Air Sickness

I’m going to Southern California tomorrow for work. Justin and Cameron both had the stomach flu last week. I am terrified of the prospect of coming down with a similar affliction on the road. My business travels typically do not run like clockwork. A repeat of the professional low point described next would be a very bad thing. I wrote it on my way back from an epic fail of a trip to North Carolina.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008  3:18pm

So I haven’t sent one of my travel tales recently, mostly because my recent trips have gone relatively smoothly and it’s no fun to write about that. Last month in South Florida, I was recovering from strep throat and sucking down penicillin and cough drops by the fistful, but other than that it’s been relatively smooth sailing. We all knew that wouldn’t last though. At the moment I am on a plane from Detroit to Minneapolis praying that I make it through this flight, which is a better place than I was last night, when I was praying to die.

Yesterday began normally enough. I got up at 1:30am to feed Alex and then couldn’t go back to sleep. I kept thinking I MUST sleep because I have to get up in two more hours to make my 6am flight. 1:46am…you MUST sleep because you have to get up in less than two hours. 2:15am…you MUST sleep because you have to get up in almost an hour. Of course my body isn’t going to respond to that kind of nagging from my brain and I slept fitfully for the last hour.

I made it to Detroit uneventfully, then hopped on my connection to Greensboro, North Carolina. There was a problem in that the captain wasn’t, well, there. The flight attendant astutely pointed out that this was a problem because they needed him to fly the plane. A few minutes later, a disheveled-looking pilot showed up and made his way to the back of the plane to stow all of his crap. We waited more and were given an explanation that the air wasn’t working on this particular aircraft, which was apparently not a concern, but they were waiting for a ground crew because they needed to start the engine with a “huffer pump.” Seriously?

I landed in North Carolina. My friend, Pam (who, as an aside, is my favorite person at UnitedHealthcare and has the best southern accent I’ve ever heard) picked me up and delivered me to my meeting. I did my presentation, which went well, and the whole group headed to a cocktail reception before dinner. In the middle of a very pleasant conversation with Chris, a sales exec from South Carolina who reminded me a little of Matthew Broderick, I started to feel clammy. And woozy. I put down my wine glass and tried to politely excuse myself to get a glass of water. He offered to get it for me, but by that time I realized that, Houston, we have a problem. I hastily excused myself. Not hastily enough. I made it to the hotel lobby, frantically looked for a restroom, but made a fatal miscalculation and turned down the wrong hallway. It was over. I threw up in the middle of the open lobby for all to witness. I’m fairly certain the Regional Sales VP, who was on his phone in the lobby, saw me. What does one do in this situation? I went to the reception desk and asked where the restroom was and told the gentleman that I had “soiled” his pristine floor and tried to apologize but didn’t really have the time to do it properly. The O Henry Hotel in Greensboro is quite service-oriented and before I made it to the restroom a housekeeping S.W.A.T. team had descended on my mess and was dealing with it.

I felt somewhat better and cleaned up in the bathroom. I had somehow remained completely unscathed. I huddled in the stall and called my sister to ask what the etiquette was here. What the hell should I do? Bust a move out of there? Pretend nothing happened? Explain what happened? She said I should probably just be honest, it’s not as if it was late night and people would assume I was hammered or something. So I found Chris again, apologized for ditching him, joked that talking to him made me sick, and then the room started to spin. Thankfully at that moment the wait staff came around and asked us to sit down for dinner.

I made it through the meal, poking at a giant prawn and a rare filet mignon covered in some sauce. I really deeply envied the prawn because he got to just lie there on a nice warm plate while I sat there with an increasingly worsening case of the chills. By the time dessert arrived (an apple tart with ice cream that in ordinary circumstances would have been so wonderful), I knew I had zero hope of making it through the night. I decided to escape with as much dignity as possible. I caught Jeff, the VP who was hosting the event, apologized profusely, and grabbed the shuttle to the hotel where I was staying.

The Proximity Hotel is a “green” hotel. This means they use sustainable practices, such as recycling, water conservation, etc. This is a noble idea, but really what you don’t want when you have a raging case of the stomach flu is a low flow bathtub when you all you want is to sink into a full tub of warm water to stop your intense shivering. And it goes without saying that when projectile vomiting at 11:30pm, a low flow toilet isn’t on the top of your list either. It was at this point that death seemed like a reasonable and welcome alternative to my current state of existence.

After ridding my system of some toxins, I felt a little less like the girl from The Exorcist and I tried to sleep. By morning I thought I might actually have the strength to survive the trip home. Pam came to pick me up. She was so sweet and said I should have called her so she could have taken care of me. I was still feeling a little pasty by the time I made it through the security march at the airport. As luck would have it, I was in line behind some urban youths who had to go through the metal detector three times, removing gold chains, belts, assorted jewelry, and Lord knows what else, each time through. I kept one of those tubs for shoes and laptops within reach.

I sunk into a chair at my gate and held a bottle of cold water against my forehead. A lady sat down next to me and said, “I sat down here because I couldn’t get this water open and saw you had the same kind.” She apparently wanted me to give her a demo of how the little sports top opened. I told her that I really didn’t know what she should do because I had just opened the whole cap on mine. “But I wanted to use this part,” she whined. I couldn’t even muster the energy to tell her that I did not give a rat’s ass about her cap situation, and just sat there staring at the floor while she struggled with her bottle.

By Detroit I was feeling more human, well enough anyway to help the ancient Japanese couple who could barely walk, get their valet-checked baggage off the jetway. Here’s a thought. If you are 5 feet tall, using a cane, have the upper body strength of a praying mantis, and have three bags that each weigh more than you do, maybe you should check your luggage.

I’m just hoping I will be able to recover enough to do this all over again tomorrow when I go to Fort Myers, Florida.

Update: I did make it through the flight, feeling a touch better, but it would not have been right not to suffer one more indignity on this trip. Walking toward the off-site shuttle pick-up spot, though a high traffic crossroads area of the airport, I don’t even know what happened it went so fast, but I think my heel slipped on a wet spot and then next thing I knew I was sprawled out on the floor, just about flat on my face. Some guy went, “Whoa,” and kept on walking. A woman sitting on a bank of chairs was eyeing me with concern and asked if I was okay. “Yes,” I said, as I tried to get the hell out as fast as possible so I could make this nightmare come to an end.

© Jennifer Alys Windholz, 2010

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