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.
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.
“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?”
“IS THERE A BAN ON OXYGEN CONTAINERS ON YOUR FLIGHTS IN OCTOBER.”
“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.