Saturday, April 9, 2011

182. Altitude Sickness

I'd been on some shitty plane rides in my day, but nothing compared to that ride from Rome to Stansted. I'd been on planes where I sat next to crying babies and behind people with extreme flatulence. Planes that sat on the runway for four hours and planes that landed early to refuel. Planes with no overhead storage for my bag. Planes with broken tray tables.

The flight from Rome to Stansted had nothing to do with my seatmates or the lack of tray tables and reclining buttons and everything to do with the fact that I thought I was going to die.

I was wearing my sweatshirt, my coat, Cayden's sweatshirt, and Cayden's coat, and I was violently shaking. Chills started in my rib cage and spread to my fingers, toes, and chattering teeth. I had my knees pulled up to my chest and my feet tucked under Cayden's thigh for warmth. I had two hoodies pulled as far over my head, ears, and face as possible.

My skin hurt to the touch, so the four layers of clothing causing friction on my rattling body felt like sandpaper on a sunburn. The throbbing in my head felt like my heart was actually in my skull, competing for space with my brain. I waited patiently for my head to explode.

If I had to guess how high my fever was at that point, I'd say upwards of 103. I'd been taking pain relievers every two hours instead of every four. My tonsils were so swollen they sat on my tongue, so any time I tried to talk, I winced and gave up.

It would be a little dramatic of me to say I wanted to die, but I definitely wanted to pass out and wake up somewhere warm. Maybe somewhere like Texas where the doctors handed out hydrocodone for headaches, toothaches, and, well, pretty much any other kind of ache you want to tell your doctor you have.

Cayden tried to warm me by rubbing his hands up and down my arms, but I had to tell him to stop because my skin hurt too badly. He couldn't touch me. I couldn't talk to him. I may as well have been in Texas, thousands of miles away from him, dreaming about the day we'd be together again.

"Hot," I whispered. "Hot," I repeated, almost in a panic as I tried to pull Cayden's coat off me as fast as possible. Cayden helped, afraid to touch me, but seeing the immediacy in my eyes.

I'd gone from frozen to fire in a matter of seconds. I felt like I was in a sauna wearing a parka. My undermost layer of clothing clung to my back and stomach with sweat. My cheeks burned red. I needed to be naked.

I lacked the energy to do anything more than lift my arms. Cayden peeled off layer after layer until I sat there in just my jeans and a shirt, fanning myself with two weak hands. I wanted the jeans off. I wanted the shirt off. I wanted to ask for a bucket of ice.

The person to Cayden's left watched us with cautious eyes. He looked at me like I had the plague, and then scooted as far left in his seat as possible.

I pressed my face up against the window, hoping the cold glass would stop the burning in my cheeks. Cayden tried to fan me with a magazine as I sat there panting against the window.

Poor Cayden. Every time I winced to his touch, I hurt him. Every time I gave up on trying to talk to him because my throat hurt too badly and my airway was too small, he crumbled a little. I could feel it. I knew I was hurting him just as badly as my strep throat was hurting me, and there was nothing I could do about it.

Thirty minutes later, the fire cooled to frozen, and Cayden wrapped me in layer after layer while I shook. An hour after that, I was back to fire and Cayden peeled the layers off.

I closed my eyes and prayed for sleep, or at least unconsciousness. I'm sure Cayden did the same thing.


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