Friday, July 5, 2013

The Hardest Leg

Legs. . .

I've never really thought about legs before (why would I?), but something happened this last Wednesday that has changed that, if only for a little while.  As we go through our lives, most of us probably have more to do with legs than we might think.  A quick glance back through my own memory bank reveals a startling association with them.

The first leg that popped into my head was, of course, chicken legs.  Mmmmm... chicken!  Growing up in a family with four kids, and with chickens only producing two drumsticks each, it was sometimes a bit of an ordeal for us kids to decide which of us was going to enjoy that tasty morsel at that particular meal.  Now that I think about it, my parents never seemed interested in the drumsticks, and now that I am a parent I also find myself to be in a continual position of drumsticklessness!  Perhaps a scientific study would be able to tell us if this phenomenon is unique to my family, or if this trend also continues in other families as well.

Rather weirdly, raw chicken legs also popped into my head when I began to ponder legs.  For a lot of years as I grew up, our family raised and prepared our own chickens.  I use the term "our family" loosely in this instance, as it seemed that my parents were the only ones who were truly committed to the task.  There were many bitter glances back towards the house and perhaps a grumbled word or two that were uttered as we kids trudged up to the chicken barn to fulfill our familial duties in the form of feeding those foul fowl.  In this instance, our familial responsibilities demanded that we have our feet and legs pecked by the very chickens that we were attempting to feed until we felt ashamed to wear shorts in public, as we constantly had to explain to other children and parents that "No, I DO NOT have chicken pox.  I have CHICKEN PECKS!!! (mutter, mutter, grumble grumble)"  Interestingly, as I am now a parent this unique form of familial duty now appeals to me in a deep down, genuine way.  At this time the only thing keeping me from having my children experience the joys of caring for their own chickens is the fact that we live in a city where such a thing is not practical.  It is interesting though, about my change of perspective as I have grown older.  Perhaps a scientific study...

There were other legs that came to mind as well.  The "Tour De France".  For some reason, this yearly bicycle race comes complete with the talking heads (those ones who are on every sports show on the planet) talking about both performance enhancing drugs and, you guessed it, LEGS!  For the life of me, I can't understand why a bicycle race has legs.  Bicycles have wheels, not legs.  I think it would be much more appropriate for the talking sports show heads to lead off their story with, "Today's most successful, self taught, pharmacologist won today's 'wheel' of the Tour De France with a time of XX:XX "  It has a nice ring to it.  (Get it?  A wheel is also ring shaped!  Bwaaa-haaa-haa!)

Other legs include those of my kids, whose legs never seem to go the correct speed.  Our family can be easily identified on the street by the calls of Karen and I, who take turns shouting out, "Slow down!  This isn't a race!" and "Come on!  Hurry up!  We can't wait for you forever!"  It's another interesting, study-able phenomenon.  There are my wife's legs, there are pirate legs (the wooden, peg leg kind), table legs, chair legs, and other legs,legs, legs everywhere!  Who knew!!!  But allow me to get back to the point here, or even to make a point.  I seem to have gone down a bit of a rabbit trail (rabbits also have legs).

The original reason for my pondering about legs has to do with a flight that I flew this last Wednesday.  For some unknown reason, flights also have legs.  On this particular day my flight, unlike chickens, had five legs.  I woke up in the morning feeling much more tired than usual, but experience has taught me that if I just get up and get at it, the tired feeling will gradually fade as I get moving and get along with my day.  Before long I found myself out at the airfield with my pre-flight checks completed, watching as my passengers for the day climbed into my waiting airplane.  In a matter of minutes we were off, winging our way northeastward towards the small village of Moroto, in northern Uganda.  Leveling off at 9,500 feet, I began to become aware that the tired feeling which had plagued me all morning had not faded at all over time as I had expected.  As I approached the half way point of that particular leg, another feeling began to bubble up through my subconscious (and stomach) and make it's presence known.  I realized that the tired feeling that I had been experiencing was not just due to an abnormally poor sleep the night before, but was instead a forewarning to me that I was beginning to feel ill.

As the pilot of a single pilot (we don't fly with a co-pilot) airplane, this can have huge ramifications.  There are several diseases here in East Africa which can make their presence known in a big way in a small amount of time, and the last thing that any of us pilots want is to become cripplingly ill while airborne.  I did my best to diagnose myself and to decide if I would be capable of completing my flight.  What I decided was that at each stop, I would decide if I felt well enough to continue to the next stop, and if at any point I did not, I would then call on our ops people, and me and my passengers would then have to wait for several hours while another pilot was flown out to finish the flight, and I could be flown home.  I did ponder for a moment the thought of just turning around and heading home, but I decided that I didn't really feel too bad, and I should be able to finish my flight without compromising safety.  After the original hour and a half leg I had three quite short legs, and they all went very nicely.  I actually felt that my condition was improving over this time, so it was without any reservations whatsoever that I fired up my engine and turned the pointy end homeward.

Things went all right for the first portion of the flight.  My aircraft was functioning well, I had only three passengers, who were all looking satisfied, and my body was almost feeling normal as well.  Then things began to change.  I realized that my mouth was totally dry, and yet I was salivating profusely.  I was yawning hugely about every minute, and my head was beginning to feel... funny, and not in a "Ha ha" funny kind of way.  With every minute I seemed to feel worse, and I still had 100 miles to go.  At my current ground speed that meant that I would be flying for another 40 minutes, and oh, how those minutes dragged.  I tried everything that I could think of to stave off the sick feelings without making it obvious to my passengers that something was not right.  Stretching my arms out over my head (don't worry, Otto the Pilot was flying the plane), stretching my legs, turning the full force of the cool air vent and blasting it directly on my face, and shifting slightly in my seat.  At worst from behind if a passenger was paying close attention they might have figured that I had to go to the bathroom or something.

Slowly, oh so slowly, the miles ticked down.  At 75 miles to go I began talking to Entebbe Center.  This was great, as it gave me something else to think about for a while.  At 40 miles out they transferred me over to Entebbe Radar.  This was fantastic, as it meant that I was only 40 miles out (I know that sounds a bit circular, but that's how I felt).  Around 30 miles out I began my descent down into Kajjansi airfield, which gave me something to do with both my body and mind.  Hallelujah! About 5 miles out, I flew directly over both the MAF office and my home.  Preparations for landing, go over the checklist, focus on my approach, and then... on the ground!  I physically felt better the moment my wheels touch down on terra firma.  It was by far the toughest, most grueling, hardest leg that I have ever flown in my life.  As my passengers walked up to our small terminal building in Kajjansi, I laid down on the soft, cool grass under my wing and relaxed, saying a prayer of thankfulness that I was back home again.

So, there it is.  The hardest leg.  The reason for my earlier mindless meanderings.  I grounded myself for the next day, and although I did feel a little better the next morning I was still very thankful that I didn't have to fly.  I'd also like to thank Achim, who took over my Thursday flight on very short notice when I felt unwell.  His willingness to do that was a blessing to me also.  Once again, I'd like to sign off with a word of thanks for those of you who pray for us, and who hold the ministry of MAF before our Lord.  In many more ways than I can describe, we see Him answering prayers here every day.  You are all an integral part of our ministry here, and we cannot thank you enough for that.  We truly could not be here serving the Lord in this way without all of you behind us.  Thank you.

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