Knowing When to Fold ‘Em

What a week. But the best move I made during the whole thing was probably to give up…. OK, here’s the story 🙂

Once upon a time, I’d planned a simple late-spring conference trip to beautiful southern California, not coincidentally home of my BFF and her family.

Things started getting more complicated about six weeks ago, when another very close friend, on the opposite coast, asked me to attend a big family event (think wedding levels of importance) on the same day I was planning to come back to the midwest from California. I debated what to do for a while, but even knowing it was pushing it, I decided to alter my plans so that I left CA on a late Saturday afternoon flight, not quite a red-eye (I was scheduled to land about 1 am eastern time) and could attend the event on Sunday before flying back home on Monday. Not optimal, but it would let me fulfil long-made commitments to the conference and to my CA friends (who had also scheduled a family event around my visit) while also honoring my second friend’s request.

Then, two weeks ago, that east coast job I’ve been waiting on finally got its act together and scheduled final interviews, so I had to fly out on a few days’ notice for that. The interview was on Friday, a little over a week ago, and I came home on Saturday. Since I was booked to leave for CA on Wednesday morning, I had two days in the office to turn around and do conference prep and the final work for a major grant proposal that was due Tuesday afternoon. It was all going ok, even though the rush was a bit stressful, until suddenly on Tuesday morning at about 11 am I realized I was coughing, running a fever, felt faint, and in short, needed to go home and get into bed immediately. Congratulations, me: somewhere on one of the four airplanes I’d been on for the interview trip, I clearly picked something up.

I felt badly enough that I actually considered canceling the entire trip. But it’s so expensive to do that and I knew I’d feel really silly if I did and then was basically fine in a day. So, I sucked it up and early Wednesday morning off I went. Actually, I really did feel better Wednesday morning — fever gone, cough minimal — so I figured it might be ok. But things started spiraling down: first I nearly missed a connecting flight, then when we landed in CA I ended up standing in the heat with my bags for an hour waiting through a rental car line. By the time I got into the car I was kind of a wreck again. To make a long part of this particular story short, I continued to struggle with this on-again, off-again illness through the whole rest of the week. I was mostly just weak and achy, plus the cough, but every now and then the fever would ramp back up and/or I’d get a bit congested.

The nice parts of the trip were hanging out with my friends and being at the conference. But it rained for most of the time I was there, and entertaining children, running errands, and conference-going (my primary activities there) are much more draining than sitting in bed (my primary activity if I’d stayed home) so I ended up pretty wiped out, especially since I also had a lot of trouble sleeping for whatever reason (stuffy nose? uncomfortable guest futon? time change? astrology? I dunno.)

At this point in this tale of woe, we have arrived at Saturday afternoon. It’s still pouring (by LA standards anyway) and the entire city has lost its mind. So I get in my rental car to go back to the airport, but, another long story short, end up so snarled in traffic that by the time I get to the boarding gate, I’ve missed my flight by…four minutes. And I don’t mean the plane’s left; it’s sitting right there. It’s just that they’ve closed boarding 15 minutes before departure and that’s that. If I still want to get to the east coast in time for my friend’s event, I’ll have to wait around the airport for six hours, then get a red-eye. Meanwhile, I can feel my head getting more and more stuffed up, I’m damp, I’m so, so, so tired….

And I decided that I really just needed to go home.

It was kind of interesting. The second I stopped trying to make the last leg of the trip happen, things magically got easier. I felt physically a little better almost right away, like I’d been dreading hauling my bags around and sleeping (or not sleeping) in unfamiliar beds for three more days so much that deciding not to do that lifted a weight. I got on the internet and found that Southwest had exactly one cheap (sub-$300) ticket left on a flight to Chicago that evening. Granted it was going to mean sleeping in the airport until the first bus left for my hometown at 7 — I didn’t care, I just wanted to get closer to home even if I couldn’t get all the way there immediately. Sleeping in Midway seemed better than sleeping in LAX!

The flight was totally packed, but I was so freaking tired that even in the middle seat, I managed to sleep a couple of hours. (My secret, recently discovered, is that I can actually sleep on planes if I put the tray down, pile my bag on it as a pillow kind of thing, and then lean forward. I’d been trying for decades to sleep by leaning backwards or sideways and it rarely, if ever, worked, but the leaning-forward thing does. Go figure.)

Also, let me tell you, if you have to sleep in an airport, Midway is the one. It’s pretty quiet/deserted in general, but also, they actually set up several dozen cots in a gate area at night, with a security officer sitting there to keep an eye on things. A cot, blanket, and pillow was a huge improvement over trying to sleep on the carpet, that’s for sure. Plus they dim the lights. I felt totally fine just sacking out and didn’t worry about the safety of my stuff. In theory they can close that area down as early as 4:30 but they didn’t wake me up until 6 am, so given that I landed about 1 am, I’d guess I ended up with another three or four hours or so from that.

So, I finally got the bus this morning, and got actually home mid-morning. I have never been so happy to see Indiana! I’m still kind of sick, and still very tired (will probably go to bed after posting this), and out about $350 from the unplanned travel, but honestly, I don’t really care. Cutting the trip short was 100% the right thing to do under the circumstances. When I realized that I’d spent all afternoon slogging across LA in the rain, while sneezing, only to miss that damn flight…. I just couldn’t face it. It was time to give up and I’m so glad I did.

5 thoughts on “Knowing When to Fold ‘Em

  1. Oh gosh, I have been sick at a conference before and I can attest that it is No Fun. It sounds to me like you chose to take care of yourself, and I think that’s really important, even if it means having to alter your plans.

    Also, what? Cots in the airport? With a security guard standing by?? Amazing. I can’t count the number of times I’ve slept stretched out over several uncomfortable chairs with my suitcase straps wrapped around my body. Somebody needs to implement this cot situation in every airport ever.

    I hope you can get some more rest now that you’re home!

  2. I hope you’re starting to feel better. If you got whatever bug I caught on planes recently, then it’s a doozy — it took me three weeks to feel a little better. But let’s hope you got something much more minor. I think it’s great you followed your instinct to take care of yourself. I know it’s always hard to disappoint people we care about, but you had very good reason.

  3. Mariana says:

    Ugh, getting sick on a plane is the worst. Unfortunately I can relate. On my first flight EVER, which was coming from Warsaw to JFK 12 years ago I got ear and eye infections (I was already sick before I got on a flight but I was just going for it, I think if I did not fly then I would have never made it to America :(. So I did but upon landing I was taken to emergency room and then spent 3 days barely conscious and barely breathing. I was well taken care of (I came as a part of the Au Pair in America program) and the organizers who picked me up really made sure that I recovered but it was not pleasant.
    Hope you feel better now. x

  4. Wow, you’re a trooper for getting as far as you did! I’m sure your friends appreciated how hard you tried to be there. Congrats on making it to the final round of interviews. I hope the campus visit went well.

  5. Looks like I missed you in LA! Hope you feel better and get some rest.

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