Airborne…

There was me thinking that flying to Tahiti wouldn’t be eventful enough to report back! Turns out that my flight was nothing but eventful…

We settled in to our rather tropical themed aircraft, all flowers and bright colours, and women in traditional Polynesian dresses with flowers in their hair. All well and good. I had the window seat and sat next to a sweet girl en route to an internship at Le Meridien for 6 months, which happens to be in the area that I’ve just arrived in, Puna’auai, where I’m staying in the Residence du Jardins des Musee, in a rather lovely apartment loaned from a friend of a friend of a friend. Sometimes the world is a tiny and very wonderful place! It beautiful here, very peaceful, and just across from the sea and the museum of Tahiti. You can watch the sun go down over Moorea and watch the men in their canoes paddle over the sparking water that glitters as though their sitting on top of a thousand fireflies undulating in perfect unison.

But back to the plane. There is more to be said of Tahiti’s beauty later…

About 50 minutes out of LA, just as we were all settling in and preparing for the hours ahead, and just when everyone had figured out the entertainment system (better than Kuwait, but not much to choose from!) and was securely plugged in, a young woman, in her late 20s or early 30s suddenly started fitting. The man sitting next to her, who was just a fellow passenger, looked on, ignoring the woman writhing and catapulting herself back and forth in her seat, and swapped movies, issuing a long sigh as he did so. The older American lady sitting in front of me realised something was rather wrong and jumped up to check if the girl was ok, and took one look at her and we knew it was bad…

She started screaming “Doctor, doctor” – as it turns out, one of her friends, sitting just behind me, another older lady (one assumes she was older though it was impossible to tell how old, for her face had been exposed to the knife so many times, she was part sculpture, part Orlan, part Barbie and part Phantom of the Opera), was a doctor. She quickly enlisted help to move the girl, and I stood along with two men, and we carried her down the aisle to the service area and laid her on a hard surface. I have never seen anything quite like it. She was completely purple, like the colour of a bruise and her skin was grey. She wasn’t breathing, and had only the faintest of pulses. The doctor had laid her on her side at first, but quickly realised that she needed her breathing to be restarted, and began to pump her chest and give CPR. Eventually she began to breathe, but not before I’d chewed off every single one of my nails. I’ve never seen anyone so close to death. I have seen dead people, but never been near someone who came so close to death right in front of me. It makes the body seem so delicate, so fragile. Before we had got on to the plane, she had been sitting opposite me at the gate, twizzling the cord of her iPod and guzzling a large bottle of water, and now here she was, tiny, like an empty vessel herself, or a blank page waiting to be written.

We soon learnt she was traveling alone, and a quick bag search revealed epilepsy medication. When she came to, eventually, after sleeping it off and being kept under the watchful scrutiny of the doctor and air stewards, she said she hadn’t been taking her meds and had been trying to wean herself off them. This reminded me so much of my friend Octavia, who always felt that being chained to medication somehow prevented her from feeling truly free, and that she would rather face the fate of the cards she had been dealt. I have thought of Occy a lot the last few days, and particularly after that plane flight, and thought how she would think this whole adventure was nuts but that she’d probably have wanted to join despite it all. Though we lost Occy to epilepsy, and though many of us know someone who suffers or has suffered from it, it actually took that woman on the plane and her invisible and intangible switch to flip, before I truly understood the peril Occy faced daily and masked so successfully. I can imagine it feels very isolating and lonely… I really felt for this stranger up in the sky, alone, who seemed to live on the edge of an abyss with an invisible disease following her every move.

When we landed, and after her four further fits, she was whisked off to the hospital much against her will. I saw Occy in that too, where she would brush it off, and say she was fine. Though I don’t remember her name, I will also think of this lady often – I hope she makes the decisions about her medication that make her feel the most in control, even if that means things are out of control. I hope that she gets well, and was treated well…. I wish her luck negotiating the many challenges epilepsy presents….

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