I wake early for my flight from Honolulu to Seattle to Las Vegas. Kelly loads my bags in the VW and Bonnie and Stella climb in, too! The whole family is taking me to the airport.
I sit in the back mulling over this paradise, watching the lush green mountains pass the window one more time. I think about love and how wonderful and fulfilling this year has been, how quickly it passed, how much I learned, how many people I call my dear friends and wow, Hawaii, what a finale setting!
We hug each other, I pet Stella one last time and through the gate I go! As I settle into the idea that it is officially over, I start to relax and release all the pressure of the year. I don’t have to cobble together homes everyday and I don’t have to drive every other day. I can sit still and still connect.
Sitting still in the airport, free of the pressure of whose house is next, I suddenly realize I feel really sick. My body, which for the last four weeks has been hanging in like a champion as I used every bit of it’s muscle and brain power, is going down fast. My body is running out of steam. Nausea, muscle fatigue and fever are heavy as I walk onto my five and a half hour flight to Seattle. I tell myself I can do this. I can hang in for one more day. By midnight, I will be back in Vegas. And I am allowed to get the car and go straight to a hotel. I can sleep for three nights. All alone. Hang in there!
But hanging in there, is no longer possible. My body is crashing. I am weak, my legs barely function and my spine hurts trying to hold me up. My seat mate, Darren, is retiring from the military and I smile and try to focus on him. What little energy remains is still going to flow positive!
I try to watch a movie to distract me, too. It helps for the first two hours. I love Saving Mr. Banks. So many life lessons. As my body fights total breakdown I’m still soaking up all I can. When the movie ends, I have to move. I need help. I go straight to the Alaska Airlines flight attendants and tell them what’s going on. I explain that the culmination of this one incredible year is possibly causing a bit of a short circuit. My body is shutting down. I believe my exhaustive collapse is imminent. Can they help me?
Sue Ellen, Susie and Sharon take turns helping me and running services as a fourth attendant maintains constant care of the cabin. Sue Ellen puts me on an O2 tank and mask while she places ice on my neck and a cool cloth on my forehead. For three hours, they talk to me. They distract me and ask me to tell stories, even passengers come back to meet and talk. The three S’s keep me laughing and smiling, doing everything they can to keep me comfortable. I remain in good spirits, desperately seeking a bed in a quiet room.
Sue Ellen explains that when we land in Seattle, she will take me to customer service and get my flight delayed for three days. She will take me to a hotel and get me checked in so I can sleep. She will check in on me there to make sure I am ok and have the hotel do the same. Sue Ellen is my acting mother on board and I’m so happy to have her.
As we land, the girls have a wheelchair waiting for me, but I can’t quite get there. Darren is carrying my bags and he takes one look at me and hands me a sick bag. I take one step into first class and all the ginger ale in the world exits my body into it. As self contained as possible, the attendants ask if I need help, Darren asks and other passengers reach out. It is incredible energy, everyone helping, but I am ok and I assure them I am. I wipe my face with a warm cloth from one of the attendants, deposit my bag in a large plastic bag and climb into my beautiful wheelchair. No mess, just like my host homes, I assure them, I will leave your plane cleaner than I found it. They laugh and tell me that I’m welcome back with them anytime, sick or not.
Mulat is my wheelchair driver and I’ve never been so happy as I roll away with Sue Ellen by my side. We go straight to Bea at the service desk and like all other Alaska Air employees, she is so kind and quick to adjust my flights with no charge. Soon we are en route to a hotel and then checking in. I’m about to roll into bed and Sue Ellen reassures me that she will check in on me. I hug her and thank her and tell her I love her. I couldn’t have handled it all without her.
And I fall sound asleep for 18 hours.
So yes, I may have sorta, not quite, semi-collapsed, but really, I am the lucky one. My one great year culminated in one great, final day.
I am the little girl who lives her dreams and smiles when the going gets tough.
I am the big girl that laughs in the face of adversity and fear.
I am the woman who pushes on, with love in her heart no matter what is going on.
I am connected.
I am changed.
(In my final two days in Seattle I spend most of my time sleeping, but squeeze in a visit at the hotel with Katie, longtime great friend and former Seattle host. On my last day, I walk to Alaska Airline’s corporate office to tell them the story and to meet with Maria, my original, incredible PR contact that helped me facilitate the announcements of my adventure on my flights to Alaska and Hawaii.)
Kelly travels across the country sharing her One Person, One Community, One Nation Movement. She is changing the face of the nation one connection, one adventure and one inspirational story at a time. Kelly delivers a front row seat to the best of the United States of America.