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  • Drew Dotson

A flight of imagination

I have a complicated relationship with airplanes.


I was once headed to NYC for a work trip and had an awful asthma attack. I was gasping for air and couldn’t speak, so the woman next to me sought help from a flight attendant.


“Ice,” I mouthed to her, knowing it helps soothe my throat.


People around me were understandably concerned.


I was mortified.


It happened another time as I flew solo to Louisville to teach an improv workshop. My seatmate, who was a college student on her way home, was terrified. After we landed, she insisted on walking and waiting with me until I got in the rideshare to take me to the hotel.


I got my first kidney stone while in the Dominican Republic.


I got my first ulcer while in Mexico.


I was hospitalized for a cystic fibrosis exacerbation the day after I returned from my first trip to Colorado.


Then there was the comically painful series of Delta flights Ramón and I had to cancel due to hospitalizations. We’d once planned a trip to Grand Rapids to visit his family when I ended up in the hospital with a weird autoinflammatory condition.


Doctor: I’ve read about this, but I’ve never actually seen it.

Me: You’re welcome.


Another time, we were supposed to leave for Milwaukee the week Ramón was diagnosed with leukemia. Yet another doctor faxed another letter to Delta.


“Delta must feel so sorry for us,” we joked.


Once, Ramón planned a trip home to Michigan between chemo rounds but ended up in the hospital for a mystery infection. Then, when he finished cancer treatment, we booked a pre-Christmas trip home, relieved we finally had a stretch of time with no doctor appointments.


And, like clockwork, I had a CF exacerbation and was hospitalized. I don’t think we even contacted Delta that time. By then, the airline was probably convinced we had an inside connection at the hospital.


So, yeah. Airplanes and I go way back.


If I even get where I’m supposed to be going, there’s the added complexity of life with CF. One medication requires constant refrigeration. My therapy vest is heavy, has its own suitcase-sized bag, and looks more like combat armor than a medical device.


“You mean you don’t like trying to get your flak jacket through security?” my doctor teased me before a flight.


Combine these elements with the unpredictability of chronic illness, and it’s easy to convince myself to stay close to home — to what I know.


That’s why my recent trip is something to write home about! Last week I returned from my first true overseas trip, which was to the United Kingdom. My health is more stable than ever in my adult life (knock on something) thanks to medical advancements, and, although I was anxious after years of airplane drama, I boarded an international flight and had the time of my life.


During the first few days in London, I drank plenty of tea, visited stunning cathedrals, and sipped on mulled wine along the River Thames. I frolicked down cobblestone streets and laughed hysterically every time a neon-lit bicycle-drawn carriage cruised by blaring Whitney Houston or Mariah Carey. I was full of joy and cider.


Next we ventured to Wales, which is a downright magical place. We stayed in a tiny cottage on a sheep farm in Beddgelert, and it had views unlike anything I’ve seen before. I ate fish and chips and was woefully underdressed for (what turned out to be) extreme hiking. Magic was in the air and toffee waffles were in my stomach.


The last night of the trip, we traveled back to London and ate at an Indian restaurant, Dishoom. My dear friend Megan was so excited for my trip and insisted we go there and get the okra fries. We inhaled them, along with an ungodly amount of other delectable dishes. Ramón would have been so proud. With each new round of drinks, we toasted to Megan and Ramón, and I could feel their presence at the table.


Did I end up at the doctor on Monday with a nasty virus? Yes. Yes I did.


But it was worth every cough.


Maybe airplanes and I can get along after all.


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