Noel describes the day he and his mom flew to Colorado as one of the worst days of his life. For most of it, I was generally unaware of how traumatizing it was. The evening their flight departed* they sent optimistic texts to the family – pictures of them next to a moose statue at the Anchorage airport and reassurances that they were feeling calm. That night I wrote in my journal in anticipation of their arrival, “Buckle your seatbelt for our wild ride!” If only I’d known how truly wild the ride would be, even from the beginning.
The next morning, I dropped the kids off at a friend’s house early in the morning and drove to the airport to pick up Noel and Glenna. I waited anxiously at the cellphone lot and was relieved when I got a call from Noel. Noel was so calm that it almost didn’t register at first that he was telling me they were boarding an ambulance.
Prior to flying, Glenna had gone through a lot of tests to make sure it was safe. Her doctors in Alaska knew she had some fluid on her lungs, but didn’t think it posed an immediate risk. About half way into her flight, her oxygen levels began to plummet. Their amazing United flight attendant, Tammy, busted out the emergency oxygen onboard the plane. They went through 4 of the 6 tanks onboard before landing in Denver. Glenna’s levels still weren’t normal, even with the oxygen, and they called and asked for an ambulance to meet them at the gate.
The United manager at Denver International Airport had recovered from breast cancer herself and arranged for Glenna and Noel’s luggage to be brought curbside for me to pick up. After acquiring their bags I made my way over to the hospital. Two good friends and neighbors pitched in to take care of the kids while Noel and I spent the day at the hospital.
We spent the morning and afternoon keeping Glenna company as she went through a myriad of tests. She cheerfully agreed to let the doctors bring in interns and patiently answered all their questions. Even in her pained and tired state, she wanted to help others. At some point, they took her to another part of the hospital for a thoracentesis where they drained 1.6 liters of fluid off her lungs. (Which explains why she was having such a hard time breathing.) When one of the moms from Cooper’s school walked in I did a double take. I hadn’t known she was a nurse in the hospital’s pulmonary department. It felt weird to run into her in that context; it was like worlds colliding. Seeing her jolted me into the reality that the me that dropped my kid off at school and the me standing in that hospital were the same person. This was really happening. This was my life.**
*Flights to and from Alaska are almost exclusively red eyes.
** I am well aware that Glenna’s story affected many people, most notably her. I can only tell my own story, but in doing so don’t mean to diminish the feelings of others, especially those of my dear family. ♥