Put on Your Oxygen Mask First

October 18, 20132 Comments

On a warm early spring morning, I boarded a plane destined for New Orleans. It was a work trip, so I was traveling alone. After stowing my luggage and securing my seatbelt, I drifted off to sleep to make up for the precious hours lost getting to the airport before dawn. I missed the captain’s welcome greeting and the safety video. I don’t even remember taking off. My slumber was disrupted a short while later when a panicked female voice boomed over the PA. She wanted to know if there was a doctor on board. I was about to doze off again, but a flight attendant a few rows behind me began to shout at her colleague. She was saying something about a passenger fainting and another feeling lightheaded. And then she passed out. I was now fully awake.

I tapped the forearm of the business traveler next to me, a young man not much older than I. He didn’t know what was going on either. I craned my neck trying to see behind me. Members of the flight crew were running up and down the aisle. Then the other woman in our row started complaining that she wasn’t feeling well. The young man and I looked at each other. We both felt okay…what the hell was going on in this plane anyway?

As the PA crackled to life and the captain’s voice became audible, oxygen masks dropped down from the compartments above, dangling in front of our faces. I heard the words “cabin pressure” and “rapid descent” and “landing” but not much else. I still felt okay. I was eerily calm. But as I pulled the mask to my face and secured the strap over my head, I started to second guess myself. Was the plastic bag supposed to inflate or not? Were we supposed to pull on the plastic tubing? How did we know if the oxygen was flowing? The woman next to me began tugging at the tubing and pawing at the mask, clearly uncomfortable. How many hundreds of times have we sat through that safety presentation? Though I can admit I’m usually reading or doling out snacks to my boys rather than giving the flight attendant my full attention, one would think I would know what to do.

I kept breathing normally and tried to assist the woman next to me. In a matter of minutes, we were landing at the quaint and unsuspecting Dayton airport. Fire trucks and ambulances were waiting on the runway. Once the EMTs took care of those needing assistance, the rest of us deplaned, filling the tiny terminal with a couple hundred cranky, oxygen-deprived DC types. You can imagine the scene, right? A lot of shouting into Blackberries (this was a few years ago), stomping and huffing. Who were these people yelling at? We were lucky to be safe on the ground.

I was grateful to be okay. I was also grateful to be flying alone, without my children. Flight attendants always instruct us to put on our own oxygen masks before assisting small children. Would I have remembered to do that? Probably. But it got me thinking about how often I am taking care of someone else before myself. A lot.

I was reminded of that crazy flight this week as I was scribbling my grocery list on the back of an envelope. So I thought of myself first. What do I want to eat? I didn’t think about what the kids like or what Andy wants (turkey tacos – that’s always the answer). I thought about nourishing my body and listening to my own voice first. I thought about what foods make me feel satiated and healthy. I started with a big pot of cauliflower chickpea stew on Sunday (you can find the recipe here). I made roasted wild cod (found in The Sprouted Kitchen cookbook) with wilted greens the next day.

As I was flipping through my cookbooks looking for inspiration, I found a recipe for green couscous in Plenty. I’d never noticed this recipe before. I turned the page to look at the photo. This was my kind of food. I could substitute quinoa for more protein. So I whipped up my own version, green quinoa, and practically had it all to myself.

Andy is leery of foods that didn’t “exist” when he was a kid, like quinoa, farro and kale. This is a man for whom Stouffer’s french bread pizzas hold deep nostalgia. He is waiting for this whole quinoa craze to blow over, along with the juice fad and the organic thing. To appease my growing boys and the husband whose tastebuds are forever frozen in 1986, I made a juicy steak with chimichurri sauce and a mix of roasted sweet potatoes and butternut squash on the side (just toss cubes of peeled potato and squash in olive oil, sprinkle with salt, cumin and nutmeg and roast at 450 degrees for about 45 minutes). We were all quite happy.

And as for that ill-fated early a.m. flight? I made it to New Orleans a day and a half later. I spent a few hours in the Dayton airport before boarding a plane to Chicago, where I stayed overnight until I could get a flight to New Orleans. The whole ordeal was inconvenient, but not entirely worthless. I had dinner with two dear girlfriends in Chicago that night. I received a round trip ticket to any continental U.S. destination. And I was reminded of two important points. First, that safety presentation is annoying and repetitive, but it’s short. You never know when you might need it. At least familiarize yourself with the exits if you can’t be torn away from your reading. And second, sometimes the best thing you can do for those around you is to take care of yourself first.


2 responses to “Put on Your Oxygen Mask First”

  1. Caron says:

    Another gem – and that green quinoa sounds fantastic. Going to Plenty right now!

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