“Death twitches my ear, ‘Live,’ he says, ‘I am coming.’ ”
Three city blocks – it happened that instantaneously. The day’s excitement nose-dived into fighting for my life.
I was up late the night before, Skype-ing with people in the States. At 05:00 I woke up slowly, placed last minute toiletries in my suitcase & ate the leftover strawberries + carrot cake from the mini-refrigerator. Today in Bergen, Norway, I went through morning procedures like most other mornings of my life in the U.S.A.: groggy and functioning on a very basic level.
Iceland proved to be better than expected & Bergen was picturesque, but I was certain nothing from this trip would, or could, compare to the Arctic Circle. As you know, the entirety of my European adventures spawned out of one singular dream – to see polar bears in the wild – and soon I would be departing mainland Norway, headed straight to the animals’ realm.
Still sleepy, Mom & I stepped onto Bergen’s barren streets. Though the sun was up (and never really set) it was blocked by the skyline. The fresh air and realization that my dream was about to come true lifted my haze. I was no longer a zombie. I could feel it. This morning felt different.
Crossing the first street, I was thrilled. I thought “let’s get this show on the road!” However, as we traversed block #1 I started to feel unwell. My enthusiasm faded because I was cold, so I halted to put on my light jacket. By block #2 my head felt like it had at 05:00 and I became exhausted. By block #3 I felt sick – though I couldn’t pinpoint it, I just did not feel right. At the Flybussen a.k.a. airport shuttle stop, I felt light-headed & standing consumed so much energy that I dumped myself onto a stoop while Mom waited with our bags.
The Flybussen picked us up, and I took the second row from the front to prevent swaying. Unfortunately, this wasn’t the Flybussen Express that only made four stops total (as opposed to the bus we were on, which wove through the city). The minutes dragged by and my breathing became labored. I had to close my eyes to ease the queasiness, especially through roundabouts. Mom said I looked pale & handed me the complimentary IcelandAir vomit bag she confiscated earlier and had stowed in her backpack.
I felt so terrible that I could only perform one task at a time, so I focused on breathing steadily: a deep breath in through my nose, then out my mouth. I continued like this, on the verge of upchucking, as the bus filled but I did not have the energy nor care to move my luggage from the seat next to me. My heart raced and the nausea heightened, but I fought to quell my stomach.
Amidst the deep breathing, a woman sat down in front of me & I took a gigantic whiff of her nasty, matronly perfume. My stomach turned & I stuck my face inside my shirt to filter the old-lady scent, but it was too overpowering. I grabbed the bag and spewed. Up came the carrot cake; up came the strawberries; up came everything else. I tried to do it as quietly as possible since the bus was at capacity & I noticed Mom eye-balling me. As we pulled up at BGO Flybussen depot, I lifted my head out of the bag and saw two cups of red liquid sloshing inside.
Eyes watering, I felt only slightly better. Shaky, Mom & I exited the Flybussen last and she rolled both of our suitcases to the terminal. We needed to check in, but I urgently needed medicine (being a Type I diabetic, puking more than twice almost always results in an Emergency Room visit).
Inside, I hobbled to the closest WC a.k.a. restroom and fell into the large, brown leather chair in the infant changing room. First order of business: nausea medication. Second order of business: check my blood sugar. Third order of business: change my insulin pump’s infusion set (the point of the body where insulin is injected subcutaneously).
Halfway through my protocol, I abandoned the mission and bolted to the nearest bathroom stall. I sat [clothed] on the toilet, elbows propped up on my knees, head in my hands, about to gag again. After 15 minutes of feeling woozy, I emerged from the stall. I was so enfeebled that I asked my mother to help prepare my insulin pump – she worriedly obliged.
Now, we needed to get to our Scandinavian Airlines a.k.a. SAS gate. Like all great mothers, Stephanie made three trips up & down the staircases as she transported her luggage & mine to the security checkpoint. Meanwhile, all I could do was remain hunched over on the very first step. This could not be happening at a worse time...
Once at the gate, I was too sick to eat, leaned against my backpack and placed my forearm over my head to block the fluorescent lights. Thankfully, it was a quick flight from Bergen to Oslo – where Mom & I had to switch planes. Soon we boarded Scandinavian Airlines flight #4414 en route to Longyearbyen, Svalbard – the archipelago 600 miles north from the mainland -- via the town of Tromsø (pronounced "tromm-suh").
The flight attendant – named Mora – lost all niceness and rephrased: you won’t let this impaired man sit here? It was no longer a simple question of “is that alright?” She asked in a tone implying I should feel guilty. Well let me tell you, I did not feel guilty. What this contemptuous employee did not know, was that I had been trying to lock in seats since I made the reservations months prior. However, SAS did/does not let foreigners arrange seating until 23 hours before the flight’s departure. So, 23 hours earlier I tried to check-in online. No luck. Then I sat on hold for 30 minutes until finally someone at SAS customer service said their system had been failing for a few hours & there was nothing the company could do. I found it difficult to believe that a major airline had absolutely no back-up plan nor way of issuing seats when the system crashed. What about all those people already at the airport? With no predetermined seats it would be chaos at the gates & I strongly doubted the customer service employee fed me the truth. After another attempt in the evening – with 3 hours of my day wasted – I secured seats 14E & F.
Anyway, I responded “no” more sternly to Mora. The old man looked at her & said – in a distinctly American voice – that he would move, but the vociferous flight attendant faced me and began berating: How could I act this way? Why couldn’t I just let this man sit in my seat? Why didn’t I care that he was sick? With that last comment, I shot back at her “I’m sick too! I just threw up an hour ago & here’s my bag of medicine!” as I held up my cold pack. If this man was so “sick” why was he going to the remote island of Svalbard?
The older gentleman released his seatbelt and slid towards the aisle, but the stewardess refused to shut her mouth. Instead of confronting me directly this time, she admonished me indirectly by saying (excessively loud) to the guy “I am sorry sir, I have never had a situation where someone will not move” and “In my five years I have never had this problem. I am so sorry that she will not move.” If the passenger agreed to move, what was Mora’s problem?
More travelers settled in, but the Scandinavian Airlines bitch still did not stop. Since I fully planned on sleeping the entire leg to Svalbard & my Mom fits better in a window seat, I told Mom to enter the row first. Mora balked and emphatically pressed “I thought you needed the window to rest your head?” Up to this point I thought I had remained rather indifferent to the flight attendant’s battery, but this was enough. I was going to set this harridan straight and darkly retorted “I just need something to lean my head on and for you to leave me alone.”
Again, the attendant passive-aggressively instigated by apologizing to the old man from three rows away. Again, the guy brushed it off. When she said (for the millionth time) “I am sorry sir for all of your trouble. I am sorry. I have never seen this” In rancor I yelled across the plane “And I am sorry you can’t read your manifest & put him somewhere not occupied.” My mother shot her signature, raised-eyebrow, look of death at Mora and flatly said “You are being very rude.” I knew that terrifying look from my mother, as I had been on the receiving end of it throughout high school. The look threatened “if we weren’t in public, I would give you a beating.”
The worthless SAS woman rattled to her coworkers in her native tongue (I’d bet it was about me) and rearranged all sorts of disgruntled passengers. Five minutes later I had my sweet revenge when Mora asked an Asian couple in row 12 if they would be willing to switch seats, and they too responded “no.” The older gentleman was forced to sit in an aisle seat in our row. For supposedly "never" encountering this circumstance, Mora was getting a double dose today.
As Mom conversed with the elder, Gordon, he was en route to Svalbard for a cruise – like us. He was hardly crippled, he simply had “bad knees” so the process of standing up/sitting down was taxing. In fact, if anyone on that plane was crippled it was me. Though I felt chilled just a half hour ago, I was starting to profusely sweat in my seat. The world started to close in on me & that same woozy feeling returned. I felt awful asking Gordon to let me out. If that flight attendant truly cared about his well-being, she would not have seated Gordon in the same row as another sick person.
Both ears rang loudly & felt like they were about to pop. I lunged for a new vomit bag & immediately dry-heaved in the window seat. Eventually Gordon made it upright, but I couldn’t thank him since I was running to the back of the plane. It was déjà vu from earlier: [clothed] on the toilet, elbows propped on my knees, head in hands, about to gag.
I remained in that tiny bathroom until I felt certain my stomach had calmed. A blonde flight attendant knocked on the door to make sure I was alive (and not building a bomb). She empathized because she told Mom, in my lengthy absence, that I would “probably be in there [the restroom] a while.”
I looked and felt depleted, but gradually throughout the day my blood sugar recovered from the trauma of throwing up. Also positive: we arrived safely in Longyearbyen & not in handcuffs due to the scuffle. At Mom’s suggestion, I purposefully starved myself the rest of the day to soothe my tummy. The first item I remember fully digesting was a cup of ice-cold milk… and after 24 hours of nothing, it was a Godsend.
Did Gordon need the window seat? Absolutely not. Could I give Gordon the window seat? Absolutely, but I’d be damned if I was going to let the loads of preparation & all my struggles dissolve in front of my eyes. This was my vacation too, wasn’t it? Am I less worthy of having the same dream as Gordon?
Above all, I know my body. In three city blocks it clearly displayed its need for rest & attention. I innately knew that had I not leaned against the airplane’s frame and slept for 3 hours, I would have ended up in a Norwegian hospital instead of Longyearbyen, Svalbard. It has proven to be a forsworn, self-righteous path at times, but I have endured these life-threatening scenarios and emerged wiser with each trial. People will vilify you, but, in the end, experience will vindicate you.