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This January, we are doing something we have never done before, and going away for some Winter sunshine (we hope) and relaxation. Lovelyman and I took advantage of a ridiculously bargainous offer with Monarch, and booked return flights to Gran Canaria for next to nothing, just a few days before the tube went in. At the time, it seemed like the best course of action. We were both anxious and upset about what was looming, so it made sense to book a nine day glimmer of positivity for us to look forward to on the not-too-distant horizon.

It is the first indulgent thing I have ever booked for myself, that hasn’t left me feeling wracked with guilt. I actually put the phone down having finished making the reservation, and said ‘Well, if anyone wants to say we don’t deserve an escape after the months we will have had, they can come and say it to my face.’

Of course, nobody has said anything of the sort. Instead, all my LAMDA parents sent lovely messages of encouragement and support when I notified them of the class cover their children would have. It seems they agree that we have more than earned our escape from reality.

What I have come to realise, though, is that there are some things we can’t escape. A holiday is a great chance to escape the responsibilities of work. It is the ideal way to escape the monotony of everyday life. It is the perfect way to escape the stresses and pressures we put on ourselves daily, both professionally and personally. A change of scenery, especially at this time of year, offers a great escape from the short winter days and the grim winter skies. However, try as we might, we can never escape from ourselves or our immediate truths.

I have only just realised, that my hurry to book a trip before even allowing myself time to settle into this new phase of life, was my way of trying to do exactly that, and run from my reality. Consequently, I have never been so unprepared for a trip abroad in my life. It wasn’t until we were in the air, above the fluffy white clouds in a clear blue sky, looking down over the West Coast of England, that I finally felt like we were going on holiday.
I can almost hear you scratching your heads, and wondering what the connection is between my desire to escape, and my inability to ready myself for the trip. As the travel day drew closer, I mentally pushed it further away. I found it hard to face the fact that I would be travelling with a special 20 kilo trunk filled with medical supplies and enteral feeds. For some reason, acknowledging that, seemed like a step in the direction of losing myself to my illness. It’s not really logical, I know, but emotional reactions rarely are. All I could do to avoid dissolving into tears every time I thought about the break, was push all related thoughts out of my head. It was quite fortunate that the last week was a very busy one in terms of work, as it gave me something to bury myself in.

As a result of all the anxiety I was bottling up, the day before flying was a fairly tough one. It would always have been busy, with an impossible number of jobs to do before closing the office door for a week and a half, but it didn’t help that I was something of an emotional wreck with the anticipation of it all as well.

I am blessed to have Lovelyman in my life to take over at times like these. He counted out my feeds and all the paraphernalia I would need, then loaded it up into the trunk we had been given by the home-care company, so that I could think as little about it as possible. I packed without the usual tummy-fizzing giddy feeling of a forthcoming holiday, because I still couldn’t let myself look forward to it. Then I sat up all night in one of my wonderful insomnia bursts, thinking about goodness knows what until the alarm went off upstairs.

Even so, I was in slightly better spirits the morning of travelling. We ticked off the final jobs on the list, and were out of the house bang on time, laden down with enough gear to look like we were emigrating rather than taking a mini break. The drive to the Manchester airport carpark was easy enough for me, particularly as Lovelyman was designated driver. We made light work of check-in, with a lovely assistant on the desk making it as straightforward as possible for us, and taking every one of our needs in her stride. I would even go so far as to say that she down-played them; casually saying (for clarification’s sake) ‘So you’ve got a feeding kit to take on the plane with you? And I presume that means you have some liquids to take on-board with it? Absolutely fine.’ We were within our allocated baggage allowance, despite appearances, and we deposited everything onto the conveyor marked ‘fragile’ before heading up to security.

So far, so good. I suppose you could actually say I was beginning to relax – a little. We reached security, where another friendly staff member waited to greet us, offering up trays for all our belongings. Lovelyman went through first. Into tray number one went the carrier bag holding twenty-four tetrapacks of feed to keep me going for our first night, and the following three days; just in case our hold baggage were to be delayed. Next, his electricals and jacket. Into the final tray, he put his hand luggage bag, stuffed with plastic bottles to accommodate half the aforementioned feeds.

Then it was my turn. Into tray number one went my electricals and my clear bag with liquids, including 100mls of morphine solution. Next, my jacket and my little handbag containing valuables, passports and what-not. Next into a tray went my larger hand luggage bag, stuffed with feed bottles, sugar free boiled sweets (my only permitted indulgence) and not a lot else once the electricals had been removed. At this point, the man on the other side of the counter picked up my tiny black feed rucksack, and began loading it into a tray of its own. ‘Oh, that’s attached to me. If it needs to go through, I’ll have to just disconnect myself. Hold on. Won’t take a minute.’

Of course, by this point, there was a queue forming behind me and I was becoming quite self-conscious. Just to help matters, my damn tube chose that moment to spring a leak as I disconnected myself; something it almost never does. You can imagine how far into overdrive my ‘sorry’ reflex had been pushed. I was throwing apologies around in all directions: to the twitchy travellers behind me, to the man across the counter, to the security guard at the sensor, waiting for me to walk through. Honestly, anyone in sight was on the receiving end of my guilt, when the reality was that nobody was remotely bothered.

I finally straightened myself out, having successfully detached myself from my little elephant, and walked through the sensors. Of course, I was ushered to the side, and promptly frisked, but that always happens when we travel, so it doesn’t bother me these days. Just then, Lovelyman and I saw the trays holding his bags shooting off to the other side of the conveyor belt. Again, we were anticipating this, and were fully prepped and ready for it. I had a prescription list, and letters from my consultant and the dietician in my bag, so we weren’t concerned. A simple explanation and presentation of said documents were all it took to clear any query over those items. They had to do a routine swab check of the feed cartons, but that was all.

Great. Nearly done with all the hard stuff. Or so we thought.

The gentleman seemed to be spending a long time looking at the re-scan of Lovelyman’s rucksack. He had something of a worried look on his face. ‘Is there a problem?’ I asked. ‘Erm…well, there seems to be a bladed article in this bag,’ he replied, ‘Is that anything you know about?’ Blank looks were exchanged between the two of us. We knew the swiss army knife had gone in the hold with the medical supplies, my gillette razor was in the main luggage, and there was nothing else bladed that we would have packed. In an attempt to be helpful, the man added, ‘It seems to be a circular saw blade.’ Cue eyes widening and panic setting in, as we realised this could be something with consequences far more grave than the slight unease surrounding my medical supplies and their inspections.

In hushed voices, we exchanged words, ‘Could you have left one in there last time you went to the studio?’ ‘It’s possible, but I haven’t used my circular saw for weeks.’ ‘What difference does that make?’ ‘Well, I’ve used the rucksack loads since then. I’d have noticed, wouldn’t I?’ ‘You’d think so, but I guess maybe not.’

By this point, the security officer was rummaging with something of a look of extreme confusion on his face. He had gone through all the pockets, and couldn’t find anything. Turning the screen as if to verify that he wasn’t going mad, we could also see the object in question. It was, undeniably, a circular saw blade. Yet, it wasn’t there. Unless…it could be…hold on…cogs in Lovelyman’s head began whirring overtime. ‘If you reach between the mesh backing and the top pocket, there’s a gap in there that I occasionally put things in,’ he offered.

Obliging, Mr Security did as he was advised. Sure enough, out came a large circular saw blade, with very sharp teeth. Definitely not an item permitted on flights. We both had visions of arrest. You read about people who use extravagant ruses to cover up plans of criminal activity. All this medical kit could be nothing but a smokescreen for a terrorist plot.

Fortunately, the worry was short-lived, as the security team were laughing along at how preposterous it seemed, that we could have accidentally brought a woodworking tool away with us. There was nothing more to be done, beyond confiscating the blade, of course, so we were sent on our merry way. It is safe to say that the adrenalin was rushing through both our veins fairly rapidly, having had something more of a rollercoaster through security than we had anticipated. Having said that, we had survived it all without falling apart.

More importantly, that final hiccup had diverted my attention completely away from my own situation, and the insecurity I felt about traveling as an ill person. If only I could accept my own self as readily as the check-in girl and the security guards did. The truth of it is, that I am an ill person, but that doesn’t seem to change the way others are seeing me. Why must it continue to change the way I see myself? Maybe saw-gate was a challenge deliberately orchestrated, to remind me that even with all this baggage, I am still not the centre of attention, nor do I need to be, and that other passengers can cause a scene just as easily as me. We will never know for sure why the universe works as it does.

However, one thing I do feel sure of: a plastic tube in my nose does nothing to impair my independence, my sense of adventure or my ability to laugh in the face of a potential drama, so why I thought it might affect my ability to travel actually baffles me. The sooner I accept that this is how it is, the easier it will be to get through. I said that two days after having the tube fitted, and I stand by it. Everyone around me seems to have accepted my new appendages, so I suppose the next task is to accept them myself. I don’t expect it to happen with one magical wave of a wand. I am, after all, trying to reshape a lifetime of thought patterns. I doubt I will ever feel entirely comfortable with my ailment being visible to the world, but I always said that this blog was designed to help me come to terms with being me with rather than in spite of my illness. I’d say this qualifies as another milestone in the long and difficult journey to embrace my reality instead of pointlessly trying to escape it.

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