When a Passenger on My Flight Pointed Out My Bag Full of Medicine


Recently, I went on a trip to Miami. I had been looking forward to it and couldn’t wait to be on the beach, relaxing and soaking up the sun. The problem is I cope with a chronic illness and anxiety so traveling is hard.

I was so worried the week before the trip. I worried about having all my medicine in place and my symptoms flaring up. I worried about being so anxious and so sick I wouldn’t be able to enjoy myself. It’s difficult to live with a chronic illness and travel. That’s why I do it so rarely, but it’s also something I don’t want to be deprived of. It’s a mixed bag and it’s not easy, especially since anxiety and chronic pain are my constant companions.

The day my husband and I left to Miami, I was feeling worse than usual. The stress of traveling doesn’t help my symptoms. I had a migraine and pain in my lower back, shooting down my legs. I took some medicine before getting on the plane, hoping it would relieve the pain and anxiety.

I slept for the first hour of the flight, but when I woke up, I knew something was wrong. I was extremely nauseated and felt as if something was pulling me down. My vision began to darken, and black spots formed in my eyes. I got up and told my husband I couldn’t see. I walked a few steps towards the flight attendant and said the only thing I could think of: “Something is wrong. I can’t see.”

I don’t remember the moments afterwards because I passed out. When I came to, I still couldn’t see, but I could hear people above me. There were two nurses on the plane that day, and they were both tending to me. They fitted me with an oxygen mask, and my sight slowly returned.

They asked me questions, and I answered as best as I could with head nods while my husband filled in the gaps. What had I taken? How much? What were my symptoms? Why had I taken the medicine? Why was it prescribed?

Suddenly, the passenger I had been sitting next to told the nurses to look at the bag in my seat.

“You should really take a look at that. That’s all her pills,” he said somewhat judgmentally.

For anyone who hasn’t lived with chronic illness and pain, seeing a bag full of medicine could be, well, worrisome. They pulled the bag out, and I could hear my husband trying to explain that I suffer from a multiple health issues.

Later, my husband told me everyone had been shocked while passing around the bag. I was embarrassed about the judgment, but I was also so scared. I had just experienced something terrifying — life-threatening even. For the rest of the trip, I leaned against my husband, unable to think clearly or speak. I was wheel-chaired off of the plane and met by paramedics at the gate. They began to ask the same questions about the medication, and they even asked if I take it to “feel doped up.”

When I look back on this, I realize how difficult it is for others to understand chronic illness. Others see things that are everyday for me — like taking a lot of medication — very differently. I’m grateful for the help that was given to me, but at the same time, the judgment and misunderstanding was frustrating and hurtful.

People see a bag full of medicine and assume things about you. They see a young, healthy-looking woman and assume a bag full of medicine equals drug addict — not a sick person. But they don’t know what it’s like to live in this body. They don’t know what I have to endure daily and what it takes just to make it through the day.

The truth is, I’m really sick, so I take a lot of medicine. It’s not hard to explain, but it’s hard for others to understand.

Lead photo source: Thinkstock Images

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