…Until Someone Gets a Deep Vein Thrombosis

After three days of pain and fun-less travel games, I finally realized  – at our hotel in Greece – that I was likely suffering from Deep Vein Thrombosis (DVT).  I knew I really needed to see a doctor. But…

I don’t speak Greek, and previous experience dictated that not many locals this far off the tourist route speak English. My choices were to go to the hospital in this tiny port town and take my chances, or wait one more day (and one more long bus ride) until we got to our final destination and our English-speaking Greek friends.

Foolishly (I blame the hypoxia from the embolisms in my lungs for my poor decision-making!), I chose to wait. The bus ride from Igoumenitsa to Larisa was another day-long affair, spent in the position most likely to kill me. We traveled along up the coast, through some beautiful mountains, and out on the flat Plain of Thessaly. The scenery was beautiful, but I was too worried to enjoy it. 

When we arrived at Larisa, our final destination, we headed (on foot!) directly to the hospital up the street from the bus station, only to find their ER was closed! Greek government cuts, low utilization, long story, but hopefully not one that ends like the usual Greek tragedy.

A security guard was standing at the door. Desperate, I began frantically patting my chest, repeating, “I’m having trouble breathing!” I must have appeared sufficiently distressed, because he immediately sprinted off, then quickly reappeared with a nurse in tow. Before I knew it, I was on a stretcher in the closed ER, being attended by a doctor who eerily resembled Cat Stevens. He reassured me – in English – that they were starting treatment right away, not to worry. I was bundled into an ambulance along with my luggage and my Sponsor, and transported to the other hospital, where our Greek friends met us.

It turned out we didn’t need their translating ability. All the doctors and nurses knew enough English to get by. Everyone did exactly what they were supposed to do to treat me (I had looked that up, too!) I spent the first week of our vacation in the hospital.

The care I received was excellent, and I am obviously very grateful! The physical conditions were a bit Spartan, and the cultural expectations of privacy and modesty were quite different – a real learning experience!

Following my discharge, there was to be no exercising, no hiking, no swimming – nothing. I was placed on a blood thinner in the hospital that I would continue taking for the next six months,told to wear firm compression socks for the next three months and whenever I am sitting for long periods of time forever, and we had to wait two weeks before I was permitted to fly again to return home. Fortunately, those two weeks coincided perfectly with catching the Patriot Express (a different configuration thank goodness!) from Souda Bay to Norfolk. We decided to go ahead with our plans to visit the Peloponnese before taking the ferry to Crete. Progress was slow, with me needing to drink gallons of water and get out and shuffle around every hour or so.  Once on Crete, we spent a few days in Hania before catching the PE. The cities of Napflio and Hania are wonderful for slow strolling, café-sitting, and people-watching, BTW.

We took our time – a couple of weeks – getting back to the west coast. At long last, our misadventure had come to a close. I was extremely fortunate there appeared to be no permanent damage from my series of unfortunate decisions.

Lady Cat 6 is usually a FABulous role model, but not this time. DVT and Pulmonary Embolisms can be triggered by long periods of sitting and lack of adequate hydration. And, in ladies of a certain age – the age of most Cat 6 travelers – estrogen is the number one risk factor. I had a trifecta going in the probability department! If not treated immediately, DVT and Pulmonary Embolism can have terminal consequences. My delays in recognizing the problem and then delaying treatment to get to a more convenient location could have been deadly and were definitely foolish. 

Ambulation and hydration are key to prevention, so get out there and walk the aisles, and drink LOTS of water! If you begin to experience symptoms, get help, FAST! All ended well, but before that, all came perilously close to going to hell in a handbasket! Sometimes, “just keep going” is NOT the way to go.

It’s All Fun and Games…

What do you get when you combine a six hour flight to Oceana, a seven hour drive to BWI, a nine hour flight to Ramstein and a 12 hour bus ride to Vicenza?

Well, Lady Cat 6 (me) doesn’t know what you get, but I got to play the deep vein thrombosis (DVT) and multiple pulmonary embolisms game, with a week in a Greek hospital as a bonus prize!  But the hospital is next week’s tale; this post is all about the fun of getting a DVT.

This past fall, my Sponsor and I embarked upon a slog from the west coast to visit friends in Greece. Sometimes you have to go where you have to go to get where you want to go, hence the Oceana flight and drive to BWI. We planned to hop to Ramstein, then travel through Italy to the ferry from Ancona to Igoumenitsa, GR, and on to Larisa, where our friends live.

The Ramstein flight was one of those contract airline planes so many Cat 6-ers seem to inexplicably love: a 747 jammed solid with passengers straining the very rivets of the outer skin. I was wedged into the middle seat of the middle row, with two passengers elbowing for space to my right, and Sponsor to my left leaning into the aisle in a desperate attempt to get a few extra inches of room. I literally could not get out of my seat without disturbing the slumbering soldier reclined in the seat in front of me with his head resting in my lap. We were Tetris pieces– once locked down, there was no moving.

By the time we arrived at Ramstein, I was having some difficulty breathing, which I chalked it up to an asthma flare-up. I also thought I had pulled a calf muscle from being crammed into my seat for so long. Just to be sure that’s what it was, though, we stopped in to the clinic on base at Ramstein after the walk to our room left me completely out of breath and my heart racing like a Belmont contender straining for the finish line. The nurse on duty was concerned enough to suggest I go to the ER. We took cab over to Landstuhl Hospital. After a perfunctory medical history and a few extraneous questions, I spent a couple of hours taking nebulizer treatments, was given a handful of emergency inhalers, and sent on my merry way.

The next morning, we boarded the medevac shuttle bus (as space a passengers, not medical patients) that runs from Ramstein to Vicenza, Italy. It’s a 12 hour ride, with three rest stops along the way. I noticed the calf muscle was not improving – in fact, it felt slightly MORE painful than it had the day before. The asthma flare-up continued, despite liberal use of inhalers.

By the time we got to the ferry the following day, my leg was killing me, and I thought I was going to have a heart attack running to catch the boat. Our train, being Italian, was late, and we were literally the last passengers to board, as the lines were being cast off.

The next evening at our hotel, feeling worse than ever, I became curious about one of the “extraneous” questions I had been asked when I checked into the ER (“Do you have a history of DVT?” No, I did not.), and decided to Google the symptoms. I read the most common signs: Pain in the calf that feels like cramping or soreness – Oh, sh*t. Swelling in the leg – Oh, Sh*t! Redness and tenderness – OH, SH*t! Shortness of breath – OH, SH*T! I had every one of them!

I knew I needed to get to a doctor, fast, but I was in GREECE.

Money Matters!

An unpleasant reality of space a travel is: you have to have money. Yes, that’s right – you have to have money. You may not end up needing to spend money, but you have to have it, just in case.

Space a is often touted as a great way to save money while traveling. And, it CAN be, if everything goes exactly according to plan. If that happens, you will save the cost of a plane ticket. Hooray! But, the sad fact is, frequently, space a travel does NOT go according to plan, or at least not according to Plan “A”. And, when that happens, you’re going to have to spend some money.

Food and lodging can add up quickly while waiting for flights to materialize. And, depending where you are, these costs can be quite steep. Hawaii, for instance, is not an inexpensive location in which to become stranded.

You may also need a rental car to drive back and forth between the terminal and your hotel, or even to drive to another terminal to catch a flight. Again, depending on your location, it could get expensive.

Sometimes, a one-way ticket will be your only option to get to your destination if you have a cruise or other scheduled connection to make. Or, you may need to purchase a one-way ticket home if flights dry up. These tickets, purchased with little advance, can cost you.

Travelers who do not anticipate and budget for unexpected delays can find themselves up the proverbial creek!

Lady Cat 6 (me) and sponsor have experienced this conundrum on several occasions.

 A couple of years ago, we took a lovely space a trip to Hawaii. When it was time to come home, however, nary a flight to the west coast was to be seen on the 72 hour forecast. Our choices were either to wait around, or purchase tickets home. After penciling out lodging, meals and car rental for three more days, and pricing same-day airline tickets, we opted to fly home commercially (we did stumble into a great last-minute price deal!) rather than sit tight and hope for a flight.

On the other hand, returning home from Singapore this past spring, we again got “stuck” in Hawaii. This time around, we decided that since we had on-base lodging and were in no hurry to go home, we’d stick around for a few days and see what turned up. Four days later, we were on our way home via Travis on a C 17 (our favorite!).

Last year, coming home from Ramstein, we got stranded on the east coast, and ended up flying the rest of the way commercially. The year before that, we opted to fly from Ramstein to Travis, where we visited family and bought tickets for the remaining leg home.

Now that I’m thinking about it, we often don’t save much money traveling space a! But, we always plan for unforeseen circumstances, and we love the adventure! So, it works for us.

It’s kind of like that old saw, you have to have money to make money. When contemplating space a travel, you have to have money to save money.

 Always plan to be able to spend whatever that ticket would have cost you, just in case.

Terminal Conditions

We all end up there, eventually, whether at Travis, BWI, Hickam, Norfolk, or, most infamously, that psych ward hellhole that is Ramstein AMC terminal in summer…

Day 5 of attempted travel.

Things were looking great, at last: a promising number of seats available on the flight we want, going exactly where we need to go. And only about 40 other folks (We’ve counted! Ten times!) of the 1000 or so in the terminal are marked present for “our” flight. We’re near the top of the Cat 6 list!

Then, it happens. Some Active Duty Cat 3 person walks in, 2 minutes before roll call, with his 249 dependents, and bumps everyone else off the plane. DAMN IT!

Okay, maybe NOT 249 dependents (It was 237, honest!) but, still…DAMN IT!

Conditions in the terminal suddenly become critical.

This is where the courageous Cat 6 traveler has to dig deep into her trusty bag of additional options and do some on-the-fly calculations – perhaps even consider alternative medicine.  Is there another flight forecast over the next 72 hours? Are there any flights going in the general direction we need to go? How much money are we willing to expend on lodging and food while waiting around for a flight? Does a commercial ticket to our destination pencil out better than continuing to wait and hope and pray and curse, and perhaps face foreign prison time for manslaughter? Are we desperate enough to spend a gazillion hours on a C 130?

Ideally, all these questions and possible permutations have been taken into account ahead of time, and plans B through G or H are already waiting to get put into action.

So, pick an option, and don’t look back. No matter what! Things are bad enough today without chancing being turned into a pillar of salt and never getting anywhere!

And, try to remember: no matter how tired, cranky, frustrated, upset, or borderline murderous we are feeling, that Cat 3 person has a very limited leave window with which to utilize space a travel (especially coordinating with 237 dependents!). Still serving, Cat 3 does not have the leisure to practically live in the *!~#!&@! terminal like we do, and absolutely deserves to take advantage of their higher priority whenever they can.

So, try to chill. Read a book, relax in the USO, commiserate with your fellow passengers, offer to help that poor harried Mom with the screaming kids instead of giving her the stink eye! And, when I’m stuck at Ramstein, I find it never hurts to wander over to KMCC, to the Wasgau, for something fluffy and flaky and chocolatey and creamy (preferably all whipped together in one luscious confection) to drown my sorrows.  Even when conditions are grave, chocolate and sugar are just the medicine to soothe the savage traveler in me.  Ahhhhhhhhhhhh…Yummmmmmmmmm!

Beyond the AMC Universe

While many Cat 6 travelers, including Lady Cat 6, live within easy driving distance of an AMC terminal, many more do not. So, how do those prospective travelers desiring the adventure of space a find opportunity?

There are a couple of possibilities:

  1.  Incorporate the journey to and from your nearest AMC terminal into your adventure (commercial flights, train rides, or driving), or,
  1. Look beyond the AMC universe for other likely sources of flights!

Today, we examine option #2.

There are several options for flights outside the world of AMC. Several Navy and Air Force (that’s right – not all Air Force bases are AMC), a few USMC, and various Air National Guard and Reserve bases throughout the nation offer space a flights – some on a regular basis, some more hit-and-miss. Several of these are linked on the official AMC Travel Website: http://www.amc.af.mil/amctravel/index.asp   located just below the list of AMC terminals. Take a look, and see if there is one near you! These terminals all have Facebook pages you can “like” to follow their schedules.

Others take a bit of searching out.  If you know there is a Naval Air Station (NAS), a Marine Corps Air Station (MCAS), a Joint Reserve Base (JRB), or Air National Guard Base (ANG) near you, you can try Googling the name of the base, followed by “passenger terminal” or “space a”.

For example:  Googling “Mississippi Air National Guard space a” will lead you to a link to the home page of the 172nd Airlift Wing: http://www.172aw.ang.af.mil/spacea.asp with space a information, including their flight recording, passenger terminal personnel, sign up email address and other pertinent items.  Lady Cat 6 has seen planes from the 172nd on the tarmac at Hickam, in Hawaii, many times!

Another example: Googling “JRB Fort Worth space a” leads you to a link to their Facebook page, where you can see the upcoming flight projection and sign up procedures in the photo section: www.facebook.com/NASFortWorthJRB  CONUS locations, The Far East and sometimes Europe are possibilities.

Finally, Googling “Kaneohe Bay passenger terminal” leads to a link to the page of MCB Kaneohe Bay, with their information:

http://www.mcbhawaii.marines.mil/Units/SubordinateCommands/MarineCorpsAirStation/SpaceAvailableTravel/72HourSpaceAvailableSchedule.aspx  Flights go mostly to California, though some head the other way over the Pacific.

If you’re looking for a free source that lists multiple bases in one location, you can also consult sites like John Doyle’s http://www.spacea.net/usa-locations , http://www.baseops.net  or http://www.ujspaceainfo.com for more comprehensive information about which bases have flight opportunities, and how to contact them.

If you’re a member of Facebook, you can request to join the closed “Space A Travlers of the USA” group: www.facebook.com/groups/325711150854371/ and get pointers and tips from a large community of experienced space a travelers.

If you want to spend some money to get your info, there’s Dirk Pepperd’s site: http://www.pepperd.com

So, if you don’t live near a “mainline” AMC terminal, don’t despair – there are other options out there!

Keeping PAX with our PAX Reps

It’s a busy day at Travis, or Ramstein, or BWI, or other major space a terminal. People have been waiting for hours or days hoping for a flight. Patience is short, and tempers are flaring. And, the people on the front lines of this terminal battle, bearing the brunt and taking the blame for all sorts of rumored incompetence, unfairness, unprofessional behavior and other imagined slights are the Passenger Services Representatives (PAX Reps).

A lot of heartache, frustration, anger, and other unpleasantries that occur in the terminal could be avoided if more travelers had a better understanding of, and appreciation for the role of our friendly (or harried) PAX Reps. What do/can the PAX Reps do, and what lies outside their sphere of influence? Lady Cat 6 is about to tell you!

First, let’s talk about what PAX Reps do not do: They do not schedule flights. They do not cancel flights. They do not delay flights. They do not determine the number of seats available. They do not adjust the number of seats available.

Difficult as it may be to understand, they do not have anything to do with anything beyond the bounds of the terminal, except to drive the passengers and baggage out to the flight line and deliver the manifest to the crew.

So, what do PAX Reps do? They answer the phones. They answer questions. They update Facebook pages. They update sign up lists (sometimes).They man the counters.  They post marked present lists. They process luggage. They drive buses.

In the terminal, the primary job of the PAX reps is to fill the seats they are notified are available by Operations (OPS) or Aircraft Commanders, according to established AMC protocols regarding Category and date/time of sign up. They process passengers from the time they mark them present, through boarding the aircraft. As part of their processing duties, it is their job to enforce AMC regulations. So, it is their unfortunate lot to deny boarding in certain circumstances (passengers not travel-ready for any reason – like wearing flip-flops!), and to enforce baggage limits. At times, they take a lot of heat from passengers in the performance of these duties. That’s an understatement. When there are more passengers than available seats, things can get downright nasty!

Travelers who do not make the cut for a flight sometimes implore their PAX reps to contact the AC (Aircraft Commander, not Air Conditioner) and see if they can just please please please get (however many they need) more seats released, and PAX reps will sometimes tell those travelers they are calling out to the plane to see what they can do. In 99.99999% of these cases, no one called the aircraft. It’s just not done. PAX reps do not contact ACs. The reason they don’t is because by the time Roll Call takes place, duty passengers and/or cargo loads are generally set, and the seats are what they are. The reason they tell travelers they do, is to help disappointed passengers feel better – to help defuse the situation.

Of course, sometimes additional seats are released at the last minute, but this has nothing to do with the PAX Reps. Duty passengers didn’t show up, there turns out to be a little extra space left after the cargo is loaded, or a Wing Commander’s wife who didn’t make the cut called her husband and had him tell the crew to add another bank of seats. PAX reps have no influence with ACs, but Wing Commanders (and their wives) do! And, if the flight crew releases more seats, the PAX reps are happy to fill them!

PAX Reps are not perfect. A lot of them are trainees and are not thoroughly familiar with all the various rules and regulations of AMC sign ups. Sometimes, when a passenger comes in to mark themselves present, there will be a question about paperwork or date and time of sign up. If you believe the Rep is incorrectly interpreting a rule or REG, the best thing to do is have the pertinent information with you (a digital copy of the AMC policies is a handy thing to have on your mobile device!), and if the Rep needs further assistance, ask (pleasantly!) so speak to a supervisor.

It’s frequently not easy being a PAX Rep. Their jobs, and their customers, can be quite trying at times. Let’s all try to be kind, give them the benefit of the doubt when things happen we are not happy about, and, remember to thank them for a job well-done!

Re-entry

Everyone at Lady Cat 6 (me) apologizes sincerely and profusely for the recent dearth of posts from outer space a!

In my defense, the whole purpose of space a travel is to TRAVEL, and for the past few weeks, that’s exactly what my sponsor and I have been doing!

We began our latest adventure July 12, catching a hop out of beautiful NAS Whidbey Island, WA, to NAS Oceana, VA.

We were traveling back east for a couple of family get-togethers and visits, so we needed to arrive by a certain date. This flight was about five days earlier than we had planned to depart, but after we weighed our options (take this flight and spend more time with family, or take the chance something else would come up within our time frame), we decided we’d best follow the first rule of space a travel: Always take the first flight going in the direction you want to fly. So, we signed up, packed our bags ( a little fuller than usual due to two dressy occasions to attend), and reported for roll call bright and early on the 12th.

The flight was wonderful! There were only a few other people on the plane (I had a whole row to myself to stretch out and sleep!), we left on time, and the weather was gorgeous all the way across the country.  We had also called ahead for a room and a rental car on base, so we were set for the night and for our departure the next morning.

The drive from Virginia Beach to Pittsburgh was 10 hours of hell.

We had a FABulous visit, and both the occasions – a wedding and a 70th anniversary celebration – were wonderfully memorable! I love it when a family comes together!

Around mid-week last week, we began looking around the southeastern seaboard for a flight home.  Fortunately, while we were at the terminal after arriving at Oceana, we had seen a flight going to Boeing Field (Seattle) on August 2, and had put our names on the list. Nothing else had popped up since, so on Saturday we drove back to Naval Station Norfolk for overnight lodging (Oceana was full – reserve weekend).

Sunday morning, we got up at 0500 make the 0700 roll call at Oceana.  We got manifested, turned our rental car keys in to the PAX rep, and waited for departure. The PAX rep even served us coffee, since there was no hot caffeinated vending machine in the terminal. Bless him!

Again, there were few (4, including us) people taking advantage of the available seats (69), and after a delay due to an electronics problem, we were on our way. Also again, the weather was beautiful and the flight was smooth.

One small glitch: no one had informed the crew that it was Seafair weekend in Seattle, which meant there was an air show going on, which meant the Blue Angels and several other groups were utilizing Boeing Field, which meant that we spent over an hour in a holding pattern circling over Spokane, WA, until the show was over. Spokane is lovely from 37,000 feet, BTW…

After we landed (we taxied right past the Blues!), we caught a taxi to SeaTac Airport, where we had reservations on the commercial shuttle bus back to NAS Whidbey, where our car was parked. Shortly after tossing our bags in the trunk, we were home sweet home!

Normal operations at Lady Cat 6 shall re-commence upon recovery from partying and jet lag – thank you for your patience.