Night Terrors At 35000 Feet

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When last I wrote I was sitting in Terminal 3 of Pearson Airport in Toronto, waiting to board a metal lawn dart that would be shot through the air and magically arrive in Dublin on my way to Glasgow, Scotland. For the most part, the flight from Toronto to Dublin was completely uneventful save for one tiny detail.

Picture this, if you will. I’ve boarded a full flight that took off around 6pm local Toronto time. The entire flight was expected to last about 7 or so hours, so I opted to settle in as comfortably as possible1. I decided for sanity sake to fire up a movie to keep my brain focused and occupied. I somehow managed to watch one movie about some person doing some thing, and then in my excitement decided to watch another movie about another person doing some other thing2. Near the end of the second movie, I began to feel sleep take hold – which is not something I do well on a plane. I looked around and noticed a few of the nearby entertainment systems flickering in front of unwatching eyes. Everyone was asleep. It was at this point that I decided to embrace my exhaustion, making the executive decision to let sleep take over.

But sadly my decent from consciousness to that warm space just before sleep fully takes over was very short lived3. Two rows up, the relative silence of the plane was abruptly halted with a blood-curdling scream.

Absolutely. Blood. Curdling.

I really don’t know how else to describe it.

The sound pulled me from the warm embrace of sleep back to the harsh lights and noise of reality. Groggy, confused, frightened, nauseated, breathless, panicked – all words that can’t even begin to describe how I felt in that moment.

My immediate reaction was fear. So, this is how I die, I thought. My eyes and ears quickly identified the source of the fear; an elderly man who was sitting 2 rows up from me, on the opposite side of the plane against the window. He was thrashing quite madly, while screaming Don’t let them get me or something to that effect. My mind, not fully registering the situation, not fully understanding what was going on, and not fully awake, assumed the worst. So, this is how I die.

Through rather blurry eyes I could see his wife (I assume) quickly move to calm him down, assuring him that he was safe. The speed at which she responded was quite incredible, and she was more than successful in guiding him from such an intense outburst back to his previous unconscious state. His screams transitioned from intense terror and wild thrashing to breathless panic and a return to stillness. Clearly she’d experienced something like this before. If only she were able to do the same for the rest of the plane.

Despite the fact that his wife was able to quell the night-terrors, and despite the fact that I was eventually able to recognize the situation for what it was (e.g. night-terrors) and even laugh it off, the sheer panic he elicited from me was something I never want to experience again. I sat there for several moments that seemed to last an eternity, breathless and anxious, attempting to calm down, attempting to reduce my heart rate, attempting to breathe, and attempting to find some sort of zen while stuck inside a giant metal lawn dart travelling 800ish kilometres an hour approximately 35,000 feet over the middle of the Atlantic ocean.

You’d be correct assuming that I didn’t fall asleep again for the rest of the flight.

Fortunately, I was on my way to Scotland – the land where Scotch grows – so I knew that all would soon be right with the world.


1 Which is to say, not really comfortably at all.

2 Clearly, these were very exciting and completely memorable movies.

3 I know it wasn’t long based on how much of the movie credits had passed by when I was abruptly pulled from potential slumber-related bliss.

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