Tuesday, March 14, 2006


In Which We Who Are Weary Come Home...

So how did I get home from Florida? I wish the hell I knew. After all, I can't very well write a first-person account of something I don't exactly remember, now can I?

Of course, the words "very well" have never much stood in the way of my writing before, so...

Now, it's true, that moment when Her Lovely Self realized we overslept and missed our flight was pretty much my last coherent moment in Florida. The rest is a blur. A really interesting blur, but a blur nonetheless.

But after merging the blurry bits with some tireless reporting and gathering anecdotes from key sources, I'm able to bring you the more or less full account, which I now offer in the form of a how-to story. I wouldn't expect to see it in a magazine any time soon.

Get Home Sick

It happens to everyone sooner or later. You've finally made reservations for that dream vacation and you end up spending it in the hotel, by yourself, trembling with fever. Your wife and kids are off riding the trolley down Main Street USA or shaking hands with Mickey, while you're left in suite 3749, driving the Big White Monorail and holding scarily coherent conversations with giraffes. Your kids are watching the Princesses put on their show at Cinderellabration in the very heart of the Magic Kingdom. Meanwhile, you're trapped in the dungeon of the castle, being swept away by those freaky-ass brooms from Fantasia, or fleeing for your life from the aluminum-foil-covered corpse of Walt Disney himself. Your brain has done morphed into an Imagineer gone bad and there's nothing for it but to ride each hellish ride in turn and hope for the dry heaves.

Comes the day to leave and everyone's sad. Except you. You're way beyond sad. Your emotional meter has only two settings at this point: Deathlike Calm and Utter Monkey-Gibbering Bat-Shit Craziness, and you shuttle between the two with unpredictable suddenness.

You have your reasons of course: You're a grown man in the early stages of dehydration and your temperature has been in excess of 103 degrees for at least three days. That's like being trapped in a stifling Disney character costume all day in the Florida heat. It is, in short, enough to make anyone Goofy.

Illness would be bad enough. But now imagine that you've missed your flight home as well--and you absolutely have to get home that day. It would be a stressful time for any family. You're trying to call airlines and shuttle bus companies to form a contingency plan (and by "you" we mean your long-suffering wife). Meanwhile, one of you is so sick he's putting on dirty laundry from the previous week (and they're not even his clothes) and two of you are kids who are so high on Disney Magic it's as though they've been snorting pure cane sugar through crazy straws for a week.

How do you get your half-dead lump of spousal flesh and two caroming pinballs to the airport, through security and somehow onto a plane--for which you have no tickets--that will get you all home?

If you're like my family, you'll try these strategies.

Marry well. By this of course I don't mean marry for money or marry for connections (although these factors do have their upsides). I mean, marry someone who can keep her head in a crisis. Marry someone who, when the shooting starts, isn't going to start blasting away willy-nilly at the bottles behind the bar. You want a gunslinger of a wife, with none of that weak nerve, who when it comes time to slap leather, can draw and aim and shoot your problem between the eyes.

(As empowering as this analogy is, by the way, do your best not to try to articulate it to your spouse while you're sick and she's in the midst of trying to figure out what to do. She will only hear delirious moaning instructing her to "Just shoot me between the eyes." And her answer will be, "Don't tempt me.")

Don't just marry well, marry the daughter of an airline employee. If you're sick far enough from home that you require air transport to and from your destinations, this factor is just about as crucial as factors get. Daughters of airline employees have been flying for free for half their lives. They know what jargon to use when talking to ticketing agents and flight attendants. They know the secret handshakes. They know precisely how to sidestep that troublesome process known in most traveling circles as "flying stand-by." Having this experience at your disposal is so far beyond useful, it's almost like divine intervention.

Because what will happen is this: You'll arrive at the airport and find yourself standing in a ticketing line so long, you actually have to set your watch back an hour because you're in a different time zone. And the line you're standing in will be populated entirely by people wanting to fly stand-by on the same flights you want. Of course, I use the term "standing" here VERY loosely. Your family will be standing. You, however, will be flopped across two sets of pull-along luggage which have been lashed together to form a sort of makeshift stretcher. And there you will lie, staring at people's knees (and such a plenitude of knees there are on God's earth. Knobbly ones, smooth ones, bristly ones, scarred ones covering Teflon replacements, really someone should make a study of the subject).

By the time you are rolled to the head of the queue you will inevitably be told the only two flights home are both oversold and with standby waiting lists in the triple digits. But your spouse, the airline brat, will be unfazed by this. And she will point to your nigh-lifeless form (which even now has been accidentally tagged by baggage handlers) and say words that make no sense to you and before you can stay, "Stand back, I'm going to vomit," she will have reappeared with four tickets--not stand-by coupons, but four actual tickets--for the last flight that might possibly get you home. Never mind that you will no longer be connecting through Atlanta but will in fact be taking a brief tour of the Midwest and enjoying a stop-over in Michigan (or Minnesota. It's a hub city in a state beginning with M, anyway). The important thing is, you have real tickets. And approximately seven minutes to make your connecting flight back home from Minnesota (or Michigan).

Steal a wheelchair. Wheelchairs--they're not just for people who can't walk anymore! Every airline has a full complement of their own branded wheelchairs, free for the taking. Once you find them (they're usually at the far end of the check-in desk, around the corner by the scary elevators no one uses because they smell vaguely like pee. The elevators, not the wheelchairs), simply help yourself and prop your ailing spouse into one.

Wheelchairs are handy for several reasons. For one thing, you can pile your carry-on luggage into the wheelee's lap, thus saving money renting a luggage cart (and it's not like he'll care anyway). For another, nothing gets the attention of an airport security guard faster, unless you appear to be in the act of lighting your shoes aflame. The average wait at a security checkpoint in a Florida airport in peak season is a minimum of one hour. In a wheelchair, you can cut that time to 5 minutes, assuming you can actually stand long enough to stagger through the metal detector under your own power. Wheelchairs also entitle you to board the plane ahead of everyone else--yes, even first-class tickets holders. The only exception to this is if you are boarding the plane at the same time as someone who appears genuinely to need a wheelchair, such as the 102-year-old woman who was wheeled on ahead of you by an airline employee. Sick is sick, but manners are manners; don't forget them just because you're hallucinating.

Wheelchairs, it must be said, do have their entertainment value, if you're not used to being in one. For instance, if you're the sick person, someone else pushes you in it, so you get to enjoy the breeze as other travelers nimbly skip out of your way. You also have time to notice things about the natural world that escape you in everyday life, such as the fact that the wall moves just as fast the floor no matter how fast you go.

Save the febrile seizures for key moments, such as meeting the pilot. High fevers can often lead to seizures and convulsions in young children. In full-grown adults, febrile seizures can also occur, usually in fevers exceeding 103 degrees. If you must have a seizure in the airport, do your best to make it one of those silent, fugue state seizures, where you appear to be lost in thought, or receiving messages from the mother ship. Try not to flop onto the floor and jerk up and down like a mime pretending he's undergoing shock therapy. Airline personnel--especially those officious captain-y types--often scan the waiting area and look for people who might pose a danger--or even just an above-average inconvenience--during their flight. They are legally empowered to refuse boarding to any passengers who appear drunk, sick or in any other way that gives them a general hinky feeling.

When the pilot comes by you in your wheelchair and asks you how you're doing this afternoon, smile and nod. Or try to. Then let your heroine of a spouse engage the pilot in her most charming way, mentioning her husband has a little cold that's irritated his asthma and so makes it hard to walk long terminal corridors. Let her continue to talk. Her father was a pilot for this airline for 25 years and after dropping three names, she will finally mention an acquaintance that the pilot and she have in common. Let them chuckle and engage in gay banter and try to not comment on the fact that actual word balloons appear to be coming from their mouths, complete with spelled out laughter: "Ha! Ha! Ha!"

Collect barf bags from every seat back you pass. I think we need not go into too much detail here. No need to tell you how to make a watch when all you want to know is what time it is.

Never steal an old lady's wheelchair... Superhuman though your wife has become, even her best laid plans may go awry. For example, her request to have a wheelchair standing by at your stopover in Minnesota (or Michigan) will likely not be relayed to personnel at the arrival gate. Thus when you see a single wheelchair waiting at the ramp and a stern looking attendant tells you this is reserved for someone else (the 102-year-old lady, natch), you will be forced to walk, then stagger, then crawl up the gangway, your only aid and support being your 4-year-old daughter, since your wife and son were seated in a different area of the plane.

And now you have six minutes to get to a separate concourse to make your connecting flight home.

At moments such as these, you can only amuse yourself with the idea that Fate enjoys you as her private toy (you may also feel free to remind yourself that, despite your comparative frail conditions, odds are still pretty good that the old bag who got your wheelchair will die sooner than you.). Conversely, you might give in to a moment of fever-induced insanity and improvise.

...and you probably should think twice about stealing her cart too. What's this? At the end of the gangway is one of those cunning motorized carts, the kind that are forever sneaking up behind you in airline terminals and beeping at you, forcing you to move sluggishly out of the way while VIP (Very Infirm People) whiz by to their gate of choice. They are really not so different from the golf carts you briefly used while visiting your in-laws. Clearly, this must be the transportation your genius wife arranged. And so you and your daughter seat yourself in the cart, awaiting the rest of the family.

But ho! Here comes the stern attendant, wheeling the 102-year-old up the ramp and he's staring intently at you. Before you are even aware of what you're doing, you turn the key to the "power on" position (and really, the attendant has no one but himself to blame for leaving the key in the ignition, now does he?) and hit the accelerator. You, your daughter and some of your luggage do a festive 180-degree turn and you're off to your gate, leaving a gape-mouthed attendant, a shrill old lady and, oh yes, your wife and son, to stare disbelievingly in your wake.

Scary but true fact: In some airports, the unauthorized use of a motorized airline cart may constitute a breach of airport security and could trigger a shutdown of the entire airport, as well as lead to the arrest of the perpetrators for ill-defined violations of the Patriot Act.

Unless, of course, you have a Cute Little 4-Year-Old Girl with you.

Thus, when security stops you a few steps from your gate, simply set the switch on the Girl to Extra Cute and watch the stern officials melt like enormous, fat blue-uniformed pats of butter.

"I'm sick and can't walk," the little girl will say, to your utter amazement. Then she will grab your burning-hot hand and say, "Daddy, I really have to go potty." And thus you will effect your escape, carrying your daughter into the nearest rest room (pausing briefly to wonder whether you should go on the boys side or the girls side). When you emerge moments later, security and the cart will be gone and the rest of your family will be standing by your carry-on luggage, breathless but not so breathless as to wonder what the hell you thought you were doing back there. But at this point, you can either hold a press conference or catch your connecting flight, which is just about to shut the door. It's an easy choice.

If you start to hallucinate about accidents in a moving vehicle, keep it to yourself. This is doubly true if you actually happen to be in a moving vehicle, such as a narrow metal tube 35,000 feet in the air.

Remember: There's no place like home when you're not feeling well... So when your wife rouses you from your stupor in the quickly emptying airplane and assures you that you really are only a car-ride away from the highway that will take you home, do not try to argue the point and insist that you are still in Florida. Just go. Let her take you home and put you to bed, a bed from which she will rouse you in 5 hours and carry you fireman-style down the stairs to the car because your temperature has shot past 104 and your eyes have rolled up in the back of your head.

...unless you're diagnosed with severe dehydration and a life-threatening case of lower lobe pneumonia in both lungs. In that case, there's no place like the hospital. When your doctor tells you the above and you insist you're fine, try not to emphasize your point by retching up great spats of blood onto the front of your shirt and then pitching forward off the exam table. Really, it won't strengthen your argument one jot.

And in the end, it won't matter anyway because, one way or another, you got home. Or, if you want to split hairs, you got to the hospital nearest your home. Spend the first two days in the hospital in an amusing state of disorientation in which you regale the nurses with stories that make no sense, and occasionally get visits from your dead grandfather, who tries to teach you a ballad about how he beat the devil in a drinking contest.

Spend the next two days feeling like absolute shit as your fever breaks once and for good and you realize you've been inflated with about 10 bags of potassium chloride and 5 bags of Levaquin. Play with the bed controls. Watch a lot of Court TV and Oprah. Marvel at your own colossal stupidity.

Get discharged on the weekend and discover that you have morphed into a shuffling 70-year-old wheezing shadow of your former self. Listen as lots people who have had pneumonia (and quite a few who haven't but know someone who has) tell you in great detail exactly how sick and weak and tired you'll feel for the next two to three weeks. Find yourself too exhausted to formulate even the simplest smart-ass remark and resort instead to vicious coughing attacks to make them shut up or at least move away quickly.

Show your deep gratitude to your wife for handling everything so well by sniping at her and complaining every time she tells you to get up and move around and do your deep breathing exercises. Be as much of an utter bastard as you possibly can. This will make your inevitable apology that much more heartfelt and shame-faced later in the week, when you actually start to feel genuinely better. Expect that she will not accept your apology graciously but will instead use the opportunity to tell you--in case you hadn't just copped to it--what an ass you've been. Do not reply. Abuse has medicinal value too. So simply take a deep breath and soak it in. You've earned both: the deep breath and the abuse.

And welcome home.

From Somewhere on the Masthead


You know, my father once caught pneumonia on a trip, and ended up in the hospital. My Mom flew out to stay with him, and when she got there, they had him in restraints. She acted as his de facto nurse until he was well enough to go home. Sounds like you were in about the same state of mind that he was. Glad you are doing better.
Yes, yes, welcome home. And don't ever pull a stunt like that again, understand??
What an awful story, although it was wonderfully told, in true Magazine Man style.

Welcome home and I hope you are feeling much better!
Thanks for finishing the story. Wow, it sounds like the brownie is following in her mother's capable footsteps. That was inspired of her. It isn't everyone who escapes the long arm of Homeland Security, you know.

I'm glad you lived through it!!! and sounds like something sparkly might be in order for hls?
You can't just go to Florida and get pimpled with mosquito bites and have third degree sunburn like everyone else, can you? NOOoooo- MM has to go and get life threatening diseases and violate several NTSB and FAA regulations, while turning his daughter into an accomplice at the same time. Always having to outdo someone, aren't we??

Glad you made it back.
Though I am - fortunately - a total stranger to the state of marriage from a personal standpoint, I have gathered a few things from having observed it in people nearby.

And something tells me you just racked up some SERIOUS spousal debt, and it's gonna take a whole lot of ice (diamonds, not cocaine. i don't even want to think about what a hyperactive, pneumonic writer be like on blow), flowers, etc., to dig you out of this one.

That said, you have your own little victory out of it... You have absolute proof that HLS is the world's greatest wife and you married her.

That also, I think, alleviates some of the negative score you incurred by being a complete beefhead about your illness.

Rest up and get better, and keep the Brownie away from fundamentalist literature. If she reads any of that and joins some insane evil organization, we are all screwed.
I wanted to wait until the finale to post a comment, so here I am! Great to have you back, MM. Good stuff, as usual. BB was a lot of fun while you were "on leave". He took some flak from a couple of folks, but handled it with grace. I thought he was great.

Hope you stay healthy for another hundred years, at least, because then I can look forward to many great tales.
So thrilled you're back and healthy, and I'm sure all your readers are equally thrilled that you can't have a normal vacation like everyone else.

As for HLS: Nothing says "Sorry I was a complete ass, and, umm, thanks for saving my life" like jewelry. I'm with Shafa. I'm thinking diamonds...
Oh my gosh! I am so glad you're doing better, I was really worried.

Glad to hear you can still maintain your sense of humor while being sick. Most men I know turn into Super-Grouch! as soon as the sniffles come around.
Perhaps, next time you see the signs of burn out you will pay a little more attention and take a break a bit sooner, instead of waiting until you are so wiped out that you become susceptible and are "diagnosed with severe dehydration and a life-threatening case of lower lobe pneumonia in both lungs".

That being said, take it easy. It will take some time to recover, time that will be well spent kissing some serious ass.

Glad you're OK & glad you're back.
Oh my goodness....

I waited until the conclusion before posting. Been busy with sick kids this week, so I actually read most of the posts all in the same day.

I cannot believe that you spent your Disney trip sick, and then came home to the hospital. HLS is amazing. You are one lucky man, and she proves it every day.

I am with the gang on getting her something sparkly. If she's not a diamond person, how about the gemstones of her two lovely children's birth months? Some "Perfect mother" bauble for her?

Welcome home MM. Now get back in bed and rest!
Is it insulting to say that I'm not surprised? It seems like a very MM thing to have happen! That said, I am both glad and relieved that everything turned out well for you. It seems that you owe HLS a lot of homemade soup the next time she so much as sniffles.
I'm torn between being very glad that I've never been that sick and jealous because apparently I've been missing out on talking giraffes.

I'm very glad you and yours are all home and that you all survived the trip intact.
Glad you made it home safely, and are recovered enough to write :)
I am so looking forward to how this will effect the dynamic of you and the in-laws. Dude, you are so a sitcom! And I would cast The Brownie in a heartbeat, as she seems to have real intuition. Her cute kung-fu is very powerful.
There's a how-to travel book in there somewhere.
I'm glad you're feeling yourself again, MM. In spite of the seriousness of your situation, you're still able to infuse hilarity into your writing (as always!) - I had a couple of laugh out loud moments reading your entry!
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