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Losing It at Ten Thousand Feet

On my recent flight to Lagos on Arik, I sat near an old man who randomly began throwing up just as they were serving us lunch. He had been sleeping in a very strange position

On my recent flight to Lagos on Arik, I sat near an old man who randomly began throwing up just as they were serving us lunch. He had been sleeping in a very strange position with his top half bent over to the other seat, when the flight attendants attempted to wake him up for his food. When he was unresponsive they got nervous. This is about when I became fully awake.

 

They kept asking him if he was okay as he struggled to open his eyes, and in typical Arik fashion, the passengers nearby chimed in loudly with “He’s not okay! He’s not okay!”  He then threw up on himself. Even I became a little nervous because he was not speaking or responding in any tangible way, and he was up there in age. I thought about all the people who have blood clotting issues that have even proved fatal on long flights.

 

I came out of my worried haze when an elderly woman who stood in the aisle began to repeatedly call on Jesu. The flight attendants called for a doctor and the gorgeous Yoruba woman who came to attend to him sat and tried to get some information out of him. Did he travel alone or was he traveling with someone? Was the elderly woman calling on Jesu with him? Did he maybe have a son who was on the plane? What had he eaten earlier in the day? Did anyone drop him off at the airport? He tried to signal answers instead of speaking, but the doctor struggled to make out what he was saying. He began to weep.

 

From what I gathered, he was entirely alone. I thought I had seen him with at least one family member within the airport, but it seemed I was wrong, unless he simply was not mentally clear. All this time I had watched as a concerned spectator, helping the doctor where I could with what minimal information I had, thinking that this man could be anybody. For all we know he might have been a successful business man, governor, educator. Anything. Here he was in the early advancing stages of what seemed to be dementia without a loved one in sight. The doctor and stewardesses cleaned up his vomit, tried to comfort him with the heavily maggi-seasoned chicken and calmed his stomach with Perrier.

 

Hours later, the old man spoke to me. This was when I knew that he was not fully stable. He asked me if I know him well, said that he knew a lot of people on the plane and that the Christian woman–whom we’d earlier confirmed was a stranger to him–was his wife. He tried to communicate some other things that were not coherent to me. The Christian woman was now sitting next to him, though. She wasn’t when the whole thing started. He tried to put his hand on her leg several times for the remainder of the flight, to which she responded severally “What is wrong with you?!” She could have easily been his wife, or a stranger.

 

Of course, my mind went to displacement and how tragic it is that we are separated from our families in ways that we don’t always have control over. I thought about my parents getting up in age and how I would never let them travel alone if they had health issues. And wondering how my siblings would contribute to their care in old age. In the Diaspora, few of us are taught to care for elders. For those who had the good fortune of having that grandparent at home in their childhood, the story usually ended with the grandparent returning to their country and passing on not much later.

 

The New Diaspora is aging, and so are our parents–may they live long. What will we do if the time comes that our parent(s) can not travel alone or feed themselves. Will we put them in nursing homes, take them back to Africa or change up our lives significantly in order to care for them? I couldn’t help but wonder.

 

Lolade Siyonbola

Lolade is an author, techie and serial entrepreneur. She is an MA candidate at Yale University where she is pursuing research on immigration, cultural identity and social health.

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