Sunday, June 29, 2014

Lesson 86 Of Why Zee Hates To Fly

In Abu Dhabi, when you are traveling to the US, you do your American security check before the flight. It's supposed to be more convenient than having to join the queues of hundreds/thousands going through that process when you land in the US. 'Supposed' is the word I stress, because in our case, despite the fact that we arrived 2 hours before our flight, were taken to the front of every line on account of the fact that I was gimp in a wheelchair and departure was delayed to give us an extra 1.25 hours of time, that pre-check took so long that my husband Mali missed our flight.

At the last stage of checking, they had sent Mali to the extra screening room 'just for a moment, to clear up a glitch around his name'. My mom and I opted to go with him, hoping the sight of his invalid wife and fluffy blonde mother-in-law would speed up the process. After an hour of waiting there, in that room full of scared, stressed and confused people, we wised up to the fact that it would NOT take five minutes. Yes, we're clever like that. Mali approached the security staff and explained that I was travelling for a critical brain surgery that couldn't be delayed (the doc is going on holiday right after he fixes me up), and Mali was my husband/caregiver/driver/handler who had to accompany me. They said "we're already working on you, don't worry." We waited for another half an hour, until just 10 minutes before the final boarding call was to go out, before Mali said "Zee, you and mom are going ahead without me. I'll come as fast as I can. But you will not miss this flight and you will not delay your surgery. Go." Which is when I lost it.

I am a pretty rational and calm person. But my aneurysm treatment has been long overdue, arranging it has been insane, and this week in particular has been a nightmare. Mali likes to joke that he's my trophy husband who I married for his body and Indian passport, but the truth of the matter is, Mali is my rock. While I appear to be some kind of stoic Vulcan to some folks, internally, I'm more like the love child of a Klingon and a Ferengi with the mixed-race-kid usual sides of severe anxiety and neurosis. If you're not a Trekkie and didn't get that, basically I'm kind of a wreck. But Mali somehow manages to pull me through, calm me down, and lend me some of the confidence he exudes. So to be separated from him, just before I fly out for critical surgery, with no idea when he'd be cleared to fly or if he'd be able to join me before they poke things into my brain, was kind of more than I could handle. I likely left a trail of tears as I was wheeled out of the special screening room to try and catch my plane.

When my mom and I got to our boarding gate, we found out the flight was delayed by at least 30 minutes. Surely, it would mean Mali would have enough time to clear the check and join us. I spent the next 1 hour and 15 minutes sitting outside the boarding gate, scanning the crowds, waiting to catch the relieved and smiling face of my husband among the final desperate stragglers to our flight. Minutes ticked by, but never did I see him. The airline agent who'd checked me in and cleared me to fly with the airline doctor (apparently, such things are required when your brain risks implosion), kept promising me he'd hold the flight and push for Mali to be sped through . He made many calls and kept coming over to reassure me everything was being done and Mali surely join me soon. Even the porter who'd been pushing my wheelchair sped off to find out from the porters inside the screening room how long Mali would take. And of course, all the while, Mali and I were messaging each other on phones with dying batteries and rapidly depleting credit, sharing updates and worries. "Don't board till they force you." "They said they'll be done soon. Just hold on." "I'm the last one from this flight waiting to be cleared. I must be next." Finally, they could hold the flight no longer, and I had to be boarded. Once again, like a very sad gimpy snail, I am certain I left a slippery trail behind me as the porter pushed my wheelchair to the door of the plane.

Even then, I kept hoping Mali would make it. Loading the baggage and things takes time. We'd have another 10-15 minutes before they shut the door. So again, I sat, anxiously staring down the plane aisle, hoping Mali would come racing through. But he never did. "I'm trying Zee. They said they're working on it. Just tell me when the plane starts taxiing so I know when it's game over." My heart sank when I heard the door of the plane shut. But I held out hope even still, till the plane finally pulled away from the airport and began to taxi down the runway. Game over. And then I really cried.

I know it's silly. What's the big deal about having to fly without your husband? It's just a 15 hour flight and I've flown alone dozens of times. Mali would probably catch another flight in a day or so and join me in time to drive us to the hospital in Nashville or at least be there before the procedure starts. But I guess when you've been through so much stress and worry for so many days, logic is no longer enough. All I know is that I felt like they'd ripped my heart out, cut off my oxygen, sunk my battleship, and other such clich├ęd metaphors. I'd been leaning on Mali for strength and suddenly he wasn't there and understandably, I toppled over. I was pretty much a mess till the seatbelt sign switched off and mobile service was restored to show me a message on my phone from Mali saying "Don't worry, I'm coming on the next flight. You were a strong woman before I met you and you still are. Be strong now and I'll be there as soon as I can be." So I was.

By the grace of God, Mali managed to catch the next flight on the following day and we just brought him home from the airport, Alhamdullilah. Tomorrow morning, Inshallah, we drive out from Chicago to Nashville, where I have my first diagnostic procedure on July 1, and my brain fixing surgery on July 2. And Inshallah, I'll have my rock with me, to hold me up and see me through.

The next time someone asks me why I hate to fly, I am going to send them a link to this post. You have been warned.

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