In the Unlikely Event of a Decompression

by Helene Louise  

In my early twenties, I worked as a flight attendant and as I wrote in my book, this experience was surprisingly relevant later in life when I found myself as a single-mother, working hard to rehabilitate my daughter after a childhood stroke. One of my tasks as a flight attendant, of course, was the safety briefing at the beginning of each flight. 

 Along with showing passengers how to buckle and unbuckle a seat belt (which I don't think anyone needed to be shown), we tucked the long tube that was attached to a spare oxygen mask into one hand and then simulated it dropping down from the overhead bins. At that point, the announcements said, "...In the unlikely event of a decompression, place the mask firmly over your nose and mouth and breathe normally." Then, the announcements said  that if you were traveling with a child, you should "put your own mask on first and then help your child".

 As a mother, that seems counter-intuitive at first glance. I can certainly picture myself holding my breath and gasping for air in an emergency, as I frantically try to save my children above all else. But, if I take a step back and think analytically, it makes perfect sense. If I'm not doing well, or if I pass out from a lack of oxygen, then how can I make sure that my children are thriving?

 When I found out that my daughter had suffered a stroke, I threw myself into doing everything that I could to help her. It was years later that I realized that I had basically been existing on adrenaline and caffeine and, that I should have taken some time now and again to make sure that I too was getting enough oxygen, so to speak. Just like it is with the oxygen masks "in the unlikely event of a decompression”, my daughter would still have been as fine as she is today, but I wouldn't have been gasping for air as long as I was. And, maybe I would even have been in a better position to help her along the way.

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