The other day, I took a hike along the Mount Vernon Trail in Arlington VA… just outside our nation’s capital. As I made my way closer to Gravelly Point Park, I paused to take this picture… and then I stood there for a few minutes, reflecting on all the memories that came rushing back. This was my old work station, or a portion of it anyway. It wasn’t so long ago either; as only just a little more than two months ago, I was down there on the tarmac… one of the best jobs I’d ever had. As I continued along my hike, I began to consider what a wild year this 2022 had shaped up to be.
In January, I was broken. Not just mentally, but physically now too. For the first time in my life, I’d come face to face with my own mortality… having had a mild heart attack just two weeks before Christmas and then being diagnosed with a chronic (but manageable) condition. I began to seriously question whether or not I could physically continue to work in my career as a truck driver. To be honest though, I’d been longing for a career change for many years. Mentally, I had checked out of the trucking industry long ago. There was much uncertainty at this time. What was I going to do?
I managed to get myself back in the driver’s seat one last time. I gave it my best shot. And then, about halfway through the month of March, I hung up the keys for good. The big break that I’d been looking for; the opportunity to retire from the road life forever… had finally come!
I was hired as a ramp agent for a major airline, and I’d start working at Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport (otherwise known as "DCA", for short) in Arlington on the 11th of April. It seemed like a dream come true. Home every night. Regular, steady hours. Home every night. A predictable schedule. Oh, and did I mention… home every night! This was the stability that I had been looking for!
Now don’t get me wrong… the job was not by any means, a walk in the park. It was demanding work; and, at times, very stressful. Guiding aircraft in and out of the gates, loading and unloading baggage, and transporting bags between gates and baggage claim… all the while, there was always a million hazards to look out for and I definitely at all times needed to have my head on a swivel while I was out there on the tarmac. But it certainly had its perks. The view of the Washington Monument every day, the energy and vibe around the place, and the overall sensation of feeling like I was really doing something worthwhile for a change… it was great!
Until it wasn’t great. I reported to work for my shift on the 4th of July, but something just wasn’t quite right. I was feeling unusually fatigued; completely devoid of energy. I tried to shrug it off as best as I could, chalking it up to stress from so many long hours… but no; it wasn’t too long before I realized this was probably something more. One of the first telltale signs was when I got onto the escalator and just stood there (with nobody in front of me) riding it all the way up. Ordinarily, when the path is not obstructed, I’ll briskly walk either up or down those things. Not this time though. I didn’t even have the energy to walk up to the dining areas of the terminal (an actually rather long hike from my work station) to grab something to eat on my meal break. It was just as well though; as I didn’t really have much of an appetite either.
I thought that perhaps just a good night of sleep would cure whatever this was… and so, I slept in much longer than usual the following day before I reported for duty again on July 5th. Unfortunately, I wasn’t feeling much better… and the high heat and humidity on this particular summer day didn’t help either. I began to wonder if, perhaps, my heart was beginning to act up again. Maybe, I thought, I should go and get it checked out. As it would turn out, later that night, I had no choice.
I’d stepped outside to take a smoke break, in my usual spot adjacent to the lower level arrivals of Terminal C… when I became overwhelmed with dizziness and nausea and collapsed to the ground. I lay there for a few minutes until the sensations of fainting went away. I would have gone right back inside and back to work… but a co-worker spotted me while I was in distress and called EMS to the scene. He strongly advised me to stay where I was and not get up.
I was transported a nearby hospital where they ran all kinds of tests, including (mostly as a precaution, as it was explained to me) a Covid-19 swab. The general consensus was that I’d succumbed to the heat. I never did mention (to the paramedics or the doctors) that I had previously experienced any cardiac trouble, except for the fact that I was on prescribed medication for high blood pressure. The diagnosis, however, was a complete and total surprise. All the tests came back normal, except for one. I had tested positive for the coronavirus.
It made sense when I thought about it. The extreme fatigue and lack of energy or appetite… and no doubt, being infected with this thing made me more susceptible to the ill effects of the heat. I’d managed to dodge that bullet for more than two years since the pandemic began, and was even vaccinated… but apparently, this new variant that had been circulating was much more resistant to the antibodies in the vaccine than the older variants.
Anyway, to try and make a long story short here… it was overall a relatively mild infection, but it took quite some time to recover and I missed a few days of work. Unfortunately, in the airline industry, there is no such thing as an “excused absence.” You’re either present for your assigned work shift, or you’re not. And if you’re not… well then, you collect “points” with each day you miss, regardless of the reason. I accumulated too many of these “points” and my employment with the airline was subsequently terminated.
As I sat there on the picnic bench the other day, at Gravelly Point Park, watching the planes fly over after taking off from the airport… I spent some more time reflecting on the events of the year to this point. I’m not bitter about what happened; just a little bit sad. I wish, with all my heart, that I could go back. At the same time though, I’m glad. I’ll never regret having stepped out of my comfort zone and trying something new for a change. I’m thankful I was given the opportunity, with no experience in the field, to take on the job. I think; no rather… I know… I know I can do it again. I was broken when the year began. But then I became unbroken.
I believe this for certain, and it gives me great hope and determination… I can become unbroken again.