The flight was on Monday from Boston (a connection stop) to Franfurt, Germany, which was also a connection for my ultimate destination of Hamburg. Now on the Saturday previous to the departure, I had donated blood, both platelets and whole blood. On that Monday I had breakfast before leaving but skipped lunch and at the airport had a large bottle of water, and actually bought a second bottle and had half of that. I had dinner on the plane—some chicken teriyaki dish—with three glasses of wine. Actually two glasses were with dinner and one was pre-dinner. They’re free on international flights, so what the heck.
I had been reading before the chicken dinner, and now settled back for the long flight. I put on my headphones and listened to a recording of the rosary on my iPod. I dozed off and not too long after I woke up feeling woozy, with my stomach nauseous. I do get motion sickness and there had been bumpiness, not extensive, but some. My stomach at first felt like it does when experiencing motion sickness, but after another minute it felt worse. I suddenly felt like I might have to relieve myself. Actually it felt like blood was rushing to my stomach. So I got up, unhooked my headphones, and trying to prevent my ipod from sliding off the forward tray while holding down the book that was also on the tray, I took a step into the aisle.
I don’t exactly know what happened after that. Suddenly I found myself on the floor, people’s legs standing around me, a blanket over my chest, a commotion of noise, and hands everywhere thrusting at me. One pair of hands had an oxygen mask and was trying to get it on my mouth and nose. I guess other hands were trying to help her. They were giving me directions, but for the life of me I don’t know what they were saying. I’m pretty sure one was telling me to breath into the mask, but I imagine others were asking me if I were hurt, feeling pain, did I hit my head, are you having trouble breathing?
I wasn’t seeing comprehensively. I had large spots in front of my eyes. I sat up and my head felt like it was empty, as if all the blood had drained out. I must have asked what happened. I took the oxygen mask and tried to breath. My arms were sweaty. People were saying how pale I was. My sight was coming back together, as if my view was coagulating into comprehension. Someone said I was getting my color back in my face. I was breathing into the mask, but frankly I didn’t feel any oxygen coming out. I was asked if I could get up and go to the back of the plane. I said I just want to sit here. Someone (and I presume the people talking to me were the stewardesses) said it would be more private for me. And then I looked around and noticed all the people in their seats looking down on me. An aisle in an airplane is not very wide and they were practically on top of me. So I consented and had them help me up—again my brain felt woozy—and they walked me to the back, which was only about three or four rows, to a stewardess seat against the back wall, near the bathrooms. There was an emergency door right by where the rows of seats ended, so that the corner was very roomy.
I don’t know if the rest is all that interesting. They identified a doctor on the plane and he spent a good amount of time with me. They had a wrist blood pressure machine which we had the hardest time getting to get good readings but once it did it registered something like 90 over 65. It was low—most definitely. The doctor did not think I had had a heart attack or a stroke. I mentioned the blood donation and lack of eating and that I go to the gym regularly, and he thought I had dehydrated and mentioned some term with the word “vascular.” We got to talking. I didn’t mention all the water I drank, but I wonder if that could have washed out my potassium, which could I think paradoxically enhance the likelihood of dehydration. Coincidentally he had been a doctor at one of the Staten Island hospitals at one point in his life. My conversation was pretty coherent, so he felt comfortable that I had not had anything serious. But he said I needed to take certain precautions and possibly see a doctor when we landed.
They had me keep the oxygen mask over my face, and one of the poor stewardesses (I later found out her name is Annkathrin) was still holding the tank. I offered to take it from her and hold it myself. She said not to be silly. They gave me an aspirin as a precaution. Aspirins in Germany are 500 mg, which are much larger than ours. I got to talking to Annkathrin who told me I was only on the floor for seconds. The people around me tried to help. I felt very humbled. I said everyone had been so kind. The supervisory stewardess (her name was Eva) came by and said I finally had color in my face. I said it was probably from embarrassment…lol. Nothing like this has ever happened to me before. I really felt embarrassed. Annkathrin said not to be embarrassed. This happens frequently on long flights. Somehow I didn’t quite believe it but she insisted. She said they could have a doctor on arrival for me, but I said I didn’t think I needed it any longer. My blood pressure was returning to normal, and she said if I still felt well I wouldn’t need it.
Finally I returned to my seat. Everyone seated nearby asked how I felt and if they could do anything for me. They were all so nice, the woman with the child to my left, the family to my right, the big strong young man in front. I sat there and had several epiphanies. First epiphany, I felt my mortality and how quickly and overwhelming death could be. I’ve always imagined that under most circumstances one could ask for our Lord’s forgiveness at the moment of death. I don’t think that’s typically possible. I had no awareness I even collapsed to the floor. “My God, my God,” I muttered, echoing the words of Christ on the cross, “why have you forsaken me?”
But then I had a second epiphany. I was not forsaken. There were people all around me, helping me, their hands in care for me. I thought of St. Catherine of Siena, who among other things took care of the ill. She was a physical saint, a saint of touch. Those who have read this blog know how I’ve adopted her as my personal saint ever since I read her biography earlier this year. My pastor at church frequently homilies on how moments such as I went through are moments of encounters with Christ. All those hands thrust forward for my care were hands of Christ. Christ is there in all our compassion.
I asked Annkathrin for the names of those who helped me, so I can send a note of praise to their employer. She brought over another young lady, the young lady who I think was trying to get the oxygen mask on to my face while I was collapsed. She wrote her name down, Catharina. And then right there was my third epiphany. Both young ladies who helped me were named Catherine in some form. St. Catherine had been there praying for me, and sent me two angels. My mouth dropped. God bless them.
I didn’t need a doctor when we landed in Frankfurt, and so I went on with my connection, and the rest of the business trip. I had no further issues. The one free afternoon I had I walked around Hamburg for over four hours, and must have tallied over ten miles. I’m pretty sure my heart is sound, but I will get a thorough exam as soon as I can.
When I got home I wrote Lufthansa a note commending the two stewardesses and their supervisor, Eva. May the Lord bless them and keep them, and may He shine His face upon them.