My favorite part of a flight is takeoff. I love that amazing feel of the combination of max speed and the moment you feel the lift. And on that particular day and flight, I had another little treat, a window seat and no one next to me.
I was leaving Rochester, MN, from a trip to the Mayo Clinic. I gently rested the left side of my forehead on the cool window. And as I felt the point of rising and looked out the window as what below me became smaller, I felt one warm tear leave the corner of my left eye and stream down.
It was seriously so cliché. I felt like I had my 90s boom box, standing outside my boyfriend’s window, while crying in the rain. But I didn’t feel dramatic, I felt something powerful and deep in my heart. I was proud of myself and what I had just accomplished.
Since May 2017, I haven’t flown or traveled outside of North Dakota by myself. That may not be a lot to some folks and some have no desire to ever fly or travel alone, but for me, it was something I aspired to do. I had to do it again to say that I could.
2022 was a building year. I was slowly gaining my confidence and abilities so if the time came to hop a plane alone, I’d trust that I could handle it. And in early October, opportunity came knocking. For a list of reasons, it didn’t work out for Mom or Sean to accompany me. With busy lives and three children, Sean and I have to split duties a lot. And even though it pained him and Mom to see me go alone, I not only believed that I could do it, I knew I needed it. It would be a big accomplishment on my timeline of firsts since AE struck.
I can’t lie, I didn’t want to actually go to the Mayo Clinic by myself. I had a few sets of appointments and have had an intense year of doctoring. It’s always something with me. And Mayo is there to find those somethings on someone like me. And I’d be alone. And then what if …, and how would I …, crept in.
I convinced myself that God had me covered and put on the bravest face I could muster. I set out with a surgical mask to wear on the plane and my backpack filled with books, notebooks, and headphones to keep me entertained.
And I set out. Alone. With the sole purpose of doing every last thing I can for my health. For my children and Sean, and for me.
And by all accounts, God and I delivered, and the trip was a smashing success. At every point and time that I needed someone, something, or a sign, it came to me with shining white light. There was the amazing good fortune of my four flights being on time, at easy gates in Minneapolis, and the best seats each time. Twice, I had no one in the seat next to me. And in the other two flights, I had the best seat on Delta Comfort with no one directly in front of me.
Just as I began to use my Uber app at the Rochester airport, I heard a woman getting in her taxi to the Kahler hotel. I asked if I could share the cab to the same destination and she refused to accept any money when she found out I was a patient.
There was the cheer I received from my first lab technician, who asked about my story. She got a short version, but I proudly told her that I had made a return to Mayo flying solo, because that’s what my life called for. As I left, she said, “Thanks for being such a brave and independent woman.” And my heart swelled as I walked out with my gauze wrapped tightly around the crook of my elbow.
Or the Mayo employee behind me in a waiting room, speaking to an elderly patient and her family waiting on a number of appointments. Serious work, but she managed to make them all laugh when she told them her mother said her brightly colored and larger eyeglasses made her look like Elton John. You could have heard my head whip around to not only smile and laugh, but manage to work in that I had already noted her glasses and as Elton’s biggest fan, I liked her style. But I felt sorry for the elderly lady, waiting on a brain scan. Been there.
It’s not all roses at Mayo. You’re there because you’re lucky enough to be, but also because you’re weird enough to be. You’re like a chosen one of hard to diagnose or treat conditions. And I have my fair share of it all. I had to constantly channel my perspective to keep away from overwhelming triggers and thoughts.
The Kahler hotel carpet has been changed. My family can no longer make Shining jokes. But instead of worrying about its gross memories, I reminded myself that I no longer get lost there. The wheelchair that sat all alone in that hallway was a stark reminder that I once needed it. The line for the blood draw could have been the reminder of the large 6am line while Sean pushed me, and I sat with a newspaper I could barely read.
The view of the Rochester Hospital at dusk literally stopped me in my tracks one evening. It’s the memory of reading Dr. Dunnigan’s medical records from those three days prior to my seizure, where he reinforced that if I got worse, Sean was to take me directly there. It was the sick feeling that I probably couldn’t have made that trip, but the relief that it never came to that. Thankfully I was allowed to stay sick and confused around family and acquaintances at the Bismarck hospital.
The Andy Warhol zebra painting was an overt symbol of the rarity of my disease. But this time around at Mayo, AE isn’t what I fear or don’t know. It’s something I’ve come to accept and done my damndest to embrace in all its tragic events.
It was the timeless brown wall paneling.
The laugh to myself that I didn’t hop out of my wheelchair and cut the line for the blood draw. (That’s not hypothetical, make sure to read Unwillable.)
How every trip to Dunkin' Donuts made me happy.
That God allowed me to run into my college friend, Beth, who is recovering from a double lung transplant.
My mantra that life is a matter of perspective. The raw reminder of what those around me faced inside that clinic as a doctor told me I was probably “the healthiest patient [he’d] see all day.” And another doctor who found me pleasant and to be a “great historian.”
AE did not take it all away. And some around me have it much worse.
It was the moment while I walked along, enjoying the night air and looking up at the clinic building in all its majesty. Where I was reminded that just 15 months ago, I had my last panic attack and felt like I could hardly breathe alone. Now I was maneuvering travel and appointments at the world’s finest clinic, all on my own.
As that one tear rolled down my left cheek and we flew through clouds, I felt it come over me.
And my situation is no longer unwillable.
"Oh yeah, I’ll tell you what you wanna hear Leave my sunglasses on while I shed a tear
“I put my armor on, show you how strong I am I put my armor on, I’ll show you that I am
“I’m so powerful I don’t need batteries to play I’m so confident Yeah, I’m unstoppable today
“Unstoppable today” ~ Unstoppable by Sia