The concept of this blog was born from the fact that Nicole and I have… issues. We’re neurotic about a lot of things—food, mosquitoes, bathroom habits, windmills—and not always in an adorable Woody Allen kind of way. Nic is doing a great job of writing about conquering her fears, whether that means climbing what seemed like fifty flights of stairs at Ireland’s Bantry House or sampling snails, er, escargot, in Montreal. Personally, I’ve been a little negligent about letting you all into those dark recesses of my brain.* Well, no more.
I’m just going to say it: I fainted on a plane. Um, midflight. About 30,000 feet somewhere above eastern Nevada, I’d guess. You know how you ask your friend about her trip to Aruba and she complains that she missed her connecting flight because the first one was delayed due to some ass-hat’s “medical emergency” onboard?
I am that ass-hat.
Here’s the thing: I’m a fainter. It started when I was 14 and in marching band, overheating during my hometown’s annual Memorial Day parade (I blame the polyester uniform and having to stand for long periods of time). Over the next 24 years, I’ve managed to pass out on the subway, while getting a tattoo, and at Boston’s Museum of Fine Arts (odd reaction to Goya’s The Third of May 1808; also, standing too long). Although I don’t have low blood sugar, skipping meals definitely doesn’t help.
So when I found myself on a nonstop flight to join Nic for a wedding-and-wine-tasting weekend last June, you’d think I would have taken some precautions. Like maybe bringing a few granola bars, at least. But I was flying Virgin America for the first time—a Virgin virgin, if you will—and was not aware that not only doesn’t Virgin provide lunch, they don’t even give you a bag of chips or nuts. Nothing. NOTHING.
Oh sure, they’ll sell you food, but I wasn’t about to shell out $10 for a “snack box” of cheese and crackers. So I sipped my water and watched Real Housewives of New Jersey (because Virgin will not feed you, but they will give you six hours of free cable). And I tried to ignore my increasingly growling stomach, which was only exacerbated by my increasingly bloaty stomach, a common side effect of flying for me.
Pretty soon, I started feeling a little lightheaded. I closed my eyes, tried to listen to the catfight onscreen, and reminded myself that nothing dramatic would happen because I was already sitting down. I mean, people have died on planes and gone unnoticed for hours. If I pass out, no one will be the wiser!
No such luck.
The next thing I knew, I was stretched out across the row of seats. The two businessmen who had been sitting next to me were gone, replaced by a twentysomething flight attendant whose matter-of-fact demeanor only partly masked her nerves.
“Are you okay, ma’am?” Oh, yes, I’m just embarrassed. This happens all the time.
“All the time? Do you have a seizure disorder, ma’am?” No, no, no. I just fainted. It’s, er, something I do, mostly in embarrassing situations. And I haven’t eaten anything since breakfast. Because I assumed there would be, you know, some pretzels or something.
“Okay, well, luckily, we’re close enough to San Francisco that we won’t need to make an emergency landing. An hour ago, it would have been a different story, hahaha. We’ve sold out of sandwiches, but we have a leftover snack pack you can have. And we’d like to move you to first class for the rest of the flight, ma’am. Maybe you’ll be more comfortable up there.” Sweeeet. (Please stop calling me ma’am.)
After enduring the stares of my fellow passengers and a lecture from my new seatmate in row 2 (“I don’t know if you’ve heard, but long flights can cause blood clots! You oughta get that checked out!”), I passed the remaining 45 minutes of the flight relatively uneventfully.
BUT: Upon landing, I was escorted off the plane first, thanks to the flight attendant’s overhead announcement that there had been a medical emergency onboard. I was met by an EMT with a wheelchair. He bore an uncanny resemblance to Thomas Hayden Church, which was rather serendipitous considering my upcoming wine-tasting tour.
After checking my vital signs (normal), asking me about my past history of fainting (“Really, marching band? Hahaha”), and imploring me to at least eat a banana before hailing a cab, Thomas Hayden Church reluctantly sent me on my way. And that’s it. I took a long nap at the hotel, entertained Nicole with my tales of woe, and woke up rested and ready to tackle Northern California.
Despite my quips about Virgin, the flight crew (and EMTs) couldn’t have been nicer or more professional. I was never really worried about my health, but I know they were, and I appreciated their concern. The lesson of this story? Pack a lunch or at least pick up some food at the gate. Listen to your body, not the Real Housewives. And always, always fly JetBlue.**
Jokes aside, I do worry how my tendency to faint will affect my future travels. Nic and I are toying with a hill tribe trek during our upcoming trip to Thailand. What if I pass out in a foreign country? Or, worse, by myself in a foreign country? Or on the 18-hour flight, somewhere above Mongolia?
I guess I’ll find out. But I know one thing: I won’t let my fears keep me from traveling.
*This is rather curious, considering I’ve published essays about everything from my divorce to my parents. Shameless plug here.
**Kidding, of course. Who doesn’t love free cable?
Have you ever had a medical emergency—serious or just humiliating—on the road? Do health concerns or “what ifs” keep you from traveling? Leave us a comment!