Emergency travel

When you hear someone say that they’re traveling in order to be with a friend or relative who is ill, it’s difficult to imagine anything other than fear and a sense of urgency. You imagine them muttering prayers, negotiating imaginary deals with their personal gods, willing their car or train or plane to go faster, fearing the worst, even when trying very hard to not think of the worst.

I found that fear and urgency didn’t even figure in the top five most dominant feelings, at least not for me. What I experienced was an almost preternatural calmness. After making up my mind that this wasn’t one of those worrying-from-far-away-is-good-enough situations, I booked my tickets. Printed out two copies of the confirmation email. Let my office know that I needed to take some time off. Took the subway home. Packed with half a mind on the weather as I imagined might be like when I got back. Wrote out the rent check, but decided to post it from my destination, as it was only the 18th. I made only one call – to my friend to arrange being picked up at the airport. I received many calls – updates from the hospital. Encouraging now, or not so encouraging ten minutes later.

As talk veered towards “decisions” which would perhaps have to be made, I made up my mind to be a decision-maker, instead of the person being taken care of. While it is an attractive proposition to be taken care of, the idea is entirely too risky – what happens if you don’t find some one to make decisions for you? Far less uncertainty if you’re the one calling the shots. Of course, you may not be in a position to make decisions. But I didn’t want to go into that just yet.

I returned to reality, as I realized that we’d already reached the airport. We must have beaten the rush hour traffic. As I entered the waiting area, I realized that I hadn’t brought anything to read. The realization brought a small relief – that was surely a sign that I had indeed panicked. That I wasn’t made of ice, as I was starting to fear.

I didn’t want to buy anything I might like or anything I’d been planning to. In case something bad happened, I’d always remember the book as being the one I bought on the “bad” trip. So I picked up something by Stephen King. He’s morbid to begin with. I could add more dark associations, but they’d be redundant. And I didn’t like his work very much, so I knew I could afford to hate him, or worse, feel quietly discomforted by him for the rest of my life.

I wondered how many other people in the airport were there because they had a family emergency as well. How many of them had been made to silently fume in frustration as the rest of us got a cab first or blocked the subway doors. There I was, once again imagining that people always panicked in such situations. I hadn’t, well, not really. So perhaps, there was no one correct response to these things.

One more phone call. I was told to calm down and not worry. Someone would pick me up at the airport. I made the responses I thought were expected from me. I expressed relief that the person who was ill was being attended to. I thanked the caller for being there, when I could not. After hanging up, I wondered if things would go as smoothly if I were the one who was ailing. In the very worst case, mostly likely not. I lived alone, with no one to even call 911 if I were to collapse. I had to admit that living by yourself was risky. But you couldn’t get married just because you needed someone to dial 911 for you. I considered and rapidly rejected the idea of a pet. A dog might raise an alarm by barking the apartment building down. But like the marriage idea, who could live with a dog just in case you die or come close to dying? Besides, the only pet I’d ever seriously considered was a fish, and a fish would be no help at all.

I felt guilty thinking about fish. I should have been muttering prayers, or glancing impatiently at my watch. I made a half-hearted attempt at praying. I felt the futility of it – if there was a God, he wouldn’t have let things come to such a pass, so how could He suddenly fix everything now? And immediately felt guilty about that. Doubt the existence of God when it’s your emergency, I told myself. Don’t do this now, not on someone else’s time. So I prayed again, a little more earnestly this time.

Emergency travel is an oxymoron. Unless you’re physically running, traveling can’t exactly be done in a hurry, can it? A car or train or plane only goes so fast. And no matter how fast you’re moving, the act of traveling is in itself almost stationary. You can do little else other than sit and wait. The only thing that is shorter with ‘emergency travel’ as opposed to regular travel is the time you have to plan the trip.

Perhaps I’d be as mistaken about hospitals as I’d been about traveling. Perhaps by focusing on the minutiae of the act of being in a hospital, I’d be able to keep fear at bay. Perhaps not. I’d find out soon enough.


2 comments so far

  1. roots on

    hope you and yours are doing well now. I wish the new year brings cheer and hope to you.

  2. DoZ on

    Thank you, roots! The patient is doing a lot better now, and so are the rest of us, myself included. And wish you and your family a great new year, too.

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