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Air Travel and Hemoptysis

Photo credit: Mike Monteiro

My good friend (and also quite a bit older, so YAY for survivability) @UnknownCystic just wrote about his difficulties and fears of flying because of his history of hemoptysis. I wrote some about my hemoptysis a while back here and here, but there is more, and his post brought the memories rushing back. Please share your memories in the comments or on your own site, linking us all together  – I’ll add your post at the end of this if you let me know there is another story in our circle.

The wedding

My oldest traveling horror story goes back to when I was 22. My best friend through high school and college was getting married in Michigan (I know, a bad place to be in the first place, but I digress). I had other issues at the time, so I got a room separate from the block of rooms for the party, so I was already feeling like the outcast of the wedding party, but I dealt with it just the same as I always did back then: denial.

After a full weekend of dinners, festivities, and a wonderful wedding and reception, I went back to the hotel with everyone else so I could change out of my tux to have them return it to the rental place for me, as I was heading out very early in the morning. I was in the groomsmen’s bathroom with everyone, literally everyone else in the wedding party, in the room regaling and having a generally fantastic time, unlike me. I got into my hemoptysis coughing fit while I was still trying to take off my tux’s white shirt. Horror of horrors! I’ve successfully repressed any memories of getting any on the shirt, but I would not be surprised if I did. I was in there for at least 10 minutes, probably longer, while the others were waiting to change.

We all know how sound doesn’t stop at a hotel bathroom door, don’t we? They thought I was dying in there, but as long as I kept coughing, no one knocked to check on me. I eventually came out – beet red. I’d soiled 2 hotel wash clothes and tossed them and tried to wash the sink as well as I could while I was shaking from both fear and embarrassment.

My friend’s parents were alerted that I was coughing so horribly and were waiting outside. They asked if I needed any help or even a ride to the hospital. “No,” I said. “The episode is over. I’m just going to feel like crap overnight and be fine tomorrow. Please do not tell Josh about this. I don’t want him to worry about me on his honeymoon.” I apologized profusely for scaring everyone as I backed out of the room and shuffled to the car to go back to my hotel and break down. That was 10 whole years ago now.

The vacation in paradise

My parents, as you may know from their dozens of comments, are radio missionaries stationed on the bay island of Roatán, off the coast of Honduras. After they’d been there for a year, I got a flight down to see them around my birthday. I was actually set to fly back the day before my birthday because of how their airport works with flights. I was really pretty sick at the time. I had been working really hard, couldn’t afford all of my treatments, and was generally winded a lot.

Dad had a chance to go to the other island to one of the broadcast towers and I went along for a father/son weekend for Friday/Saturday, I believe. We flew over in a little plane and an overnight bag, which was a blast. Then we rode in the back of a little Datson pickup at 60mph down a dirt road into town and got an ATV for our stuff and generally had a blast for the weekend. On the way back, we had to take a ferry to the mainland and then back to the other island.

While we were waiting for the ferry, I got to say “hello to my leetle friennd” again… in the crowded bathroom of a crowded ferry terminal in a third world country. I do not recommend this as a method of “finding God,” but if you haven’t yet, I can guarantee that it works. I know I made my peace all over again in case the last thing I saw was that crapper and I was insincere in earlier conversations. After 5 minutes, the lava stopped and the next guy probably thought I was doing a ritual killing in the “stall” because there was blood everywhere and nothing to clean it up with. Thankfully, I didn’t have to go Number Two – I just had to cough up a lung. Dad was none the wiser – /wave.

Good old TIA

On several occasions (three for sure), I’ve returned from travel to Tampa International Airport only to have an episode in the airside men’s restroom. I think it’s because we hit the warm, humid air, walk up a ramp from the plane to the terminal, while carrying a heavy bag and wheeling my suitcase. These are generally brief, but still a nuisance and a fright because I never know when it will be “the one” that has an ambulance called to take me in for emergency embolization.

Upcoming trips

I am flying to Chicago at the end of April and taking the “L” to downtown with my bag(s). I did okay last time, but I was really winded by the time I got to my destination. Then we are flying across the country to San Diego for my first ever trip to CA at the end of May to see my sis-in-law get her Master’s degree.

I either need to arrive really early to take it slow with my bags or have someone help us if I’m going to have as high of a chance to avoid a mid-air disaster as humanly possible. Any tips from other traveling hemoptysizers?


  1. Wow, Jesse! I’m learning some stuff. I’ll be very embarrassed if you tell me that you informed us of your episode at the wedding, because I don’t remember that at ALL. And I know you didn’t tell us about the episode at the ferry terminal.

    I have a theory that the trigger is the lower oxygen level in the planes. They don’t pressurize them to sea level pressure. If I remember right, it’s about the same as 10,000 to 15,000 feet altitude in the cabin.

    • Beautiful was the first to know… many years later.

      I’d agree w/ you if it never happened at ground level due to getting up quickly or climbing the stairs, which is why I think it’s quick changes of position and exertion.