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Tuesday, March 26, 2013

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As I write this my sisters- I am sitting at 30,000 feet in a tin can over Saskatchewan. Yes. I am on a plane and consider this blog my therapy session. For next to me at this very moment is…. Wait for it… the least considerate woman in all of Canada.

Indeed- she has been coughing every 3 minutes or so since we took off more than 2 hours ago. Yes, as a doctor- I should have some empathy for her upper respiratory tract infection. Truth be told I spend my life around sick people. I am neither scared of them nor worry. But this woman- let’s called her Beth, (why Beth, you ask? I don’t know- it’s the first name that came to my mind) well…. Beth had to be told that she might want to cover her mouth when she coughed.

Yes, after about the first 20 minutes of hacking in my direction I politely asked if “Beth” would mind covering her mouth.

To this she responded, “I’ve had this cold for about a week- I’m no longer infectious”. With that she pulled out a Kleenex and blew her nose in it. I kid you not. You would think that this would prompt me to discuss with Beth my medical background and the possibility that indeed she still might be infectious, but instead, I spent I rummaged in my handbag for an Advil Cold and Flu packet and handed it to my seat mate. Unfortunately it was of the “non-Drowsy variety” or I could have at least put Beth to sleep for the next 4 or so hours. Clearly this was not my day.

And so began my cross country flight from Toronto to Vancouver. Coughing aside- I was seated in a window seat and Beth was on the isle. I hate window seats on planes. In my humble opinion a window seat loses its luster after about the age of 10. When youa re a kid- the window seat is awesome- you can look out and see the tarmack at takeoff and landing- you can lull yourself into fantasy at the view across the clouds.

When you are an adult. The only benefit of the window seat is that you can close the shade across the window in order to see your computer screen a bit better. As an adult, the window seat is social confinement. You are subject to asking someone else permission when you want to get up and sit down. You must always smile obligatorily with polite apologies especially if you are trying to stay hydrating ona flight and have to pee at least once an hour….. just saying.

Safe to say that the window seat next to Beth also offer the added benefit of challenging one’s immune system to a wonderful game of “BEAT THAT VIRUS”.

Beth is a high maintanence flyer. I can tell this the minute she sits down. Firslty it takes her 20 minutes to get settled. Firstly she takes her shoes off to put on travel socks. Then she takes out her contacts and then she uses one of those Pond’s facial wipes to “wash” her face. Next comes moisturizer and, no word of a lie, eye cream. If there were a basin in the seat pocket she’d have undoubtedly brushed her teeth.

Once she has fluffed and folded, and prepared for take off, we begin the battle for the arm rest. After a good 5 minute coughing fit- I retreat. Beth and her bird flu can have the damn thing- I now open my window sill and stair out at the clouds….

I am sorry my sisters if I seem a tad bitchy this week. Beth is undoubtedly a very lovely woman, and I suspect had I gotten to know her- I would have indeed not judged her too harshly. But as I have said before, an airplane does weird things to people. Stick a group of well mannered individuals in a metal container with 30% less oxygen than they are used to and somehow social graces fall apart the minute we reach a cruising altitude.

My beloved compares an airplane flight to the first day of school. You know how on the first day of school you were always a bit nervous and a bit excited to see who you sit behind for the rest of the year? Well to my beloved, Jason, That is an airplane ride. There is that excitement and anticipation about who your seat mate will be for the next few hours? Will they be someone interesting that you can get to know or someone whose path you would have never crossed if not for this flight? Would you find a common denominator of conversation or would it be just a few short pleasantries followed by an in flight movie?

I must remember this bit of wonder while I sit next to Beth and her shtick and her virus. I turn to look at her and try to play nice….

“Are you going to Vancouver on business?” I ask.
“What”, she coughs and removes her ear bud.
“Are you going to Vancouver on business?” I repeat. 
“Yes.” She says and places her ear bud back in its place.
I try again.
“Is Toronto home for you?” I ask.
“What”, she coughs and removes her ear bud again.
One last shot….
“Is Toronto home for you?” I repeat.
“Yes…. I’m sorry, I’m watching this movie. DO you mind?”

If this is the first day of school, Beth has made it perfectly clear, she and I are not going to be locker partners. Nope…. Beth is not signing my yearbook.  

Maybe she is pissed at me for pointing out to her proper coughing etiquette or maybe she is just not feeling well. Hell maybe Beth is evil and this is a typical day. Maybe the coughing is the evil seeping out of her. In any case, we touch down in about 90 minutes and here I sit waiting for her to begin her “landing ritual”. Will she put back on her shoes and reapply her eye cream? Will she touch up her lipstick and indeed brush her teeth?

Will I go home and develop fever, chills and nightsweats? 

According to a review article published in 2012 about airborne infection rates in aircraft cabins the average human being releases 8 viral particles per cough and the average person with influenza coughs at a rate of 35-48 coughs per hour. This translates to 384 influenza particles released per hour. Multiply this by a 5 hour flight and you have almost 2000 viral particles all over me. 

All I can hope for is that I have been exposed to whatever Beth is cooking and that my immune system has already been primed for battle somewhere down the road. 

Not much evidence this week my sisters…. but hey, thanks for listening. In a few hours I’ll be home safe and sound and this will all be a memory. A very well documented memory indeed.

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