Leaving On A Jet Plane… With A Sick Kid
I seldom have good experiences on flights.
I have always found myself stuck between obese people, people who snore, people who get up for the washroom too frequently and — worst of all — people with babies who aren’t exactly dolls. Add neck pain to that, and I am the passenger you will find brooding, sulking or telling off parents for letting their kids kick on my seat. Can’t they control her even a little bit?
But karma is real. I learned that while returning from Kolkata to Ahmedabad with a baby with a cold — and diarrhea from medicine to treat the cold — in tow. Four days before we were to leave, my son, Ochoa, started to cough. I didn’t want it to worsen, so I went to the local pediatrician, who gave him his first antibiotic, ever. When he developed diarrhea that evening, I postponed the flight, hoped for a miracle and acted like a strong woman every time my husband called and asked if I was stressed.
A week later than planned, I bade a teary goodbye to my parents. Ochoa was already getting cranky. When an airport staffer held him as I took my boarding pass, he kept trying to see the man’s face and screeching when he couldn’t; as I unloaded my carry-ons at the security check, Ochoa slipped from my grasp and took hold of the wires attached to the scanning machine, which made all the officers jump; and finally, he wriggled out of the pram four times before I got to board the flight half an hour before anyone else.
Tired by now, I thought Ochoa would drift to sleep. Other parents with very young kids were boarding, and many smiled at us.
It would be the last time anyone on that flight smiled — at us or each other.
My woes began when the actual flight started. I tried to breastfeed, to keep Ochoa calm as the plane took off, but he refused to nurse and started to cry in a sad, nagging way that soon turned into big, hicuppy sobs, making it hard to think. Finally, after exhausting a list of possibilities in my head, I realized he still had a blocked nose, which meant he couldn’t breathe while breastfeeding. As he sobbed harder, I started mentally saying sorry to all those moms whom I once thought unable to manage their kids on a flight.
Frustrated and unwell, his cries went up a notch. The young, single NRI guy behind us tried to help. “He might be hungry. Here, try some macaroons,” he offered, hand outstretched. Yes, macaroons were the answer. How had I not thought of that?
I mustered as much politeness sans sarcasm as possible and declined.
The cries advanced to a scary breathing and squirming so strong I was unable to keep him on my lap. The husband from the family ahead of us jumped in; he would walk some laps with Ochoa. Maybe that would calm him? I agreed without blinking. As he set off with my son, his wife asked me if it was always this bad. I told her it was two ailments bothering a very expressive kid that had led to this.
And, immediately, I felt bad for selling out my baby.
“But I took him to Muscat when he was just 6 months,” I added quickly. “He was the best baby onboard then. It’s just the nose.”
Fifteen minutes later, the man came back with a calm Ochoa. He had this curious expression, as if confirming internally that these laps were working. But the moment he made eye contact with me, he wanted milk. I tried to nurse again, in vain, and he screeched in exasperation. Now it was the wife’s turn, and she offered me her daughter’s formula. I thanked her, but declined this, too. I had my own emergency stock; my child was just Not In The Mood.
It was time to take the baby (matter) into my own hands. If walking worked once, walking was what we’d do.
Up and down the aisle we went, with him walking in front. At one point, a flight attendant asked me halfheartedly to take my seat due to turbulent weather, but we both knew: There was no strapping this child down. Yet, we had to pause at every row for old lady passengers to comment on my now-smiling son.
“Ladka hai? Very cute!”
“How old is he? How can he walk so nicely at 11 months?”
“Why didn’t you bring some cotton for his ears? They must have popped, that is why he has gone nuts.”
“You are the mother?”
Soon — but not soon enough — the announcement “Please take your seat for landing,” gave me a better rush of feeling than any “I love you.” By now, a sleepless, hungry Ochoa was kind of done with the tears. He looked as limp and exhausted as I felt. I had let him get as dirty as he possibly could, but didn’t realize I was in a similar state, until one old aunty told me, “Your top is torn,” while we waited to deplane. I looked down to see the collar of my shirt was indeed torn from all the pulling, with thin strands revealing the skin underneath. I shrugged. This evening had officially scarred me for life. What was a shirt?
In the car, my husband asked how the journey had been. A hundred adjectives came to my mind, each worse than the last. ‘Turbulent’ seemed most apt, but really, there were no words for our experience.
I looked at my kid, who was now cooing at his father. We had arrived safe and sound; his crying had not killed him, me, or anyone else. I was not going to see my co-passengers ever again. And we would soon be home. The stress of the last few hours was over for both of us, and I silently pledged never, ever to bring him, sick, on a flight again. I found myself saying, “It was fine, really.”
And it was.