And then Doug came walking in.
I met Doug during a nightmare hell flight back to New York from Chicago on Tuesday when my magic happy pills, which normally dull my terror of airplanes, suddenly and mysteriously went south and left me conscious and alert whilst I was 5 miles in the air.
I don’t fly often but whenever I do I always make sure to pack my trusty bottle of Xanax and it’s always worked perfectly.
Yes, I usually end up in a drooling stupor, but thanks to those little pills I’ve been able to travel to places like L.A., Colorado and Hawaii without freaking out all over my fellow passengers.
But something went very wrong on this trip. I noticed it first on the flight out when I was more jittery than normal. However, I was so focused on traveling to a new city to meet new people that the fear slipped out of my mind as soon as I landed at O’Hare.
The panic returned a thousand fold on the way out, though, beginning with a time-sucking slog through Chicago traffic that had me seriously wondering if I would miss my flight.
Upon reaching the airport I had the great fortune of standing on the slow motion security line behind a woman with three children, one of whom was screaming as if he were being pulled apart by Hannibal Lector.
I really did my best to contain the poor me schtick that I’m so good at, trying desperately not to bellyache about how, of course, I end up standing behind the featherless screech owl while the minutes slipped away.
I’m not heartless and I do love children, but, lady, could please stuff a Brillo pad in that kid’s pie hole? We human beings would be most appreciative.
I was so short on time that I didn’t bother tying my shoes once I got through the TSA scrum and I ran down to the gate as people were lining up to board the plane. I have never been that late for a flight in my life, but at least I hadn’t missed the plane. So I popped a pill, said a prayer, and prepared to slip into chemically induced euphoria.
Ask Your Doctor…
But nothing happened. No dead-to-the-world naps, no senseless slobbering, nor giddy laughter or disoriented moonwalks through the airport. I was about to climb into the clouds and I was fully conscious. What the hell?
I was seconds away from screaming my head off like that kid in the security line. And that's when Doug showed up.
Doug, who is in his fifties, lives in Iowa and was heading to New York for his job. He is also gift from God as far as I’m concerned.
He greeted me cheerfully as he took seat and told me that he was working on his doctorate in workplace psychology.
“I like to help people,” he told me. “It makes me feel good.”
Doug quickly tuned into my anxiety and proceeded to show me a series of relaxation techniques and actually held my hand during takeoff, landing, and scattered bouts of turbulence throughout the flight.
Of all the people in the world to sit next to me, I got this saint of the skyways to lead me through this fiasco where my pills had failed.
“Thanks for letting me help you,” Doug told me when we returned to earth.
You’re thanking me? I should give the keys to my house and my firstborn child (if I had one) for putting up with my inflight idiocy. I gave him my card and promised I would find some way to pay his kindness forward.
When I got home I unraveled the mystery of the powerless pills. I had taken the wrong medication.
The Xanax was still sitting in my medicine cabinet and the stuff I had mistakenly brought with me was so old the label had faded.
This is probably why doctors tell us to throw out old prescriptions—so we don’t make stupid and potentially deadly boners like the one I had just pulled.
I held on to the evil pills for a few days just in case they contained something nasty and I’d have to show them to an ambulance crew. But I seem to be okay so into the trash they go—along with anything else in my medicine cabinet that has outlived its usefulness.
I wish to hell I had brought the Xanax on this trip, but I’m so glad I met Doug because he taught me some powerful lessons about kindness and empathy.
In June I’m scheduled to fly to a conference in Atlanta and I’ll be packing the right medication this time.
There are plenty of pills in this world, but very few Dougs.