Monday, September 28, 2009

Euripides was right

Patty here…

In Medea, Euripides wrote, “Expect the unexpected. What mortals dream, the gods frustrate; for the impossible, they find a way.”

Back on May 4th, I blogged about my frail 89 year-old mother’s wish to travel to Washington State to visit her sister who is in an advanced stage of Parkinson’s disease. Her doctor told her she couldn’t fly unless she had a breathing test to measure her oxygen levels because the oxygen we breathe on the street is 22% but only 15% on an airplane. At the time of my post, she was debating about taking the test. How times have changed.

Her sister’s health continues to fail and my mother is determined to see her one last time before she dies.

“She probably won’t know you’re there,” I said.

“I’ll know.”

In August, she took the breathing test. She didn’t pass. She has to have oxygen on the airplane. I called my preferred airline to make reservations but was told they don’t allow oxygen tanks onboard anymore. I had to rent something called a Portable Oxygen Concentrator (POC). To start the process I had to download a form from their Web site and ask my mother's physician to complete it.

All of that seemed easy enough, except have you ever tried to get a busy cardiologist to fill out a full-page form about POCs? Not a simple task but three weeks later I finally had the form in my hot little hand. As I was poised to make a second attempt at reservations, my mother's primary care physician found a suspicious growth on her arm and referred her to a dermatologist. The dermatologist diagnosed skin cancer and scheduled her for surgery. Skin cancer? This on a woman who has never abused her skin in the sun. Go figger.

I took her to have the stitches removed on Thursday and restarted the trip plans. First, I called the POC people to rent the equipment. Two phone calls. Two recorded messages. I finally left a message. To date, nobody has called me back. A medical supply store in L.A. wanted $225.00 to rent a piece of equipment my mother will use for four hours. A bit pricey but a fallback in case I'm desperate, which by this time I’m beginning to feel.

Since I hadn’t heard from the POC people, I called the airline again, hoping to get more information.

“When are you planning to fly,” the operator said.

“October first.”

“That’s going to be a problem,” she said. “There’s an embargo on oxygen use on all flights in October.”

I laughed. “You’re shitting me. Right?”

“I’m afraid not. No oxygen in October. You can check other airlines but I believe the embargo is industry-wide.”

I hung up and immediately dialed a different airline. Somebody in Mumbai answered the telephone. I told him about the embargo.

“Nobody is allowed to fly with oxygen in October,” he said.

“So it’s true.”

“I don’t know.”

“But you just said…”

“I just wanted to make sure I understood your question. Nobody is allowed to fly with oxygen in October. Right?”

“I don’t know. I’m asking you.”

“I don’t understand your question. What is it you want?”


“Let me check with my contacts. Please hold.”

A few minutes later, he came back on the line.

“My contacts have not heard that rumor.”

“Then you will allow oxygen containers on your flights in October.”

“We have heard nothing about that here.”

I didn't trust his information. The official word probably hadn’t made it to India yet. You know, with the time changes and all.

Now I was in full crisis mode. I hung up and immediately e-mailed a friend who is a pilot for the airline that employs Mumbai customer service agents, hoping he would have the inside scoop. I checked my mailbox every five minutes for the rest of the day. Nada. Zip. Why wasn’t he responding? Don’t Blackberries work in those cockpits?

Then I thought, wait a minute. I don’t have to be at the mercy of the airlines or the POC industry or even the fates. I can drive. Yeah. Just Mom and me. A road trip. Like Thelma and Louise.

I rang her up.

“Mother, I think we should drive to Washington.”

“I don’t know. It’s a long way. Don’t you need somebody to help you?”


She paused for a moment. “I’m game. Let’s do it!”

Stay tuned. Next week I may be blogging from the road.

Happy Monday!


  1. Why on earth would there be a ban on oxygen on flights during the month of October? Is there something special in the air in October? How odd.

    A road trip might be fun. You can take your time, do as much as your mom is able each day.

  2. Karen, the only thing I can imagine is that it has something to do with all the terrorist plots that have been uncovered recently. I'm still not sure it's true. I couldn't find anything on the Internet. It may be just sme flukey decision by one airline.

  3. In those imortalized words: "Where there's a Will there's a way." Shakespeare

    I think the NSA reasoned that the solution to the bad quality of the oxygen on planes --- what with possible swine flu and the like, is to ban all forms of oxygen on all flights foreign or domestic............their new campaign is "No Air = No terror"

    You picked a wonderful time of year to take a road trip...although I don't guess you'll see much "fall leaves" the weather should be pleasant....and the time you too share, sublime.


  4. correction of typo, that's TSA not NSA

  5. Makes sense to me. How weird is that? I can just imagine a cell of red hatted old ladies. Be afraid. Be very afraid.

  6. From what you've written about your mother, you should have a great time.

    You really are a magnificent daughter.

  7. James O. Born9/28/2009 9:08 AM

    I'd raise hell and get the media involved.

    I admire your determination help your sister.


  8. All life is a road trip, Thelma.

    Make it fun.

    Blow up a tanker truck along the way.

  9. patty, i'm sure you're going to have a wonderful time with your mum. and it is the perfect time of year to do it. let's hope you'll find her sister well enough to spend some time with you.

    have a safe journey and come back in good spirits!


  10. Thanks for your good wishes, David. I try.

    Paulie, I love the idea of blowing something up.

    Sybille, it should be good weather and not so busy after summer. We have to cross a mountain pass so it's now or wait until spring.

  11. James O how about shooting something with a potato gun? Like my worthless reservations?

  12. A ban on oxygen? No O? Oh no! Oh well.

  13. I felt myself getting really annoyed and ready to do business with those airline people - and I was only reading your post. What a load of you-know-what!

    But on the flip side, vis-a-vis that journey north - rent yourself a really spacious comfortable minivan with the big seats and what have you, and you and your Mom just hit the road with an ice chest full of goodies in the back and your GPS system ready so you can zip off the highway for sustenance, a rest or just to look at the view. DO NOT make the mistake the two women in a Porsche made in Gumball Rally and tease a couple of hicks along the way ("If you can catch me, you can have me.")

    The airline industry should be appalled at itself - mind you, I've seen pics of your Mom, and she would be on my watch list, no two ways about it. I mean, those kind eyes, that gray hair - she's probably on a Most Wanted roster somewhere, especially now you've asked about the O2.

  14. You just haven't seen her dark side yet, Our J.

  15. EXCELLENT! I'm so sorry you got such a major run-around, but I think a road trip might be quite nice (and perhaps this was how it was meant to turn out).

    This time of year is typically PERFECT in Washington. (I am from the Pacific NW and can't get myself to say 'state' after that. It is the original in my world. The other one gets a DC.)

  16. Yay to you WT for your Washington vs DC comment. I'm from Washington, too, and I get tired of people asking me "DC?" after I say it. NO, IF I MEANT DC, I'D SAY DC. Sheesh!

  17. Patty, You're gonna love your roadtrip. Think of it as writing research on the road with a witty and loving companion riding shotgun.

    sorry for the airline stupidity. I've been wondering for awhile what happened to common sense.

    Many hugs to you and your mother. Enjoy the trip!


  18. Patty, your article is "heavenly!" It gave me joy this morning with my cup of joe; and brought back a memory that I can know look back and laugh at! My father passed away back in April of 2004, leaving behind his bride of 60 years. My mother was a sickly woman and needed care. My parents had all their funeral arrangements "pre-arranged"...So we thought!!! It was my parents wish to be buried back in their home state of Michigan. My wife and I made the airline reservations and informed the agent that I would be carrying my father's ashes on board and asked if this was going to be a problem at security. We were told the ashes would have to be packaged in a box and completly sealed ("shrink wraped") and have notarized forms from the funeral home regarding the contents of the package; along with an orginal death certificate stating the cause of death. Not an easy request to fulfill in a short time, but we made it happen...And then the task of getting ready for our flight came! It was like getting our infant child ready to travel...My mother had many needs, help getting ready, packing warm clothes (we live in South Florida), making sure we had all her medications, wheel chair, walker, cane...etc!!! Not to mention, we had to pack for ourselves too. Finally we got to security at the airport. The security guards took my mother away to the other ends of the earth to search her! After I put the bag carrying the "sealed box" containg my father's ashes on the security belt, I proceeded to take out the forms to give to the security guard...He stoped me and asked me to come around to the otherside, where I was pratically strip seached and then was told the package would not be going on the plane with me but would have to go below. They would not accept the "notarized forms and did not care that this was my father's remains." Well that was the wrong button to push...I went off on the security guard for treating my father with such disrepect, that my wife had to pull me back and took charge, because the securuty guards where actually going to arrest me had she not intervened!!! Well, we all know what funerals can be with "disfuntional family!!!" We got through it, and my sister's finally agreed to have my mother stay behind in Michigan for a few weeks, while my wife and I came back to Florida to get my mother's home set up and her affairs in order. When my wife and I arrived at the airport to fly back home, we approached the ticket kiosk to check in, the screen displayed that we could upgrade our seats to first class for $75.00. We both felt we deserved this luxury so we entered the nessary information and recieved our new boarding passes. Well, to this day our account has never been charged the extra amount for this upgrade, even though it states on the reciept the charge was approved! Do I feel like I stole something??? You betcha...AND it felt dam good...Flying first class that is for free yet!!! Stupid security guards!!! LOL