Airport drama and sedation

“Are you going to leave at 5?” my husband asked.

“Probably 4:30,” I replied. “I want to make sure I have time to let the Valium take effect.”

“Oof. That’s early.”

Yes, it was. But the miracle drug was worth my waking long before the sun rose.

Valium recently re-entered my life after a long hiatus. An extremely nervous flyer, I had been prescribed the drug after a full-on panic attack on a plane ride when I was about 13. I would joke that the drug was less for me and more for the ease of the passengers around me. Turns out that folks don’t like sitting next to a wailing, screaming, shrieking, red balloon-head full of hot anxiety ready to burst. Odd.

During my early 20s, I worked as an adventure tour guide in Australia. I had to be awake to care for the clients before we took off, but I don’t think they would have considered it part of the tour if I had turned into a wailing banshee once the plane’s wheels left the ground. After all, the closest thing to a banshee in the Outback is a drunken wallaby stumbling out from a pub. Back then, I would take three pills — two more than prescribed. It ensured that I would be awake to get my eager tourists situated and that I would be knocked out cold the second I buckled my safety belt.

The pill, if taken responsibly, was never a catchall. It would take the edge off, but I still had to talk myself down from suffocating anxiety — a skill I tried hard to master once the pill was no longer an option.

Pregnancy, breastfeeding, pregnancy again, breastfeeding again and then moving away from my general practitioner caused my unwanted Valium sobriety.

Now, finally settled in my new city and with my youngest more interested in wearing my magenta bra than taking it off, I once again held the pills in my purse. The six years without their presence had strengthened me — so much so that when I took the prescribed amount of Valium for my flight last week, I could feel the onset of ease. It was magical — a restrain and resoluteness I had never truly felt before. I was calm but functioning. I never wanted to fly without a pill again.

That is why, when I boarded yet another plane a few days later, I was willing to wake up at 4 a.m. to give the drug time to kick in.

Unfortunately, road construction on the highway had other plans. When I arrived at the airport, there was less than an hour until takeoff. I considered taking my Valium but thought better of it. If I missed my flight, I’d have to drive home. And seeing as the digital sign at the beginning of the security line read “45 minutes,” I figured that a long drive home operating heavy machinery was inevitable.

I asked the woman in front of me whether I could go ahead of her, hoping I could politely cut the line one person at a time. The woman said “no.”

Ten minutes went by, and we were told to go down the hall to another security checkpoint, where the line was shorter. A group of us took off running. Somehow the same woman wound up in front of me when we got to the next line. I told her my plane was boarding. “Not my problem,” she retorted. The anxiety was bubbling up.

This new line was shorter, but it wasn’t moving. No employees had arrived to work the scanners. I asked the airport worker at the front of the line whether there was any way I’d make my plane, seeing as it was taking off in 20 minutes. “Sure,” she smirked.

Five minutes later, Brielle showed up, a happy black Lab/bomb-sniffing ninja-pup. The line moved quickly now. Through security, I had to take a train to my wing of the airport. Then I ran.

As I neared the gate, the worker was closing the door. I heard him say, “Gloria! Our last one just got here!” He looked at my license and didn’t bother scanning my ticket. My anxiety swelled as I looked at my unopen bottle of Valium. “Gotta get here earlier,” he said.

Next time, I spend the night before sleeping at the airport. Peace is worth it.


Katie Langrock is a nationally

syndicated columnist.