Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Peril In Da Skies

What you area bout to read never actually happened.  Although written in the first person, the following is a fictitious account that has been pieced together, drawing a little bit from my own personal experience as well as many similar, yet different stories that I have heard over the years.  All of the pieces come together to create the whole story.  Almost every pilot of a small plane has a story similar to the one that I am about to tell.  It's one of those things that isn't talked about much, and most people who aren't pilots have probably never even stopped to consider it.  I hope that you enjoy reading it as much as I enjoyed writing it.

As sounds and sensations of morning began to invade my consciousness, I slowly allowed my eyes to crack open a hairsbreadth.  Sure enough, light was filtering through the bedroom window, and the sounds of birds chirping and the town coming to life around my little home was enough to convince me that it was time to drag my sorry rear out of bed and into the shower, and to begin my day.  Stepping out of the shower I felt wonderfully refreshed and alive, ready to take on whatever challenges lay ahead of me on this glorious new day.  I wandered into the kitchen, and after grinding the beans and waiting for the water to slowly filter down into the pot, I found myself enjoying a cup of fresh coffee.  There was no rush to get out the door on this morning.  Today's schedule didn't have me flying, but instead I would be riding along in an observational role.  Another student, April, would be under the gun on this day as she prepared for her coming instrument flight test.  I would be sitting in the back seat watching and, hopefully learning as well.  My flight test was scheduled for next week, and the more time that I could spend in the air, the better, even if I was riding along and not actually flying. 

On this lazy morning I allowed myself one more fine cup of joe, then slowly began preparing to head out to the airport.  I quickly ran through the contents of my flight bag.  Spare change of clothes, headset, licenses, water bottle (full), and lunch.  Even though I wasn't going to fly it is never a bad idea to be prepared to do so.  You never know what might happen.  Locking the door behind me, I sauntered out to my old rusty brown 1987 Toyota Corolla and turned the key.  It was indeed a good morning.  It started on the first try.  Not only started, but once running it stayed that way.  What a great car!  On the way out to the airport I quickly whipped into the Stop 'N Go, and picked up a bag of chips and a coke to bring along.  Call it the perks of not being in the hot-seat.  Often when I fly I forget about eating for far too long until my body begins to remind me that I need sustenance "or else".  Riding along, on the other hand, is kind of like being treated to a carnival ride.  A great flight, spending the day up in the air, junk food, and the added joy of watching a fellow student squirm and writhe at the controls as they are put through their paces.  Bwa-ha-ha-ha.  Even though it was only in my mind, my evil laugh did still bring a smile to my face.  It was going to be a great day!

Several hours later we were ready to go.  Fueled up, fed up, and with the pre-flight briefing completed we headed out to the plane.  Today was going to be a bit of a long-ish flight.  We were taking off out of Three Hills and heading west, south-west over to Springbank.  We would shoot a couple of instrument approaches there and then head north to Red Deer.  A hold and a couple of non-precision approaches were on the agenda for Red Deer, and then off to Edmonton for another couple of precision approaches.  The plan then was to land in Edmonton for a short break, and then head back down to Three Hills.  All told, the entire trip was scheduled to take around 5 hours, depending on how long we stayed on the ground in Edmonton.  The weather looked marvelous.  Severe clear the whole way around.  A great day for training.  Starting up, we taxied out and launched into the clear blue skies.  Sitting in the back seat I was reminded how incredible this all was.  I turned and looked out the back window to watch the ground drop away from us as we climbed out of Three Hills.  Too often when I was at the controls I wasn't able to just sit back and enjoy the sensation of flight.  Now I could, and I was taking full advantage.  What a day!

We leveled off at our cruising altitude, and Mike (the instructor) began to go over a few things with April as they prepared for the exercises that were coming up in Springbank.  As this didn't really have anything to do with me, I unplugged my headset to better ignore them and pulled out my snack.  I know that with altitude your taste buds don't function as well (ever wondered why airplane food is always bland?), but for some reason today everything was just better.  The crunch of the chips in my mouth and the savory yumminess of the coke swirling over my taste buds.  Does it get any better than this?  I think not.

Springbank went well for April, and before too long we were winging our way northwards for Red Deer.  As I enjoyed the majestic beauty of the Canadian rocky mountains to our west, something began to intrude upon my euphoric state of being.  Tiny, miniscule messages began to travel up my nerves and across synapses, informing to me that everything was no longer "A-OK".  Something was changing, and as soon as I realized what it was that was slowly poking it's way into my consciousness, my whole demeanor changed.

I began to regret partaking of that second cup of coffee earlier in the morning.

As the uncomfortableness grew inside of me, I did some quick mental math.  Twenty more minutes up to Red Deer, half an hour working through holds and approaches there, and then 45 minutes up to Edmonton.  Twenty minutes shooting approaches there, and then we would be stopping.  Adding it all up, I decided that it wouldn't be too bad and that I could quite easily wait another couple of hours.  I sat back in my seat and tried to relax again, but I couldn't relax too much...

As we flew through the holds and approaches in Red Deer, I did my best to concentrate on the approach charts in my hand, and to follow along with what we were doing.  This was the reason I had come along, was it not?  We left Red Deer behind and turned the pointy end toward Edmonton.  Oh glory!  Relief was almost in sight.  The pressure had been slowly and continuously building within my bladder since I had become aware of it, but now it was all consuming.  I could hardly think of anything else.  I began to squirm in my seat.  Turning slightly sideways, I could stretch out my feet a little more, and this brought a little abatement from the all pervasive pressure.  Ok, I could do this.  Focus!  Up in the front seats, April and Mike were talking about what the plans were for Edmonton.  I reached down and unplugged my microphone from the socket.  This way I could still hear them, but any inadvertent groans that might escape my lips would not be able to be heard by them. I didn't want to share the embarrassment of my misery with anyone else.

The pressure was back, and greater than ever.  I sat up straighter.  Small relief.  I loosened the seat belt.  No good.  Mike glanced back to check on me, no doubt wondering why I was so quiet all of a sudden.  I gave him a forced smile and a thumbs up.  He turned his attention back to the front and to his instructing.

"Groooaaaaannnnnnnn..."

"Ok Derksen, only a few more minutes and we'll be on the ground.  Hang in there buddy!"  I tried to psych myself up as I stretched out sideways again, only this time it brought no relief.  At least the end was in sight.  The nearness of a bathroom facility made the unbearable pressure a little bit more bearable.  Why, oh why, had I decided to drink that coke so early on in the flight?  Stupid, stupid, stupid!  Rookie mistake!

We flew one hold, and with every turn, every little increase in "G", I died a little bit more on the inside.  Couldn't this thing go any faster?  Finally, after what seemed like years, we turned and intercepted our final approach.  Only a couple more minutes, and we would be on the ground!  April flew a great approach, correcting perfectly for the winds, and keeping the needles right in the center.  She was clearly ready for her test.  I, on the other hand, would not make it to my test.  On my tombstone they would write, "Here lies Dallas, full of cheer, he burst apart, when help was near."  Then, below that, "May he rest in pieces."

April, hurry!

Being a pilot myself, I knew that distractions from the back seat are most unwelcome, particularly when flying a demanding approach.  Because of this, I kept my perilous dilemma to myself, knowing that it would be better to just keep my mouth shut.

500 feet to go.

400... 300... 250...

Then the controller came on the airwaves,

"CF-WOL, is this a full stop landing for you, or would you like to continue on to Three Hills?"

I spoke loudly and clearly into my mike, "Full stop landing, FULL STOP LANDING!"

April looked over at Mike, who shrugged his shoulders and nodded.  April keyed the mike,

"We're all doing good in here, so we'll continue on our way back to Three Hills."

DISASTER!  My mike was still unplugged and they hadn't been able to hear me.  Oh what cruel, cruel thing is this!

As April spoke to the controller, she pushed the throttle forward and initiated her missed approach procedure.  There was no going back now, it was too late.  I would have to wait another hour.

Remember that relief that I mentioned?  The relief of knowing that the end was near?  That disappeared in an instant, and my situation grew dire.  Every little bump in the air, every turn, every movement of the plane brought total and absolute agony.  I was no longer aware of pressure in my bladder, only of pain that seemed to be coming from everywhere on my body.  As we leveled out again on the way back to Three Hills, I cast my eyes around the cabin for something, anything, that I could use to relieve the pressure.  My coke bottle!  Where had I put it?  Bending down to look under the seat almost proved to be too much for my bladder, but I managed to look, and the bottle wasn't there.  Why can't I find it?  Where is it?  It must have rolled somewhere and gotten lodged where I couldn't see it or reach it.  What else was there available to me?  As I pondered every object that could be used as a container, yellow specks and stars began dancing before my eyes.  My water bottle in my bag!  But it was full of water.  Well, there was one way to empty it.  Could I drink the whole thing (1 liter) and still manage to wait until it was empty before filling it up again?  If I did, would the exchange even buy me any relief?

By this point, even my thought processes had begun to be affected by the pain and pressure, and I decided that adding more liquid to the situation would most certainly not help.  Then I had a sudden thought.  Airsick bags!  They're water proof!  I dug through the seat pockets in front of me like a starving man attacks a plate of food.  What!  Nothing!  How could this be?  Part of the pre-flight checks are to make sure that there are bags for everyone!  Oh, April, FAIL, FAIL, FAIL, FAIL!  No license for you!  In fact, you lose the one you have!  EPIC FAIL!  Oh, with every fiber of my being, how I yearned for an airsick bag.

As my options began to run out, other more desperate thoughts began to run through my mind.  Could I make it to Three Hills?  We were now only thirty minute out.  Maybe I could pull off the impossible.  I clutched at the font edge of my seat, pulling myself deeper into it's soft embrace in an effort to somehow make things more bearable.  Nothing helped, it only seemed to grow worse.

Sweat beaded my brow, and more spots danced in front of my eyes.  I felt nauseous and slightly dizzy.  What if I passed out?  What a disaster that would be!  What a mess!  End of the world scenarios began to play out in my mind.  Suddenly, a thought.  I glanced down.  Cotton underwear, thermal long underwear, topped off by black cotton pants.  Three layers.  Wouldn't all of these layers of cotton provide me with some absorption?  Surely they would.  My pain infused, slightly dizzy, moderately crazed mind began to write it's own logic;  "What if I just opened the flood gates enough to relieve just a little pressure?  I'd only need to allow a small amount out before damming things up again and I could make it to the bathroom in Three Hills.  My pant are black.  In half an hour any visible sign should evaporate, right?"

I shook my head to clear it a little, and another wave of pain hit me.  I wondered, "Can your bladder physically explode?  Can it kill you?"

I made my decision and prepared, for the first time in about twenty years, to wet myself.  ...But only a little.

I sat back in my seat and, holding my chart in front of me as though I were intently focused on our trip, I carefully cracked open the flood gates, but only a little.

Yeah, right.

As soon as the first drop left my body, there was no going back.

Ooooooohhhhhhhhhh.......

RELIEF!

As a warmness began to spread across and down my pants, the relief became so absolute, so profound, that it was more than relief.  It was PLEASURE!

Waves of pleasure rocked me from the top of my head to the bottoms of my feet.  The release of pressure and the ending of the pain felt so good that I ceased to care or even think about trying to dam things off again.  As my bladder emptied, I began to wonder if I was saturating the entire seat cushion and if it was beginning to drip onto the floor.  Oh well, I no longer cared about anything.  It just felt SO good.  A silly little grin spread across my face as the euphoric feeling of relief pervaded my whole being.  Once I opened the flood gates, it continued to the very last drop, until there was absolutely nothing left to let out.

Then it was over. I sat there taking deep breaths as my body began to recover from the trauma that it had just been subjected to and my bladder returned to it's normal size.  If you have ever experienced anything like it, you'll recall that the pain doesn't immediately go away.  It lingers slightly as a reminder that you have just subjected your bladder to so much more than it normally has to endure, as a reminder of your stupidity over partaking in that second cup of coffee.  ...and the coke.  ...and stopping at the water fountain on the way out the door.

A new sensation began to make itself known to me.  The smell of ammonia slowly began to waft into my nostrils.  April and Mike were blissfully unaware of what had just transpired behind behind them, and as the realization of what I had just done became ever more clear to me with every passing moment, my mind raced to think about what I could do to keep it that way.  I reached out and opened the rear vents on either side of the cabin, allowing fresh air to whoosh into the plane.  The ammonia smell disappeared.  Good, I was ok for now.

The rest of the flight was uneventful, and April made a nice, smooth landing back in Three Hills.  As she taxied into the parking area, I hunched forward, head buried in my hands, mortified, wondering what in the world I was going to do now.  There would be no hiding what I had done from the instant that I stepped out of the plane and the evidence on my pants was exposed to the whole school.  Well, the best thing would probably be to suck it up and try to behave with a quiet dignity, or as much as I could manage under such a situation.  April opened her door and began to reach for the latch to slide her seat forward so that I could get out first.  Suddenly, chivalry was not dead, and the importance of being a gentleman suddenly consumed my whole being, and I reached out to stop her.  With a wave and dramatic flourish of my hand I insisted, "Ladies first."

Mike, having already crawled out of his door, turned and gave me a look that said, "What in the world is that about?" (It's much easier for the person in the front seat to get out if the person behind has already gotten out).  I waited until April was making her way into the building until I confessed to Mike and came "clean" about the whole situation.  I informed him that if he would just leave me alone with the plane, I would clean up my mess.  Mike was gracious, and even though he didn't laugh to my face, I'm certain that as soon as he made his way into the building he had a good, healthy belly laugh.  I could see the laughter brimming in his eyes.

Although nobody ever mentioned anything directly about it to my face, there was the occasional sly joke made at my expense (rightfully so).  I've never been so thankful that I pack an extra pair of clothes in my flight bag.  I'm also sure that generations of future pilots will be told about the day that I wet myself in the plane.



As I mentioned at the beginning, almost every pilot has a story along these lines to tell.  The airplanes that we fly do not have on board lavatories, and inevitably when you spend so much time in the air, situations like this will arise.  Monitoring fluid intake before a flight helps, but sometimes... things just happen.  The good thing about it all is that when you are a pilot you belong to a kind of brotherhood.  They've been there, they know what it's like, and they aren't about to judge you.

But it sure makes for a good story.

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