No place like home

It’s six in the morning and the house is silent. Almost silent, I can head my dad sniffling in the other room. Silent and very dark, where are all the streetlights?  I’ve been up for an hour and after many attempts to crack the password on my mother’s computer, have given up the battle and pulled out a sheet of paper. Well I am home. Home sweet home, and let me tell you this: it feels really, really good. That’s the short version. Here is the long. . .

Zsolt and I woke up yesterday morning around 6.30 am . . . the past two days are the earliest I’ve risen over the last six months. Early bird gets the worm, but the late bird snuggles in bed. Who doesn’t like to snuggle? (Particularly when the heat has been turned off and beyond the sheets is a freezer-like climate.)

So we get up with the intention of leaving for 7 am, by  7.36 we are in the car and rolling. It was a typical drive to the airport with lots of traffic and iron bladders.

Wohoo! Dad is awake and offering the password – I’m switching to the computer now and creative freedom! Typing is glorious. And wow, Mom has a whole lot of icons on her desktop, and a really stunning mountain range picture.

Where was I? Driving. Airport. Check in. Right.

Checking in was not a problem. There was a momentary debate over whether I was cleared for departure, but no trouble ultimately because, of course, clearance had been organized the day before (PS – springing last minute arrangements on people who are sick/tired/whatever is really poor customer service and most certainly a practise that needs to be changed).

I checked three bags and arranged for a buggy to pick me up from the lounge. Yes, I walked my little butt through security despite worries that I’d be too tired. It was fine – no looks please, because I felt in control (and it was not a long walk at all).

Zsolt carried my bag up to the security point and we said goodbye. That involved a lot of hugs and a lot of ‘I love you’, which is as it should be.

Points to Zsolt for getting us to the airport really smoothly. He was the perfect early morning driver 🙂

So there goes my husband for a month. He had he own little journey to conquer after dropping me off. The poor guy had to drive to Gatwick, drop off our car in one of the nearby villages (we rented a parking space for 40 pounds; that’s less than a pound a day and significantly beats Gatwick parking fees) and afterward catch a train over the Gatwick. By the time he caught his flight to Hungary, I was at home in front of my Canadian fireplace. Talk about a lonnng day.

Meanwhile, back at Heathrow, I was enjoying the first class lounge. Hello, I had no idea stress-free travel existed.  For a whole load of money (or a whole load of points, as in my case) you get to skip much of the security drama, are given a quiet area with breathing space and comfortable chairs, and there’s a buffet with breakfast cereals, drinks and assorted snacks. Man!

Totally awesome. Totally worth it. Zsolt’ll be upset because my pallet has now sampled a finer type of flying, and you know I’ll be craving it again! *a girl can dream : )

When due to board I took an electric buggy to the gate. That was odd – I sat at the back beside an elderly gentleman and looked out at the people we passed (like sitting in the trunk of a car, which I did once at a debating tournament and was given a taxi ride through Toronto with my legs sticking out the back window).  People would watch us passing, and I would watch them shirk into the long corridor. It felt a little like a parade, but without the waving.

Which bring us to the flight, another example of stress-free flying. I once heard that animals are given more space during transport than people on airplanes. While this may/may not be true, it certainly makes a difference to have a little room. The flight was still tiring (must be related to pressure change, altitude, radiation etc), but the experience was pleasant. Key perk was the full flat bed – an excellent addition to the miracle of flight.

So after all that trouble Air Canada finally treated me well, though I did pay them to, but I suppose that’s the case for many services.

At the border I think I was meant to wait for a wheelchair. Bugger that. I hopped off the plane (with a sideways glance at the wheelchair attendant) and floated over to security. Words were said at customs, at one point I blurted out, “My husband’s Hungarian!’ when asked why I was alone. Thinking back, that doesn’t quite answer the question, but communication becomes difficult when exhausted. There was also confusion over whether I was bringing in a jug with or without water. “A water jug” I said. “A jug with water?” she asked.  Maybe she had a point, no rule says that water jugs need water – they could hold juice or wine or sangria.

Anyhow, customs was fine.  And once through my luggage appeared on the carousel almost immediately. First class service.

This next bit is the best – my favourite moment when arriving home. The parting of glass doors, with Mom and Dad on the other side.  What a frigging good and rewarding moment. We hugged and were teary eyed and couldn’t say too much. If you know the Ottawa airport international arrivals area, then you know it’s a bit of a stage. People come through the door, and everyone watches as family reunites. There’s always an audience and yesterday they had a little Brunelle-Family reunion show.

Oh! And Mom gifted me with a Canada hat and scarf, which matched perfectly the Canada mittens I was given (thanks Sandie!) to keep warm.  Plus, there was a cup of Tim Hortons tea. Oh Canada!

Going home – being home – was emotional. On top of the long day, it’s been a long six months and finally reaching my goal was somewhat beyond words: aching, smiling, crying, holding, talking, laughing, loving. It felt almost too much.

Downstairs in my bedroom there is a waterfall of paper cranes. Beautiful. A thousand paper cranes with which to make a wish. And a wish has been made. Thanks to Christina and her folding team for their thoughtfulness, and to my family for hanging them up. They’re quite something to see. I may even need to post a photo once the camera is unpacked.

And so that brings me to now – this dark morning.

The ground outside is white with snow. Dad is now in the kitchen eating breakfast, and I think I’ll go over to join him.

Despite the ups and downs, I’m so glad to have kept this goal. It feels wonderful to be home.

Pre-flight turbulance

Bags are packed and stationed by the door. I’m ready to go home. Except . . . this morning I received a call from Air Canada reservations, letting me know I needed medical clearance from my doctor otherwise I wouldn’t be allowed to board the plane.

Big sigh.

When I asked why they hadn’t notified me earlier, she said they only realized the requirement today while reviewing reservations. When asking why they didn’t inform me two weeks ago when I’d originally arranged for special assistance and told them about the chemotherapy – she didn’t have a good reason.

So, here’s what went down.

1. Phone call from Air Canada saying get the letter, or don’t get on the plane.

2. Panic attack.

3. Call my doctor’s secretary, who was actually helpful (probably because I was swallowing back tears), and let her know about the situation. At the time my oncologist still hadn’t arrived to work, but her tone suggested they would get things sorted.

4. Call back Air Canada and give them my doctor’s fax number and contact details.

5. Wait an hour.

6. Call secretary and check if they’re received the fax. “Yes, we received it. The doctor has filled it out and I’ll be faxing it back soon.”

7. Wait another hour.

8. Call Air Canada to confirm they have received the fax. “We have the fax; we’ll call you before six pm to let you know.”

Let me know . . .

AH! Bugger this game of nerves. They’ll let me know by six pm if I’m allowed to fly home. As Zsolt would say, ‘now that’s something.’

Therefore: let’s envision the happy Air Canada Reservation employees sipping on their warm cups of tea and eating scrumptious muffins. It’s a lovely day in the office, and oh look here – a medical clearance form for a woman in chemotherapy. La la la, happy thoughts with a stamp of approval! Let’s be nice and send her home. Yay!

Good thoughts and crossed fingers. That’s what I need at this moment.

I’ll save my outrage for later.

Customer service

Hmm, I just called up Air Canada to arrange wheelchair assistance through the airport.

First, I must admit – it feels strange asking for a wheelchair. Wheelchairs should be for people who are really sick, or much older, or unable to WALK. I’m a 28 year old woman and I can walk . . . I just can’t walk for very long. My legs start feeling thick, I get tipsy (literally tipping over), and of course there’s fatigue.

I can understand someone’s surprise at my needing a wheelchair. But what I do not understand is being made to feel like an idiot for asking.

Calling the UK Air Canada customer service line today, I requested a wheelchair. The conversation went something like this (following the conversation about my reservation number, which was difficult in itself but quite possibly my fault):

Me: When I fly on the 14th, I’ll have just finished chemotherapy and will be really exhausted. Is there any kind of assistance I could have through the airport?

Lady: What kind of assistance do you want?

Me: Maybe a wheelchair or something?

Lady: Oh, wheelchair assistance.

I think the idea clicked into her head here. Before she wasn’t certain where to place me.

Lady: Is there any medical reason you need a wheelchair?

Me: I’ll have just finished chemotherapy and will be exhausted. I can walk a little, but not for long.

Lady: But is there any medical reason?

This is where I start to feel like an idiot.

Me: I’ll just have finished chemotherapy. I’ll be exhausted.

Lady: So you’ll need a wheelchair because you’ll be exhausted.

What is going on here? How many times do I need to say ‘chemotherapy’ and ‘exhausted’? Thinking about this now, I probably should have said: ‘I’m in the middle of chemotherapy’ – but totally forgot that fact during our conversation. But regardless, to have just finished chemotherapy and to be in the middle is essentially the same, because the effects are still felt a week or two (or more) after treatment.

Lady: I’ll put in a booking— sorry, a request for a wheelchair.

Me: (in my head: a request?) So I won’t know till I arrive if I have assistance?

Lady: That’s right.

At this point I want to cry, and don’t stand up for myself. Instead I say ‘fine’ because I feel like such an ass for even having asked.

Isn’t that crazy? Being challenged really throws me off; I totally lose my train of thought and can only say, ‘yeah, okay, fine’ like a stupid lemming. Mind you, if Zsolt is being challenged and asks for my help – no problem, I can tackle that issue. I’m a tough woman in other people’s battles. Not so great with my own.

Essentially, because I didn’t receive any sympathy from the Air Canada woman, I didn’t know how to handle myself. She treated my request like a form to be filled, which isn’t horrible, but at the same time – I’m not a form, I’m a person. My medical reason (apart from having been stated four times) goes beyond ‘exhaustion and chemotherapy’  – it extends to the fact that I need help, and I need it badly enough to ask.

Who asks for a wheelchair unless they need the bloody chair?

But she’ll put in a request.

Bah! It pissed me off enough to write, and maybe it’ll piss me off enough to call back later, when I feel less sorry for my passive self.

Though honestly, I had expected better.