Monday December 12, 2011
Listen to your body
BUT THEN AGAIN
By MARY SCHNEIDER
It’s crucial to understand and tend to your health, and this writer learnt it the hard way.
When I boarded my AirAsia flight from cold Gatwick airport three weeks ago, I was impatient to get to my final destination in sunny Malaysia. After several weeks in my native Scotland, I’d had enough of chilly early morning bathrooms, a nose that dripped like a tap, and a cough that made me sound like a seal. I looked forward to sleeping in my own bed and getting back into my old routine.
Still, thoughts of warmer climes were temporarily shelved as soon as I was onboard, mainly because the cabin temperature on that particular flight was almost Antarctic-like. I piled on the layers to keep warm: three T-shirts, a sweater, a cardigan, two jackets and a blanket. But it wasn’t enough. I began to shiver uncontrollably and my teeth began chattering. I popped two Panadol and prayed for a malfunction in the air-conditioning system.
Two hours later, the sweat was pouring off me. I began peeling off the layers and grumbled to my partner about the sudden heat wave. “It’s a ploy by the airline,” I announced in a raspy voice. “They make the cabin so cold that you are obliged to buy their blankets. Then they turn the heat up, forcing you to buy cold drinks.”
Another two hours later, I was shivering uncontrollably again. And that’s when I knew that my flu had taken a turn for the worse. I pulled my layers on again, popped a few more Panadol and prayed for sleep. But sleep wouldn’t come. All I managed to do was keep some of my fellow passengers awake with my seal impersonations.
Then about one hour away from Kuala Lumpur, it became painful to breathe.
“You need to see a doctor immediately,” said my partner. “That doesn’t sound like a normal flu. Let’s speak to a flight attendant.”
I could just imagine the embarrassment of it all. The in-flight announcement asking if there was a doctor onboard; a person who might or might not be a qualified doctor – like who’s got time to check credentials – attending to the Human Seal; a complete stranger (possibly a sundry shop owner or a car salesman or a crooked politician) pressing his ear to my heaving bosom in an attempt to look doctor-like.
“I think I can wait,” I said. “All that coughing has probably just strained a muscle.”
Several hours later, after we’d cleared immigration and customs at Kuala Lumpur’s Low Cost Carrier Terminal, I was being violently sick behind an idling airport taxi, while my partner watched helplessly from a coffee shop, where he was kept prisoner by the need to guard our precious belongings.
I don’t know how long I stood there waiting for the spasms to pass, but not one person approached me to ask if I needed help. I suspect I could have been lying in a crowded airport restaurant with a dagger sticking out of my eyeball and one of my legs bent under my body at a strange angle and the response would have been the same. Of course, people might have stopped to stare at me, possibly concluding that I was drunk. Or that I was an ancient prostitute who’d just had a violent argument with her pimp, or a lunatic bent on self-mutilation. Whatever the conclusion, I think I would have been left alone with my misery.
When I finally reached my house in Penang, I threw up in my garden, and then went straight to bed. I knew I should have gone to see a doctor straight away, but I was feeling so weak that all I wanted to do was sleep, and sleep and sleep. For four days my partner nagged me about going to the hospital, and for four days I ignored him and stayed in bed getting progressively weaker and weaker.
When my partner finally put his foot down and dragged the Human Seal to a hospital, I was diagnosed with pneumonia and pleurisy (fluid in the lungs). One of my lungs was working at only 25% of its normal capacity and I could barely walk.
While the hospital staff filled me up with fluids, antibiotics and oxygen, I pondered my situation. How had I allowed myself to get into such a physical state of deterioration? For the first time, I felt afraid.
Five days later, I was discharged from hospital with enough antibiotics coursing through my veins to cure a horse. And now that I’m well on the road to recovery, I have to acknowledge that I have learned a huge lesson from this experience.
The next time I go to Scotland, I will demand a heated toilet seat.