Somewhere around 11 am on New Year’s Day I got a call from my Dad. He informed me that he was in the hospital. He had taken himself to the emergency room because he was getting very lethargic, his feet were swelling, and overall he just wasn’t feeling right. They had immediately transferred him to the main branch of St. Elizabeth’s Hospital in downtown Youngstown. The initial thought was that he had a leaky heart value. He seemed in good spirits and was feeling a little better. That day he was scheduled for a heart catheter. I knew that this was a pretty standard procedure and that he wasn’t in any real danger since this was mostly to diagnose, not treat, the issue, so I told him that i was going to stick with my original flight schedule of leaving Montana on January 2nd. On the morning of the second, I found out that the catheter had revealed some real issues. He had a hole in his heart and was being transferred to Cleveland Clinic. Obviously this news was more than a little nerve racking. I looked into flights and quickly realized that my only real options was to keep my scheduled flight from MT to Chicago, which landed around 7:30 pm, and catch a later flight to Cleveland. Although I would have loved to have Melanie and Brooks with me, we decided that it was best to have them go home once we landed in Chicago. He was sick and she was tired (and pregnant), and we didn’t even know what was going on with my Dad yet. I booked a 9:40 pm flight that landed in Cleveland around 11:40. Luckily I got a little time to rest on the flight back from Big Sky because the next 72 hours would prove to be exhausting.
When we landed in Chicago O’Hare I kissed Melanie and Brooks goodbye and started out towards my gate. I quickly realized that the flight that I had booked on American Airlines had been canceled. So had most of the other flights. They had rebooked me for a flight out the next morning. There was a huge snow storm that had hit the Midwest. We were lucky to have even made it back from Big Sky. Lines for the support desks were hours long and the wait time for calls seemed just as long. As I was walking down the terminal, I happened to look up and see a sign that said Cleveland. It seemed like fate. It was a United Airlines desk but I figured it was worth a shot. I explained to the lady working the desk that I had a medical emergency and that my flight had been canceled. I offered to buy a ticket on this flight, but she said that she wasn’t a licensed ticket agent and therefore couldn’t sell me one. To do that, I had to go wait in the hour long line at the help desk. That wasnt going to work considering the flight was leaving soon. The lady was great and helped me more than I expected. Honestly I assumed that I would get the normal bitchy airport employee, but was pleasantly surprised. She informed me that this flight had been delayed since 5 pm but was about to depart. She also told me that if I could get American Airlines to switch my ticket over to United, that she would get me on it! Great, now I just had get them to switch the ticket. I called the AA number that I had, and again was pretty surprised at how helpful the person was. However, switching the ticket wasn’t as easy as it sounded. Since the flight that I was trying to get on was so delayed, it was showing as already departed in their system and therefore they couldn’t do the transfer. After some brainstorming with both of them, we decided to transfer my ticket to a 5:30 am flight the next day, then the United employee would transfer me to the flight that was getting ready to leave for Cleveland. The American rep transferred the ticket and it seemed like we were all set, which was great timing considering that the flight was already boarding. Suddenly, I lost my connection. This would have been fine except that the United rep needed some more information. I was starting to panic. The flight was completely boarded and I was on hold! The gate agent was stalling for me and the the guy at the desk had my ticket printed and ready, he just needed a little more info. It felt like they were just about to close the doors when all of the sudden the guy yelled “I got it” and handed me the ticket. I boarded and they immediately closed the door behind me! The good news was that I was on one of the few planes leaving Ohare that night and even fewer planes landing in Cleveland. The bad news was that I got a seat next to a very big lady with a 3 month old baby. It was a minor inconvenience considering the situation.
I finally landed in Cleveland around 11 pm in the middle of the “polar vortex”. It was freezing, I mean below zero, and snowing like crazy. The guy at the car rental place was really cool. When I changed my rental from a mid size to an SUV the system tried to take my fee from $88 to $1042! He was pissed and agreed that that was ridiculous. He worked the computer multiple times until he got the bill down to a $10 surcharge. I could barely see as I drove to the hospital from the airport that night. I followed the only two visible tracks on the highway, but arrived safely at the Cleveland Clinic around 1:30 am that night. This day had restored my faith in people. There were multiple people that day that really helped me out and if any one of them hadn’t, I wouldn’t have made it to see my Dad that night. That night was just the beginning of another long and emotional week, but I know my Dad felt a little better that I was there…I know I was a little relieved to see him.