There's been a report on the news all day about a woman who died enroute from Haiti to NYC. Her family brought a suit against American Airlines, complaining that they should have been better prepared to help her. I watched the report and thought: they're absolutely right.
Let me tell you about the time when I almost died on an airplane.
Okay. Maybe that's a slight exaggeration. I could have almost died, though.
Yes, I know. You've already dismissed my argument because I began it with a (slight) exaggeration, but you need to understand: I could have almost died. The flight attendants couldn't have known the difference just by looking at me.
You see, I'm allergic to peanuts. When I eat peanuts, I usually know immediately because my throat reacts. At first, it's only mildly uncomfortable. I want to spit. Then, it starts to feel like I have strep throat. My lips will start to swell as if someone's punched me. Or a bee stung me. Yes, that's what it looks like. A bee sting. If I don't get Benadryl in me immediately, my throat and lungs start to close up and I start to wheeze. Then I itch. My whole body feels like I want to peel it off, and all I can do is curl up in a little ball and shake.
It's, shall we say, not pretty.
I haven't had a reaction like that in years because I'm usually very careful. If I go to a new restaurant, I'll tell the people serving me that I can't have nuts and even have them check with the chef to make sure that an iffy dish isn't cooked in peanut oil. Once, back when I lived in Brooklyn, I had to leave a restaurant, run two blocks to the nearest drug store, take a Benadryl, and come back. It was mildly embarassing, to say the least, but I was with friends who pretended not to notice how strange I looked afterwards. That one never got past the throat-closing stage, thank god.
Another time, I was at Denny's with some camp friends. We decided to order dessert, and even though I said no peanuts, one or two got in mine. I started hacking and Spaz said, "Simon, I swear to god if you die on me I'm going to kill you."
I didn't die.
(On a side note, I believe that was the same night that someone called the restaurant and asked them if Mike Hunt was there. The security guard went from table to table asking for Mike Hunt until, suddenly, he caught on. It was damn funny, even if I was wheezing.)
One time it happened to me when I was at work. I'd gone to Subway for lunch, and that one day I said to myself: hey. I'm going to have cookies. So I bought the cookies, brought them back to my desk, and ate about two bites.
That was when I learned that I was allergic to Macadamia nuts, too.
I remember I went to the bathroom to try to throw up, but it was too late: the reaction had already set in. It was faster than usual, too. I ended up shaking on a couch in a corner when somebody found me. Scared the hell out of them, too. They were about ready to call for an ambulance. I still remember how Oliver ran to the store for me. Oliver. Sigh. He was hot.
Where was I? Oh. Dying on the airplane.
So I was on a flight home from Japan. We were about two hours over the Pacific when the flight attendants came with snacks and drinks. All of us were starving because they'd loaded the plane early, sat on the tarmac for about a thousand years, and then took off. I think it had been five hours since I'd eaten, and when they handed me the small bag of trail mix, I didn't look at the list of ingredients too closely.
Again, it didn't take long. I tried to talk myself out of what I was feeling. It was probably just the airplane air getting to me, I thought. Please, please, please. I read the list of ingredients: no peanuts. Then, when I flipped the little thing over to the side, it said: may contain trace elements of nuts.
Trace elements? Again I tried to talk myself out of what I was feeling. My throat wasn't closing. It wasn't. My arms weren't starting to shake. Shit. They were. They really were.
Now, at this point in any peanut story, people are going to say, well, you should have been able to reach into your purse and just pull out the Benadryl, right?
Well, right. Except that my Benadryl wasn't in my purse. It was in my suitcase. Which I'd checked. Yeah.
The thing is, you never think it's going to happen. Not again. Years go by between accidental peanut attacks. I'm very careful. I swear.
So I climb out of my seat. I'm sitting next to this woman who's a Marine on her way back to the states and she's not friendly at all. I tell her I need to get out and she huffs and moves her knees so I have to do a bit of mountain climbing in order to get out.
The flight attendants are cleaning up from the snacks. Excuse me, I say. I think I just ate peanuts.
They look at me blankly.
I'm allergic, I explain. Mildly, so as not to panic anyone.
Again, they look at me blankly.
My Benadryl is in my suitcase, I go on, and I need some. Now. Or else I'll go into shock. We've got a very small window of time before I start wheezing.
The head flight attendant looks at me. "Why did you eat the trail mix if it had peanuts in it?"
It doesn't have peanuts in it, I say. But it has something in it that is causing a reaction. I need Benadryl.
"I'm not allowed to administer Benadryl," she says. "Only a doctor is allowed."
Do you have Benadryl?
"Yes," she admits, "But it won't do any good. The paperwork requires that a certified M.D. opens up the first aid kit."
I stare at her. I want this to be over, and she's making that impossible. So what do we do?
"We page a doctor," she explains. "There's usually one an any airplane."
And if there isn't?
She avoids answering. Instead, she walks to the P.A. and starts the page. We wait. No one answers.
The Japanese flight attendant comes to the galley. She offers to repeat the page in Japanese. We wait.
At this point, I'm starting to shake. Try again, I urge. I need this Benadryl now.
They page again, this time in English. And from the back of the plane, a man climbs out from the middle of a row. He's just lovely. Tall, with a soldier's haircut. Yes. Lovely. I'm not too sick that I don't notice that.
He makes his way to the galley. "What do you need?" he asks.
"I'll need to see some identification," says the nasty one.
He hands her his wallet.
She looks it over carefully. "This doesn't say MD," she says. "Are you certified to practice medicine?"
He clears his throat. "The army seems to think so, ma'am."
He breaks open the kit and checks out the contents. I'm kind of leaning against a corner at this point. "Well," he says. "I've got some good news and some bad news."
What's the good news? I ask.
"There's Benadryl here."
And the bad news?
"No pills. I'll have to administer it as a shot."
Do I have to drop my pants? I said it with trepidation, but the truth is, I wouldn't have minded getting a little naked for this one.
He laughs. "No. I can do it in your arm. Why don't we go in the back where we can have a little privacy."
It was then that, for the first time, I looked around. Half the airplane was looking back. Christ.
We make our way to the back of the plane. I have to take my shirt off so he can get to my arm. I think to myself, damn. There are much better reasons to be taking your shirt off than this. I look down at his hand. Wedding ring. Even worse. I decide that I didn't see it. The fantasy was better that way.
He swabs me down with alcohol, puts the syringe in me, and it's over.
"By the way," he says. "That Benadryl is a pretty high dosage. You're probably going to sleep all the way to L.A."
He was right, too. The flight that seemed impossibly long on the way there passed in a Benadryl blur on the way back. At one point, my hero sought me out to check on me. I was in a fog, but I managed a response or two. I might have told him I loved him; I don't know.
All I know is I could have died. It's possible. And if it weren't for my lovely, hot heroic (did I mention hot?) medic, who knows what could have happened? The flight attendants were crippled by the rules. They were more worried about the paperwork than they were about me possibly expiring on their floor.
I didn't die, though. Aren't you glad?