In Miami International Airport I sat at Gate 24 questioning whether or not I could get on my final flight taking me home to Simon, Sienna, and Britican which was moored in St Martin.
My heart was thumping so hard I could feel my body jerk forward and backward. Each time I focused on my heavy heart I got a flashback to a few days previous. I remembered sitting at my stepfather’s bedside watching a vein on the side of his neck pulse. I was watching it to see if it was going to stop.
In addition to my heavy heart, I felt dizzy and nauseous. Was I gone to vomit, or faint, or worse, was I going to die? In an attempt to prepare to get on the plane, I went to the bathroom to see if I could walk.
During my first flight, prior to arriving in Miami, the debilitating symptoms started.
My eyes closed in and became blurry, my heart started to beat-heavy, my body flushed with heat and then chills. With sweaty palms, I sat like a load of bricks in seat 22B while watching the stewardess give the safety briefing.
It took every ounce of energy for me to not stand up and yell, ‘get me off this plane!’ I don’t like attention and at the risk of being embarrassed, I managed to keep my anxiety inside. Once in the air and after the drink cart went by I couldn’t take it anymore.
Heading for the back of the plane with tears in my eyes I went up to the steward and I said, ‘I really don’t feel very good.’ Another two stewards came to me. One started rubbing my back and another got me water the third found me a cookie. They asked if I suffered anxiety or was worried about flying. I said, ‘not at all.’ Then they asked me if anything stressful had happened before flying.
That’s when I told them that my stepdad just died.
Suddenly I couldn’t breathe or feel my hands or legs. The stewards sat me down and put a call over the plane intercom system asking if there were any medically trained people on board. Four nurses and a final-year medical student jumped up to see if they could help.
I thought I was dying.
One nurse looked at me and said, ‘you’re having a panic attack. I have them too. I will help you through this.’ The nurse had me look at something and tell her what it was (a white napkin on the floor). Then I had to smell something and tell her (coffee). Finally, I had to taste something in my mouth (cookie). The nurse was trying to get me to focus on other things and get me to stop breathing too much.
Sitting on one of the steward’s seats at the back of the plane, the nurse took the seat adjacent to me and kept talking to me. She said, ‘we’re going to get you home.’
The nurse was on her honeymoon headed for St Kitts. I’m sure I said sorry 100 times to her and everyone around me.
What I wish I was able to tell them now is, ‘thank you.’
When I got off the plane I stumbled to the next gate. I don’t even remember how I got there. My thoughts were that I either needed to lay down and sleep or find a hotel. After spending a week in three different hospitals between my mom and stepdad one thing was for certain, I was not going to go to a hospital. No matter what I thought, however, I couldn’t convince myself to get on the next plane.
Knowing that I was running out of time, I walked up to the stewards waiting to board my plane. Again, with tears in my eyes, I looked at them and said, ‘Can you help me? I’m all alone. I don’t know what to do and I don’t feel very well. A nurse on the last plane said I’m having a panic attack but I have to say that I think I’m dying.’
Once again, I was embraced with compassion and care.
The emergency response team at the airport came. They gave me an EKG right on the spot and took all my vitals. They confirmed that I was, indeed, having a panic attack and that it was a stress reaction.
The captain of the plane came out to sit with me at the gate. He explained that he wanted to get me home but I would need to be able to make it. The Captain said, ‘It’s only two hours. Do you think you can just handle two hours?’ I said that I just wanted to sleep.
Before I knew it I was on the plane and the crew had cleared off a whole row of seats. They told me to lay down, got me water and snacks. Every half hour one of them checked on me. Before I left one of the stewards said, ‘You are very courageous. You’ve had a difficult time but you’re strong. You’ve made it home. Well done.’ I wish I remembered the names of all the people that helped me.
Although I was alone I felt so loved and supported.
Seeing Simon at the airport caused me to instantly start crying. I cried the whole way back to the boat. Our friend Len on s/v Mohini had a car and helped Simon to pick me up. I was so sad, confused, and exhausted. My heart finally stopped beating so hard. I got on Britican and cried tears of relief knowing that I was home.
Rewind no more than two weeks previously when I was enjoying a sunny afternoon anchored off Green Island in Antigua. I was watching jellyfish the size of my head pass by while contemplating how beautiful my surroundings were.
And then my phone rang. That’s usually not a good sign.
My brother, Bryan, called to tell me that my stepdad, Vic, had been rushed into hospital and was in Intensive Care. Vic has been dealing with cancer since the beginning of Covid.
Bryan explained that in addition to Vic going into the hospital mom was booked in for a heart operation. Knowing that it was going to be difficult for my brother to look after Vic and my Mom I thought it was time to fly to North Carolina and support my family.
The first day I was there my brother took my mom and me to Duke Hospital. I wasn’t allowed to see Vic due to Covid regulations – only two named family members were allowed. I sent him a picture of myself sitting out in the courtyard letting him know I was there.
Vic’s body wasn’t able to take any more treatment. Both my mom and Vic knew the end was coming but these things are always too soon. A day later my mom and I got a call at 3 am from my brother. He said, ‘We need to go to the hospital now.’
I woke up mom, got in the car, and started to prepare myself for the worst.
Duke allowed all three of us into the ICU room. The doctor explained that Vic had a very bad bleed and they filled him up with some blood and a concoction of vitamins. The expectation was that we’d have a few hours to say goodbye and then he’d bleed again and this time they wouldn’t interfere. How did this all happen so fast?!
Vic was wide awake when we walked in. We all hugged him and told him how much we loved him. His chin wavered before he would speak. I couldn’t control myself so I just cried and cried and cried. There was no talk of past or future. There was just sorrow, sadness, and love.
It’s a weird situation. I was saying goodbye to someone forever. That’s not something I’ve ever done before. No special words came to mind. I didn’t feel the need to say sorry about anything nor did I feel the urge to reminisce about good memories.
I simply sat by Vic’s side and projected love to him – visualizing it coming out of my heart and into his. He asked me, ‘do you think there’s something after we die?’
My reply was, ‘Of course there is. Otherwise, what’s the point?’
After 20 minutes of expressing love and me and mom crying Vic said, ‘Okay – I want you all to leave now.’ He called the doctor over and said, I’m ready for the painkillers.
Unbeknownst to us, Vic discussed with the doctor that he’d wait for the morphine until after he saw us. He wanted to be very clear-minded. The doctor put in the drip and Vic fell asleep. My mom, brother, and I all expected him to quietly slip away and find peace. We sat there waiting for him to pass, watching every breath he took.
Vic woke up a couple of hours later and was wide awake. He was so awake that he started calling friends and family to say goodbye. It was difficult to listen to the reactions of the people he called. Even when he did FaceTime with Simon and Sienna they both said, ‘please get well, we’ll see you soon. We love you.’ Vic would respond with, ‘no…no, you won’t see me soon.’
Intermixed with the sadness there were many laughs. Vic started to crack jokes like, ‘Aren’t we all having fun.’ He also announced, ‘I just bought 40 stamps,’ followed with, ‘I guess I won’t be able to use them.’
By the end of the day, the doctors didn’t know what to do because Vic seemed to come back to life. Vic was off everything except the painkillers.
We were provided the opportunity to move him to a hospice four miles down the road so we agreed to it. My mom, brother, and I were shellshocked. We didn’t really understand what was going on. The hospital was not a nice place to be. The hospice was so much better. Vic had a nice room and a garden outside his window. It was actually a wonderful place for all of us to spend what we thought would be Vic’s last few hours.
Mom, Bryan, and I started the day at 3 am thinking it was time to say goodbye and around 6 pm (15 hours later) we found ourselves sitting at a round table in a hospice wondering how much longer we had with Vic. The doctors at the hospice informed us that Vic would most likely pass in hours.
Feeling delirious we were asked the question, ‘How do you find support during difficult times?’
The social worker assigned to us was wonderful at introducing us to the building, the team, and what hospice care was all about. Mom answered, then me and by the time it got to Bryan he had the perfect answer. He said, ‘My family supports me through tough times.’
At that point, I’m not sure if the meaning of my brother’s response hit home. Now it does.
We then sat for a while with Vic in his new room. Eventually, I said, ‘goodnight, I’ll see you tomorrow,’ and Vic smiled and responded with ‘yes, I’ll see you tomorrow.’ Despite what the doctors said, I believed Vic.
For four days my brother and I took my mom to the hospital, went to visit Vic, picked mom up at the hospital, went to see Vic. The days are a blur. Each day Vic had less and less life in him. I’d sit next to him, hold his hand, and cry. Every time he woke up I’d say, ‘we’re here Vic. We’re here.’ On one day I was helping to feed water to Vic and my mom through a straw – they were at different medical facilities but both in hospital beds unable to feed themselves.
Mom’s operation went way better than expected.
She was originally required to be in hospital for three to four days but due to the situation, the doctor-approved an early release. It ended up that she didn’t need to stay that long anyway – the procedure went perfectly.
Between our time with Mom and Vic, Bryan and I sat in the car driving between hospitals. I think we drove over 1500 miles in a week. During our drives, we talked about our future plans, our anxieties, our dreams. I was amazed that during such a heartbreaking situation I managed to have such an incredibly priceless time with my dear brother. I love him so very much.
Throughout the week I cried as much as I laughed. Lots of love was expressed. Not having seen my brother and his family for over two years I was able to catch up with the people I love the most. My cousin flew in, a relative of Vic’s showed up and a childhood friend drove over. People were calling, baking us food, and sending love.
So many of us are currently having challenging times.
It seems many of us are having challenges on top of the challenges. I’ve felt such sadness and sorrow this past week. I’ve also felt so much love too. Throughout the whole time, I was supported by people I knew (my family) and people I didn’t know (the hospital, hospice, and American Airlines crew).
All there is, really, is love.
I’ve been back on the boat for a couple of weeks now. For some reason, I’m still having issues. After our latest Britican Experience, of which I was fine, I seemed to crash for a couple of days. It seemed to happen after I made the video detailing my tragedy off the boat. I wasn’t even sure if I’d be able to post it. So…I still think that perhaps I’m dying. But, yes, I can also hear you say that I need to chill out and realize I went through a lot of stress.
So…like all things, it’s to be continued!