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All Of A Sudden I Couldn’t Breathe

December 4, 2017

I was safe. . .wasn’t I?

I tried breathing techniques. . .but every breath came as a gasp.

It was a situation I’d been in literally hundreds of times before. . .but it was different this time. So very different, yesterday.

I once booked a trip for my mother and myself. I was living in Washington state not far from my mother. My brother and his wife had a new baby in Utah. We were headed down for the baby blessing.

Rodney, go ahead and book the tickets and I’ll pay you back.

We ended up in Row 28. My mother’s reaction was curious. It can best be described as quiet terror.

That’s the closest you could get?

What do you mean?

There wasn’t anything closer to the front of the plane?

Not really. It’s a pretty crowded flight. Are you okay?

It will be fine.

It wasn’t fine. Somewhere in the years since I’d left home, my mother had developed a phobia. The prospect of being at the back of an airplane was terrifying to her. We took the flight and while she was tense, it was the end that really surprised me. As soon as the plane pulled up to the gate, she literally sprinted up the aisle.

It scared me a little. Was that a fate in store for me?

I travel a lot. I’ve always travelled a lot. This week I’m in Lexington, KY to migrate our call center to a new networking platform. I travelled yesterday. My flight didn’t leave Salt Lake City until 8:30AM. But, it was on a Sunday. My return is scheduled for Saturday. Salt Lake has a reasonable light rail/heavy rail system that links my home in Utah county with the airport 40 miles away. I like taking the train. After a trip, it’s nice to not have to fight traffic. But, the trains don’t run on Sunday. My choices were drive myself to the airport or take a shuttle. (No, I didn’t consider an Uber. . .because I’m old and apparently like living 20 years in the past.)

If I drove, I needed to leave at 6:30AM. The only shuttle available had a pickup time of 5:00AM. Again, because I’m not smart enough to find other alternatives, I opted for the shuttle. I’ll just go to bed early, right? Wrong.

Our client did maintenance on Saturday night. The maintenance started at 11:30PM and went until 1:00AM. I got about 3 hours of sleep. I think that might have contributed. My company has a policy for business expenses, of course. In their case, I can expense food on a travel day, but not if the place I bought it from is in Salt Lake City. So, if I bought breakfast at the airport, I’d have to foot the bill.

I suppose I could have had something at home before I left, and in hindsight that would have been a great idea. Instead, I opted to fast until I got to Atlanta. So, I’m tired and I’m hungry and I’m in seat 43C. A long way from the front of the plane.

When I was a young man of 24, I attempted to join the Army. My plan was to join the ROTC and the National Guard. It was a way to pay for school and also serve in the military. I failed the physical. It was probably my own fault. The day of the test, I got up at 4:00AM to be at the recruiting center at 5:00AM. Again, too little sleep and no food. I passed out and had a seizure. First and only time that ever happened. In my defense, they did give me a nasty hematoma when they took my blood, and that contributed. An army doctor met with me where I admitted that I don’t do well with needles and blood. (A result of some tramatic hospital exeriences when I was young.)

We’re not sure anyone explained to you what a soldier does, son.

We weren’t at war, and that was the end of my army career.

I didn’t pass out yesterday, but in the middle of my panic attack, I considered that it was probably not a great idea to fast on too little sleep. Because that’s what it was: a full blown panic attack sitting on the airplane waiting to take off. At least it had all the hallmarks of the beginning of one.

About six months ago I went in for an MRI. Ever had an MRI? They load you into a tiny space and take pictures with magnets. I’m fine with small spaces. . .or I used to be. As they started to slide me in I stopped the tech.

Whoa, whoa. Hand on just a minute.

Is there a problem?

I’m not claustrophobic, but what if I was? What would be my options?

Well, you can go get a prescription for Valium. We’ll reschedule the test and you will definitely not be able to drive home afterward. Or, we could put a washcloth over your face to prevent you from opening your eyes.

(Who thought THAT was a good idea?)

I think I just need to know that I could get out if needed. If your machine breaks can I get myself out of that tube?

Ha, ha. I’m the same way. Yes. If you choose to, you could climb out the top of the tube.

Okay, I’m good. Let’s go.

I just remembered to breathe. It was fine. Yesterday wasn’t fine and it was getting worse as the plane took off. I tried drinking some water. I had forgotten to stock snacks in my carry-on, so I was till hungry. Finally, the trolley cart came by with overpriced sandwiches.

Yes, I’ll take a turkey sandwich, please.

That’ll be $9.

(Technically, we were not in Salt Lake anymore. Best I could estimate we were somewhere over Nebraska. I also popped two Benedryle.

The episode passed. But, the impression it left was terrifying. I have a coworker who refuses to fly. Even a train is terrifying for him if there’s a long tunnel. I suddenly had a lot more sympathy for him.

Lessons learned:

  • Get enough rest the night before a flight
  • Don’t fly hungry
  • Identify the exits and mentally count the rows between my seat and the exit row
  • Distract myself so I don’t think about the number of people between me and the front of the plane
  • Maybe get a prescription for Valium

Apparently I am definitely my mother’s son.

Rodney M Bliss is an author, columnist and IT Consultant. His blog updates every weekday. He lives in Pleasant Grove, UT with his lovely wife, thirteen children and grandchildren. 

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(c) 2017 Rodney M Bliss, all rights reserved 

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