The Long, Miserable Journey Home
In the quick fifteen minutes it took to get from Yale to the airport I manage to check my phone – and see a message from US Airways: “Your flight has been delayed…”
I stare at my phone for a minute letting that sink in.
Wait. What? That’s a 50 minute delay, and I only had 40 minutes between flights to begin with.
I toss my phone back into my bag, too burnt to process the information. I have ten minutes to breathe before we get to the airport. I’m going to use them.
Way too soon we arrive at Tweed airport – a small airport where only turboprops come and go – and I’m standing at the US Airways counter trying to think straight as a man looks at my ticket, my itinerary, then a clock on the wall before announcing the obvious: yer not gonna make it.
I just look at him, too tired to talk, willing him to do what I need him to do without making me ask him to do it – but it doesn’t work. So I ask…when is the next connecting flight?
He fidgets around for a few moments, then call over two other guys, who all confirm the already well established: I’m not going to make the connection. Got it.
As I am standing there, I start wondering if I’m seeing this correctly – there are three men, all looking at my ticket and then each other shaking their heads and saying:
“Nope. Oh she’s definitely not gonna make that. No way.”
And not a single one of them has even touched a keyboard yet to check connecting flights…even after I’ve asked. It’s like watching a fucking New England version of King of the Hill, only without the tank tops and beers. I am dumbfounded.
Finally he starts to use his computer. In just a few seconds I’m hearing that he’s telling me that the next flight out of Philly doesn’t leave until 7:15AM…and he’s handing me my new boarding pass. Did I hear that right? 7:15AM…tomorrow morning? Yup, he says…it’s the only one.
I’m so fried I struggle to do the math – that’s twelve hours later than my scheduled flight. This flight is delayed so we’re not going to get there until 8:30PM…I’m going to be stuck at the Philly terminal for…ELEVEN HOURS?
His colleague picked up what must have been a distressed look on my face because he leaned over and said “Aw it’s alright, you’ll be fine. They have some nice couches over there in that terminal.”
I smile and walk away. I’ve been to smaller airports before – I’m aware that sometimes things are easier to get done at a major airport. I have thirty minutes until I board this flight. All I want to do is sit down, eat my turkey sandwich, drink my apple juice, and get my hand up before it starts swelling any more than it already is.
Before too long I’ve boarded the turboprop flight to Philly. I spend the next forty-five minutes gazing at the Atlantic ocean, staring at the tiny whitecaps thousands of feet below me…and it hits me. I’m wiped out. At some point, I’m not sure when, I’ve gotten way too close to my meltdown point, and if I don’t calm my ass down I’m going to freeze up. I just gotta hang in there.
All I have to do is make it to the service desk at the airport, and they’ll either get me on an earlier flight or they’ll get me a hotel, one or the other. They couldn’t possibly leave me stranded in the terminal for eleven hours because their flight caused me to miss my connection…so just breathe. This day is so close to being over, just a little more. I can do this.
We land in Philadelphia, and as we are waiting to deplane I notice my hand throbbing. I had been doing my best to keep it elevated, but there was only so much I could do realistically. I hadn’t lifted my carry-on – I gate checked it to prevent that. But swelling it was, and it was too late to get my wedding ring off. I check the dressing…no blood. Good. I’ll address the pulsing and swelling later as soon as I get to a bed and some pillows.
As soon as I’m off the plane I try to locate the US Airways service desk, but it takes awhile. I don’t know if I missed the terminal map or what, but eventually I find a service desk…and I am so relieved. No line, either. Thank god.
I approach the ticket agent…can you please help me? And I explain the flight delay and missed connection to her. She glances at me ticket, and down at her computer, then hands my ticket back to me.
“No ma’am”, she says…”that’s the first flight out. Sorry.”
Well – that certainly wasn’t what I was expecting. Maybe I they just don’t offer accommodations unless you specifically ask…so I do.
“I’m sorry ma’am. We do not offer accommodations or compensation for delays that are beyond our control. That includes air traffic delays, which was the cause of your missed connection.”
She turns away. I. Am. Flabbergasted. I swear to god, if it hadn’t been for my throbbing hand I would have walked away and holed up in a bathroom for the night, in a full-blown meltdown.
I try once more – “Excuse me…please…I need your help. I’ve been at a medical facility since 7:30 this morning, I’ve had an MRI, a PET scan…I’ve spent two and a half hours in machines having my brain scanned, and up until a couple of hours ago I had a line in an artery. I have a pressure dressing on it right now to keep it from bleeding…it’s swelling and I really need to find a place to sit down and get it elevated. Can you please help me?”
I sounded pathetic, but not hysterical at least. She turned back around and I lift up my fat sausage of a hand to show her what I was talking about. She looked at my hand and the odd-looking bandage, then looked at me with a look on her face that was…well, I’m not sure if it was a “WTF” look or a “Ewww” look.
One thing I’m sure of is that it wasn’t a “I’d be happy to help you” look.
Finally she hands me a pink slip of paper with a phone number on it:
“I’m sorry ma’am, but the most I can offer you is a discounted rate at a local hotel. Call the number on that there…”
I’m officially zoning out.
“…and you can try calling the number on the back of your ticket. But they’re not going to do anything for you.”
Even after all that, all I could do was mumble “thanks” and walk away. I know it wouldn’t have done any good, but it probably would have felt awesome to go off on that woman. It’s just something that’s beyond my abilities, I guess…that’s probably a good thing.
I find an empty wall and sit on the floor to try to pull myself together. In my mind:
“I am so tired. I am so pissed. I have been going for fifteen fucking hours so far today. My hand looks like a stuffed sausage. My ring won’t budge. By the time I even BOARD a plane I will have been up for twenty-five hours straight.”
I look around… “And I don’t see any fucking couches, either. Fucker.”
I’m officially done. D-O-N-E done.
I call my husband, he calls customer service because I’m barely functional, and they tell him that while yes, the agent mishandled my request for help – she should have at least assisted me in booking a hotel at a discounted rate, even if it was at my own cost – that no, they couldn’t help either…not unless they were speaking to me personally.
Here’s where that losing my ability to speak thing becomes a pain in the ass again. But I can still think…at least a little bit. Ok…take a breath. Figure it out. What do you have to do, and how can you get it done…I ask myself. I stop for a minute, lean my head back once again and breathe. In one…out one…in two…out two…
After I get calmed down for just a couple of minutes, I remember I seeing an “Airport Marriott” sign with an arrow down the hall. That means it’s close…like, in the terminal close. That’s where I need to be. I pull out my tablet and manage to get a room booked at the discounted rate (gee thanks, US Air), and twenty minutes later I’m checked in and crashing out.
Finally, Homeward Bound
I’m up and at’em bright and early in the morning, and after five short hours in the air I’m home. I finally take a Xanax and sleep for the next five hours straight – the longest stretch I’ve slept in over two months – wake up, take another and go to sleep again.
I slept for twenty hours the first day and a half home. A couple of days later the bandage comes off, the swelling is gone, the only reminder left is the colorful bruising on my wrist along with a tiny little scab. Oh, and the sixty pages of questions I was sent home with as homework.
But I survived. And I’d do it all again in a heartbeat. Knowing that there are teams of intelligent, empathetic and dedicated people actually working on not only understanding this disorder – but also developing targeted treatments for it – gives me HOPE.
And I’m not sure if even they fully understand just how much that means…I think that the only way to completely comprehend just how profound that is – is to suffer from the condition yourself. Those people are heroes. Every last one of them.