Flying Back to America

The flight from South Korea to San Francisco was the hardest flight I’ve ever taken (and I’ve been on quite a few!). I had been feeling unwell for a few days, but nothing that crazy or unusual. After about 2-3 hours on the plane, I started feeling my face get really hot and itchy, but I didn’t think much of it. When I went into the bathroom though, I saw my face looked blotchy, red, puffy and hives were forming. I went back to my seat and realized I had no Benadryl or antihistamine, so I found a flight attendant and asked if they had any. He said he would look around and come to my seat and let me know – he seemed newer and slightly less experienced than others on board.

I went back to my seat and tried to relax, but that became difficult as I felt myself getting much worse. I could feel a fever coming on strong and my face getting worse, but the scariest part was slowly feeling my tongue start to swell. I’ve had allergic reactions before, but never over the Pacific Ocean! By the time the flight attendant came over, anxiety had come over me and I felt significantly worse/ When he realized I was crying he quickly said, “umm let me go find someone else to come over,” because he was not equipped to deal with a crying sick girl. An older woman flight attendant came over and asked what was going on and told me to come with her to the back of the plane. We went towards the kitchen area and before I knew it, I was surrounded by 7 flight attendants who were all trying to figure out what to do with me and how to handle the situation. After feeling my forehead and realizing I had a fever, they gave me ice and water to try and cool me down.

They made an announcement asking for a doctor on board and one man came forward, but because he was Korean they needed to find a translator as well. The main flight attendant arrived to figure out what was going on and help the situation. They found a medical kit, but needed confirmation from someone on ground before being able to open it and give me any medicine. The main attendant called a landline in America and explained what was going on and described my symptoms, asked me lots of questions, and asked the doctor questions. The doctor found a syringe in the kit that wash’t clearly labelled and wanted to use it on me because he believed it was the right thing based on how it looked. I was shaking my head and getting more anxious, especially because I’m also allergic to many medicines. Without proof of being a licensed doctor, they couldn’t let him actually treat me, and I was a little relieved to be honest. The attendant and whoever was on the phone had to map out an emergency landing route just in case I got word or my throat closed up or something! This did not help me relax. Then he tells me the closest landing option is only 3.5 hours away in Alaska! Which only made me feel that much worse.

The other flight attendants did what they could to help – gave me more water and a snack, handed me cups full of ice to put on my face and suck on, and most importantly they just talked to me and comforted me. It’s that much scarier to be in this situation alone, so having people genuinely care and take the time to show you makes all the difference in the world. In the end, they gave me some pill, a slightly stronger version of Benadryl and took me back to my seat so I could try to sleep. I struggled for a long time to fall asleep and felt truly uncomfortable and awful, but I did fall asleep eventually. The flight attendants came over to my seat throughout the flight to check on me, brought me extra drinks, and even waited for me outside the bathroom in case something happened or I needed assistance – how amazing are they?! I feel so grateful for how they treated me and cared for me. United Airlines has really wonderful people working for them.

As the flight approached the last hour, the woman who had originally taken me back to the kitchen came over and let me know that because they had to call that landline, protocol insisted that I would have to be checked out before entering the airport. As if this wasn’t embarrassing enough (I’m easily embarrassed) – no one else would be able to get off the plane either until it was sure I was okay. As landing announcement were made (fasten seatbelt, final time to collect garbage, weather is good, we should be on the ground soon) they also announced that everyone would have to remain seating once we landed until further notice because of an emergency. This was announced multiple times. People were stressed and not pleased because we were already late as it was, and then after we hit the ground, we were more delayed waiting for an aircraft to leave our gate.

Once the main door was opened, two women in fancy suits from the CDC came on board and walked to my seat with a flight attendant, helped me gather all of my things, and took me off the plane. They asked me lots of questions and checked how I was doing, but luckily I was feeling much much better! They asked if I wanted to see paramedics, but I felt okay enough to keep going and was embarrassed as it was with such a fuss being made. They let me go, I went through customs (before everyone else because I got off the plane first!) and I went to my next gate. I just wanted to get back to Los Angeles and lie down on a real bed.

The rest of my trip went smoothly even though I didn’t feel great. I made it safely to LA and felt better pretty quickly after some real rest, a shower, and non-airport/plane meals. I never figured out what caused the reaction, but hopefully it won’t happen again. Moral of the story – pack Benadryl!

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