One day not long ago, I got very sick on an airplane.
As it turns out, something inside my body had ruptured. Is there any more terrifying word that “rupture”? So close to “rapture” you wonder if someone was joking. What ruptured wasn’t an appendix (there’s just one, right?) and it wasn’t my spleen, but it felt like I was dying when it happened. Considering my history of being quite sick for long stretches with ulcerative colitis and complications from it, I not only felt like I was dying, I recognized the feeling of feeling like I was dying and this made it all worse.
You need to know that this story has a happy, funny ending. But I have to tell you how bad it was before we get there because it’s part of how we get there.
I was bent over so far in my seat, clutching my abdomen, that my head was almost under the seat in front of me. White as freshly fallen snow, I vomited once, twice, almost three times, that’s how bad the pain was. When you’re involuntarily barfing from agony, you know something is very wrong. The people next to me shot out of the their seats (honestly, it was more to help and less because of the vomit, but the latter probably contributed) and before I knew it, I was laid out on the three seats and I heard over the PA, “Is there a doctor on board?” Really, they said that!
A man came up to me, looked extremely concerned, asked me if I might be pregnant, I squeaked out a “No, I don’t think so” and then I passed out a little. I say “a little” because I don’t remember anything else before suddenly being in a wheelchair at my gate with paramedics looking at me and writing things down.
I got pain medicine in my body and felt markedly better and really, the whole thing kind of cleared up pretty quickly, though I was bone tired. If you really want to know, which you maybe don’t but I’ll tell you because I don’t want to confuse you: I had an ovarian cyst. A largish one. And it raptured.
So then came Verda.
Verda was fifty-something employee of the Atlanta airport (ATL). Verda was charged with getting my gimpy self to my connecting gate. The paramedics, deciding that I was actually okay, cleared Verda to whisk me off. Whisk me off, she did.
“Honey,” Verda said, “You thirsty? You need a snack? Let’s get you something, honey, you’ve been through a lot.” She was a true Atlantan, a black woman, a mother with a southern accent. She wheeled me into a Hudson News and I was eye-level to the chips and candy.
“Get you some chips, honey. The salt will be good for you. You like potato chips?” I said that I did, sure, and reached for PopChips. Verda nearly smacked my hand.
“Mm, no, no. You want those?? Honey, get the regular. They’re better.” She grabbed a large bag of Classic Lay’s and put it on the counter. I got a Gatorade, too, and Verda got me her employee discount. As we moved out of the shop and into the stream of airport traffic, Verda began to talk. Totally unprovoked, she told me about her current situation. I listened with rapt attention and cracked the bag of Lay’s. She was right. They were way, way better than any PopChip and my body nearly screamed, “Oh God! Thank you!” when the salt and fat hit my tongue.
“Honey, I got problems,” Verda said. “I tell you what. This young man’s after me! Right here at work! He’s sayin’ all kinds of things. Honey, I’ll tell you right away: I’m a married woman. This young man, hm! he doesn’t seem to mind that, and I’m tellin’ him, ‘What do you want with some married woman!’ And child, I am twice his age! But he keeps after me and I just don’t know.”
“Verda!” I exclaimed, instantly all in, “What are you gonna do?”
“Nothin’! Nothin’ at all!” We were passing through the C terminal when Verda paused and lowered her head down to mine. “I ain’t the kind, but lemme tell you…” Pause, then with a keen eye on mine: “You open-minded?”
I nearly choked on a chip.
“Yes,” I said, swallowing, thankful I was faced front with Verda behind me; she couldn’t see my ill-conceived glee. This was the most brilliant code for “Can I tell you something I shouldn’t? Something of a prurient nature?” I had ever, ever heard.
“This young man, he’s sayin’ he’d like to do things. To me!” Another pause, then again, “Now… You open-minded?” I nodded vigorously. I am, after all.
“He’s tellin’ me how he’s gonna make love to me and all this kinda thing. I have had it. I shouldn’t have listened to it for so long! And let me tell you somethin’ else: there’s another man trying to get after me, too! Now, he’s not as young as this young man, but I tell you what.”
“Verda!” I exclaimed, “You’re beatin’ them off with a stick!” I was halfway through the bag of chips. I never eat chips.
We got to my gate and Verda made sure I was gonna be okay. I sat slumped in my wheelchair till it was time to board. Wobbly, I got to my seat and the second leg of the trip was uneventful. I never told anyone about what had happened. I was okay and I would see my doctor, but no use in frightening the mother unit or the rest of the family needlessly.
I did tell several people about Verda, though, however obliquely. I just told about the “You open-minded?” part because it was so delicious. And now I’ve told you.