Monday, July 11, 2005

Flight delayed

I checked the website before leaving and the flight was on time. Got to the airport and every other flight to Atlanta is delayed but not mine. Nice. Ten minutes before scheduled take-off, they tell us we're delayed.

Well, duh. There's a hurricane in the gulf and it's storming like crazy in Atlanta. I'm not in a much of a rush, but even if I were, I don't care. I'm not interested in flying around anywhere near a hurricane. Flying is scary enough. Hurricanes are terrifying.

I have a healthy respect for hurricanes having lived through one in Chapel Hill. I was out of power for three days. It wasn't so bad and made me realize how dependent we are on electricity. But the power was awesome--trees down everywhere and a few crushed cars. We were very lucky that no one was hurt.

My stomach was fluttery long before I knew there was a delay so I drugged myself. I took a Dramamine and it hit me about an hour later. As I type this, my eyelids are droopy and my fingers slightly numb. I heart Dramamine. Kills nausea and puts me to sleep. And wears out in four hours. What more could you ask?

I developed a fear of flying about seven years ago after a particularly rocky flight from Newark to Chapel Hill. There had been electrical storms all day and things were just clearing up when my brother (B1) got me to the airport. Our ascent was very rough. We had almost leveled off when the plane dropped several hundred feet. The fall was so sudden that the cabin let out a "whoop" in unison as though we were on a roller coaster. I lost it. I didn't yell or cry, but I felt sick to my stomach and I started sweating like crazy--it was that nasty smelling fear sweat, flop-sweat. My mind was racing and the first thing that popped in my head was "I'm going to die and I haven't even finished my dissertation." Even at the time I was surprised that my first thought was of my dissertation. I didn't think I cared that much about it. From then on I knew I would finish.

I spent the rest of the time telling myself the story of my relationship with vip-ex (important grad school boyfriend). I sat with elbows on my knees, my head bent down and some ice on the back of my neck. I was in the window seat of a three seat row, with an empty seat between me and the man on the aisle. He noticed that I was in distress and called the stewardess over. She asked how I was and if I thought I was going to be sick. I said, "I don't feel so good."

"Keep your head down."

The entire cabin knew something was wrong with me and I heard whispers of concern radiate out from my row. The other passengers all seemed calm. I served a purpose because they could all worry about me instead of whether or not the plane was going to crash. The man on my row clumsily patted me on the back and talked to me a little, but I didn't have much to say. When it was time to deplane, he wouldn't let me carry my bag.

When we landed the passengers erupted in chatter and laughter.

JenA picked me up and when I saw her, the fellow handed her my bag. She knew something was wrong. "What happened?" I was still shaky. "It was just a terrible, terrible fight." An anonymous fellow passenger who was walking by confirmed it, "It was terrible! Awful flight!"

That flight did me in. Year by year, my fear had been growing. I've been flying since I was a year old and when I was little, I loved it. I loved looking out the window and I loved the adventure. I loved flying alone when I was acutually too young to do so. I still feel that way about train travel. I'm fine with the traveling part; it's the up in the air part I don't like. After that bad flight, I avoided flying for as long as I could, but when I had to fly I would be terrified. There would be one bump and my adrenaline would surge, I would start to sweat, my mind would race and I wouldn't be able to read or concentrate. Forget doing work. Talking seemed to help and I chewed many seatmates' ears off in this period.

A few years later, a friend advised me to go to the doctor and ask for some drugs. The doctor saw me for about five minutes and gave me a prescription for Atavan. The first time I took one, it knocked me out for almost 24 hours. It turns out that Atavan is a heavy-duty drug. They give it to you in the emergency room before they intubate. It is an "amnesiac." That means that it makes you forget--which is good when they are doing painful medical things to you, like, say, giving you chemotherapy. I told a friend who had gone through chemo and she said, "Is that why I can't remember anything that happened that year? I was taking those things every day!"

I can't believe they didn't tell her it was a side effect. Bastards.

Because Atavan stays in your system for a long time, if I needed to be alert when I got off the plane, I couldn't take one. If I needed to be sure I would remember what I had done, I couldn't take one. These pills were so overkill it's not even funny. I used them twice.

I had to figure something else out. Valerian was recommended by Pele (aka Princess)--it's a mild herbal tranquilizer. It works pretty well and it is not habit forming and you can be functional, if sleepy, after you take it. That, plus Dramamine to cut the nausea, seem to do the trick. When I'm feeling confident, like today, I only take the Dramamine. I'm also not as scared as I used to be.

We finally boarded, but were delayed again. We sat in the plane, away from the gate, from 8:30 until 9:30 pm. The baby behind me indulged in some ear-shattering screams. I felt bad for her, her parents and me. But that's why God invented noise-muffling earphones. The stewardesses brought us mini bottles of water and two tiny packs of peanuts. The shuffle mode of the iPod is treated me to New Pornographers and Wilco. I saw a most gorgeous sunset. And I got to write. It could have been worse.

We finally took off and the captain told us, "It should be smooth going for the next 150 miles. In Atlanta there are 30 mile per hour winds and 800 foot ceilings. We are exactly 400 miles from Atlanta." That was not terribly reassuring.

Most of the miles were not choppy, but I still had some nerves and I ended up in a boring but distracting conversation with my seatmate. She had been to DC to visit an old high school friend (she was in her mid-60s). She couldn't choose any one museum to visit and instead opted for a driving tour and no museums. I kept smiling and nodding. There were a few exciting bumps on the decent. The landing was tippy and hair raising but it could have been worse. I wasn't white knuckle but I wasn't the epitome of calm either. I am much better than in years past.

At the hotel, I was safe and cozy in my room. I ordered room-service breakfast. Probably crap but I'm treating myself to a relaxing morning. The hotel is North of downtown, across the street from a mall and it's raining non-stop. Looks to be a heck of a week.

Grateful for: safe flights.

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