side effects of my phobia? Or was it my mind’s relief knowing that this trip officially sealed the deal.
I am done with flying.