Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Surgery at 35,000 feet in the Friendly Skies

Last week we took our annual summer vacation. Our destination spot this trip was San Diego. Our flight at o'dark thirty from Madison to Chicago was uneventful, which is just how I prefer flights in the metal death tube to be.

We boarded the plane in Chicago for our four hour flight to San Diego. One hour into the flight, my 10-year old daughter, when I grabbed her hand to hold it, and she recoiled in pain and said, "OUCH! Mommy that hurt!" Now, I do not have the loving grip of David Banner turned Lou Ferrigno. (For you youngsters, that means Incredible Hulk.) Not understanding the source of this pain, I studied her finger. The tip of her left index finger was cherry red, swollen, inflamed, and filled with creamy pus. (Note: You weren't eating, right? Another Note: Is it just me, or does the word "pus," sound just like how gross it really IS?) With this sympathetic maternal empathy outpouring, she began to cry.

Of course, I was still confused. This was obviously not a new injury and had been festering quite some time, completely unbeknownst to me. "Honey, what happened to your finger??"

She explained to me that three weeks prior, she had squashed this finger accidently with a skee ball, while bowling at Chuck e Cheese's. (She swore that she mentioned it to me at the time. Huh?) The pressure from the plane's cabin had made it swell up and start to thump like Edgar Allen Poe's Telltale Heart.


She began to cry harder. Action was required...surgery action by Dr. Mom! I searched frantically through the scary depths of my purse for something to prick the festering infected region. Safety pin? Needle? Nail clippers? Ice pick? Nothing...not one dang sharp item in my purse.

I flagged down the flight attendant and told her the problem. "Listen I understand the irony of the request that I am about to make, so bear with me. Yes, we are on an airplane. But here's the thing, I am in desperate need of a sharp, piercing object. I do not care WHAT it is. I just need to poke a little hole into my daughter's finger."

She looked at me dubiously, "Uh huh." She looked around as if to flag down some help in case I needed to be restrained and then hauled down the plane's aisle. I showed her the offending finger and explained the situation further. She noted the crazed look in my eyes and scurried away to rummage through her supplies. (I'm sure the flight attendant's training manual indicates, "Do not ever attempt to stand in the path of a Mama Grizzly Bear.")

Within a few moments, she brought me a...wait for it...serrated plastic butter knife to slice and dice my daughter's finger. And then she added importantly, "I sterilized it with warm water in the bathroom." I'm pretty sure I didn't hold back the eye roll. First of all, have you heard of anything EVER being "sterilized" in WARM water? Secondly, do you think that the mouse-sized cubby hole on an AIRPLANE is the best location for performing said sterilization process?? Ewwww.

I had no choice. My daughter looked at me with deer-in-the-headlights-Bambi-eyed-betrayal. "You're going to cut me with THAT?" I told her to bite down as hard as she could onto her fleece jacket. This was a little for her benefit, but mostly so as not to alarm her fellow passengers. I don't think that it's ever a good thing to hear a blood-curdling scream on an airplane. In spite of the mouthful of fuzz, she howled when I attempt to saw into her finger. It didn't do a darn thing except press down very hard onto an already ultra-sensitive throbbing area.

Fortunately, my partner has honed, razor-sharp Edward Scissorhands talons. She reached over and while daughter was still in the initial waves of crying from the first attempt, she pierced the offending finger with her nails and achieved immediate pus-draining success! Nearly immediately, Hannah stopped crying.

Our friendly flight attendant, who had conveniently disappeared after the first failed surgery, reappeared after the successful second one. She then brought us - her newly christened "VIP section" - bandaids, ice, alcohol swabs, Valium (kidding), etc. She then offered my nearly-legal daughter (she's 10) a glass of vodka to soak her finger in. She lamented that it was the only thing that she had on hand to "sterilize" the wound. I told her that it would probably be more "medicinal" if she brought me some orange juice to mix into it.

Unfortunately, I did not get the name of our Flying Florence Nightingale, in order to send a complimentary letter to her United superiors. But then, maybe that's a good thing. Maybe not so good to thank her for providing the sharp object and liquor to the 10 year old flier. :) But, I do thank you, Heroine of the Skies!

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