Saturday we knocked around in San Francisco, and that night I barely slept, tossing and turning, finally waking up around 2 am with my heart pounding. I have been concerned about my health because of the overwhelming pressure of the past couple years.
Sunday morning, I wasn't doing too well. We made our 7:20 am flight to JFK, but my heart was still pounding. By about a half-hour into the flight, I was short of breath, sweating, and my chest was tight with pain. I called the flight attendant and told her I was having chest pain. She looked freaked-out (I later discovered that was just sort of her look).
Here's what happens when you complain of chest pain to a flight attendant on a transcontinental flight.
The attendants emptied the very rear middle row of the plane (big 'un, a 767 with a middle triple row and two side double rows). They brought me back there. Meanwhile, they turned on the PA: "Attention, ladies and gentlemen. We have a medical emergency on board. If there is a doctor, a nurse, or any other medically trained professional on board who would please volunteer to assist, please let a flight attendant know."
Thus I became the Celebrity Medical Emergency of Flight 24.
A lovely nurse from Santa Rosa named Denise came back and talked to me a while. She checked my pulse, asked about my medical history, and asked for oxygen for me. The flight attendants turned up the O2 and a blood pressure cuff, and Denise got all that underway, while she told me I don't fit the profile for a heart attack victim.
I sat in the dark breathing oxygen for 10 minutes while, from time to time, passengers turned around to look. I felt physically rotten, but the pain in my chest started to abate. Denise all but diagnosed me as not having had a heart attack, suggested I get some juice, and just sit in the dark and hang out. The attendants got me apple juice and a cookie (and I never paid for the cookie - so there's a travel tip for you right there), and I sat in the back row the whole flight to New York.
It was a panic attack - my first serious one in over 6 years, and the first I've had that felt like this. I used to just hyperventilate and get light-headed and nauseated. Never had the chest pain before, but I think it may be related to the serious neck and back strain I've gotten from the stress. If you know about panic attacks, you know they're miserable and stupid, and that you feel like crap for at least a day afterward.
We got to Montreal by 9:30, which was late, because of construction at JFK. We couldn't figure out how to take the airport express bus to town to get to our hotel, so we took a very expensive cab ride instead. I'd had it at that point. It was a good decision: on the way out of Montreal, we took that bus, and there was no room whatsoever on it - no seats, no standing room, nothing. 30 minutes to the airport, stuffed in. Wouldn't have been good after a panic attack.
Our flights home were uneventful, except that the Montreal airport is pretty stupid to get through for an international flight. We got back to SFO at 11:15 or so. The Sleep, Park, 'n' Fly bus got us to take us to our car at around 11:45, and we were on the road to Turlock by just after midnight. So, after a 23 -hour day of conferencing (of which more in a later installment) and traveling, we were home by 2 am.
(Next year, this conference is in Fredericton, New Brunswick, which is further away and much less convenient to travel to!)
Lessons learned: Don't panic; don't die of a coronary on a transcontinental flight; nurses are lovely; if at all possible, don't fly from Montreal to the US.