“Oh, hey, good luck with that phlegm.” (Said in the most insincere, mocking way imaginable.)
“Thanks a lot, jerk.” (Said in most indignant, shocked way imaginable).
And with those parting words at baggage claim, thus ended the most humiliating, awful experience I’ve ever had in terms of being a patient. Even several days later, my face flushes in anger and my heart rate quickens a bit.
Let me start at the beginning. My husband and I were returning from a weekend trip, a Thursday night to Sunday affair. We brought The Vest with us, as we always do, and we brought it as a carry-on item, as we always do. It cost nearly twenty thousand dollars, so we’ve never wanted it rolling around underneath the plane, and we’ve never had trouble stowing it above us. This time, our plane was a tiny commuter plane, the kind with only about 20 rows and midget-sized overhead compartments. The gate attendant Thursday night said our backpack might not fit overhead (which it did) but that The Vest would.
It didn’t. So we stowed in beneath our feet and while it did protrude about an inch or so, I still had room for my feet and the flight attendants made no mention of it. We did the same thing Sunday, figuring on the same airline and on the same type of plane, what passed muster Thursday would be okay Sunday.
It wasn’t. I should also add that by the time we were on board and stowing carry-on luggage, the plane had already been delayed by 35 minutes and we were still third in line for take-off. The flight attendant and a customer service rep told us that it wasn’t far enough under the seat and we’d have to check it. My husband asked if it would be insured if we placed it underneath the plane and something happened to it. We were told that it wouldn’t be because it wasn’t checked originally, and that we should have made alternate plans if we wanted it insured. We pointed out that we would have made other plans if we hadn’t thought we could bring it on the plane the same way we just had days earlier, but handed it over anyway.
The whole exchange lasted about three or four minutes. People on the plane were getting antsy—one man even pointed to his watch and said he had places to be—and I don’t blame them, but it was the airline’s inconsistency that caused the problem. I was mortified and really self-conscious the whole flight, even though we were still delayed several minutes while the backlog of planes in front of us departed and all of that had nothing to do with our four-minute exchange. Still, the whole plane knew I had a piece of medical equipment that needed to be moved, and that’s the kind of public notice I don’t like.
I had recovered by the time we were at baggage check. In fact, I was resting on a bench when I saw a man approach my husband and get in his face. Seriously. In his face.
“Hey buddy, we’re cool. It’s cool. I mean, I got my car towed because you wouldn’t check your bag, but really, it’s ok,” he said, shouting.
Because I am a hot head and because I didn’t like this guy yelling at my husband, I got in the middle of them. They were going back and forth, the guy (who was there to pick up his girlfriend) screaming that we should have made other plans and John explaining that the 35-minute delay prior to boarding is what made us late.
“You don’t know anything about our situation. We were allowed to bring it on the other day. It only took a few minutes to check it, and we were still third in line for departure, so it didn’t make a bit of difference in terms of when we took off,” I said.
John chimed in with, “It’s an expensive piece of medical equipment that helps keep my wife alive. It keeps her from drowning in her phlegm.”
“I’m sorry to hear that,” the guy said. For a second, I thought he meant it. “But hey buddy, say my girlfriend has a health problem, I wouldn’t be able to take her to the hospital because my car got towed. If I hadn’t been waiting twenty minutes, I’d have a car, but it’s cool, I mean as long as you feel you don’t need to check your bag.”
“Wait, you parked your car in a tow zone and left it alone for twenty minutes and it’s our fault you got towed?” John asked incredulously. (At that precise moment, the airport security message warning that all unattended vehicles would be ticketed and towed immediately came on. It was too perfect.) “The plane was late before we even boarded it, so don’t put that on us. And don’t park in an illegal area and leave your car alone and then scream at me for it!” John added, motioning in the air towards the intercom.
All three of us went back and forth a bit longer, voices raised and faces red. When the guy finally walked away and spat at me“Good luck with that phlegm” several times, very loudly and meanly, I was shaking. Literally every muscle in my body was quivering, not from anger but because no one had ever made me feel so terrible. The way he yelled it at me in front of so many people basically felt like he was saying, “Die for all I care, my car got towed.”
I sat down on the baggage claim carousel to steady myself.
I regret so many things about that whole incident: I regret the airline’s inconsistency put us in the position of risking a twenty-thousand dollar piece of medical equipment. I regret that both of us lost our cool and raised our voices in response to this guy, something I have never done in public and hope to never repeat again. And I really regret that after everything I’ve seen and done, some jerk still had the power to make me feel like my existence was so inconvenient and worthless.
And I will never, ever fly on a certain airline named after the fourth Greek letter again!