This past July, I took a trip out to LA for the new job. It was part two of my training and I had been to LA previously for two weeks in May. On the first trip in May, I had flown from Newark, NJ to LAX and, of course, they had lost my luggage. I had traveled from New Jersey in summer attire which left me looking like an extra from the Jersey Shore. That’s always a great look for the “meet the company leadership and be sure to wear business casual” introduction day.
I’m the king of good first impressions.
As eventful as that first trip was, I’m here to write about the second trip. This time around, it seemed that all was going well. We had completed our two week training without incident and I was boarding the plane at LAX to take me back east to Newark. I’m a believer that the human mind likes to lump things in groups of three so when I sat down in the exact middle of a triangle of screaming infants, I thought that would be the summit of my suffering and not part one of a horrible trifecta of events. I had no idea how bad things were about to get.
The babies were all perfectly spaced and facing inward, toward me. It was like Hell’s version of surround sound.
Now I want you to know that I’m a very understanding and patient man because I have to be. I’ve spent years with a very good psychologist to ensure it. The alternative being, that with my training and violent past, I would horribly injure or kill someone for the slightest infraction based on my mercurial mood, Earth’s alignment with other planets and possibly, what direction the breeze is blowing that moment.
I don’t think you guys would like to get my posts from prison. I think g-mail automatically blocks anything from Rikers Island anyway and my readership would likely suffer.
What I’m trying to say is that I was managing just fine with the screaming babies. I understood that they were far more upset and uncomfortable than I was. I had my little Zen moment, did my breathing exercise and I was good after that. Then the kid behind me started digging his knees into my seat. His tiny, bony knees found the one soft spot in the seat and directed an impressive amount of force directly into my lumbar area. “It’s another test.” I told myself. I closed my eyes and had a silent conversation with God.
With my little confrontation with God done, I leaned forward in my seat to get away from the pressure in my back and I put in my headphones at full blast. I could still faintly hear the infant symphony over Blind Melon’s No Rain, but I was managing.
About an hour into the flight, I had to change my posture. I’m a tall man and leaning forward to the tip of a coach seat was starting to take its toll. I leaned back a little and was immediately stabbed in the back by those bony, squirming knees which, I assumed, had been screwing mindlessly into the seat for the past hour. I don’t know if it was Against Me’s Piss and Vinegar on my headphones, but my peaceful aura was shattered.
“Fuck this kid.” I thought to myself. I hauled myself up out of my seat and turned around to the child behind me, fully prepared to deal with him and his family that was surely seated beside him.
When I saw the kid, I was a little taken aback. He was about five and looked very dark and foreign. His skin was almond colored and his eyes and hair jet black. I imagined that he came from some part of the earth that was full of mangoes and snakes. He was still jamming his knees into the seat like he was bracing against the inevitable plane crash.
“Hey, kid.” I said. He looked at me and continued working his knees into the seat, clearly not understanding what I had said let alone the distress he was causing me. I looked at him more closely and saw a placard on his chest. It was suspended by a white yarn lanyard. It seemed cheap and temporary like it was only for this trip. I had just read the word “Myanmar” when the man next to the child spoke up. “I don’t think he speaks English dude.” I looked over at the man seated next to the child. It was immediately apparent that this child was seated next to strangers and not his family. The man who had spoken to me was black and about my age. I nodded and sat back down into my seat, my anger and indignation melting away and leaving behind unease and confusion. “Who was this kid? Why was he traveling alone?” I asked myself.
I got up and went to the bathroom to give my back a break. When I was finished and returning to my seat, I noticed several other people of similar ethnicity with little placards peppered throughout the plane. The biggest concentration of them was about two rows in front of my seat. There seemed to be about eighteen of them in total. I found my way back to my seat, inched my way to the front of it and braced myself for the rest of the flight.
I was using my special power of focusing on nothing and accelerating time when I was brought back into the moment. The group of placard people in front of me began speaking in hushed and urgent tones. All of the talk seemed to be directed toward one unconscious woman in the Myanmar party. Another Myanmar woman got up and was urgently trying to get the woman to come to. Moments later, the woman sputtered to consciousness and mumbled something. I could only see the back of her head but there was no mistaking the sound and smell of her retching all over herself. The placard party looked around nervously, speaking their quick and clipped language which, I could only assume, was Burmese. A few seconds later, two flight attendants appeared and began questioning the group. I had pulled out my earphones and was listening intently.
It quickly became apparent that the best English speaker in the group was an indifferent looking middle aged male. He soon was the spokesperson for the Myanmar group.
This was mind-blowing for me because that meant that they had been flying non-stop from Hong Kong for the past 48 hours and they didn’t think it was a good idea to feed some of the members of their party. I began hating the male spokesperson of the group. Maybe something was lost in translation, but his tone and affect conveyed such a level of callous indifference toward the sick woman. He spoke as if he were just informed that the family dog had taken ill in the cargo hold.
The flight attendants gave each other knowing glances and the woman asked if anyone on board the plane was a doctor. No one responded. She then lowered the criteria to nurse. Again, crickets. She then asked if anyone had any medical experience at all. There was complete silence yet again. I waited for a second or two and looked around. There were no hands up. “Fuck.” I thought to myself, “It looks like I’m the only show in town.” My hand went up and the female flight attendant came over to me.
I thought about some of the highlights of my medical experience.
I left out the specifics because my medical experience consisted of dabbling in cardiology for the past two years and, before that, years of battlefield trauma experience. It didn’t look like anybody had been shot or was suffering a heart attack so I was probably in over my head.
I got out of my seat and was directed toward the sick passengers. I looked at the vomiting woman and saw that her colorful dress was covered in a kaleidoscope of vomit and bile. Her friend was stuffing a towel onto her mouth in an attempt to stymie the tide of puke. The sick woman looked up at me, pitifully, and then wretched once more into her towel. Her vomit was thin and clear. She had clearly emptied the contents of her stomach minutes ago.
I looked at the flight attendant and told her that all we could do was wait it out and keep her hydrated once she stopped vomiting so profusely. After that, we could try some nausea medication, but I wasn’t sure what she was allergic to, if anything. This answer seemed to satisfy the flight crew who began getting juice and water from the beverage cart. I put my hand on the sick woman’s forehead and felt that she was burning up. She must have had a 100+ fever.
Before I could think further, the sound of projectile vomit erupted from behind me. I turned slowly and saw another woman in the Myanmar group, spilling her guts onto the floor. Then, in keeping with our theme of threes, an elderly woman in the Myanmar party joined the vomiting chorus.
I looked at the flight attendant.
She nodded and hurried off to the flight deck, leaving me with the sick passengers and the male flight attendant.
“Well this is fucking great.” I thought to myself. I looked back at my empty seat and saw that the little boy was still worming his knees into the back of my chair. I then noticed that the screaming babies were still going. “Had they stopped and started up again or had they been going this whole time?” I asked myself.
I glanced back at the first sick woman. She was ashen and grey despite her dark complexion. Was this patient zero? Is this how the zombie apocalypse begins? Some random lady contracts some weird disease in the heart of Asia and then goes on a marathon flight across the world, infecting everyone along the way?
The PA system crackled to life
The male flight attendant thanked me for my help and directed me to my seat. The fasten seat-belt lights illuminated and I strapped myself back into my seat, feeling the familiar stab in my lower back. I was focused on patient zero in front of me. She had fallen unconscious again and I was worried that she was about to reanimate. I was alternating between staring a hole in the back of her head and looking around for objects to smash her skull open in case she turned.
I eventually settled on my tray table as my contingency weapon of choice. There was a good chance I could wrench it off and use one of the metal arms to stab her through the eye socket if it came down to it. I held the tray table and tested it against my grip. It creaked and groaned under my hands. “This could work” I thought to myself.
I spent the rest of the flight mentally orchestrating, step by step, my hypothetical zombie murder ballet.
I was so immersed in thought that I didn’t realize that we were landing. When the wheels screeched against the tarmac, I was jolted back into a zombie-less reality. We taxied up to a distant terminal and waited there for a few moments. Shortly thereafter, paramedics boarded the plane and began disembarking the entire Myanmar group. I felt those tiny knees pull out of my back and, moments later, saw the little boy gingerly skip behind the parade of deathly ill people as they were all ushered off the plane.
Suddenly, the flight seemed so much less exciting and, in a way, I was sad that it was over. Sure, the flight was scary and uncomfortable and there was a slight chance that I had contracted some incurable super-virus, but I couldn’t remember the last time that I had such a long flight that had kept me so occupied.
Then, in the perfect stillness of the motionless plane, the trio of screaming babies started back up.
P.S. I didn’t catch anything at all from that flight. As far as I know, the group immigrating from Myanmar was quarantined for what could’ve been MERS but, to this day, I’m not entirely sure.
P.P.S. I hope that I didn’t offend anybody from Myanmar or Burma or whatever-the-fuck you call it. I’m sure it’s a great place to visit.