Friday Bag o’ Relief

052108af_piddle_packYou may question the relevance of today’s thumbnail photo. Go ahead, question away. I don’t mind. Are you done? Good.

These objects are, in fact, bags o’ relief; specifically, pilot relief bags (or, if you prefer military terminology: bags, relief, pilot). I’ve filled more than a few, particularly on long ocean crossings. Fighters don’t have lavatories, you know. Some day I’ll share some amusing piddle pack stories* … but today I have more important things to write about.

I saw the infectious disease doctor yesterday and he told me my latest blood cultures are negative. I have no infection. Since I’m halfway through the antibiotic infusion treatment, he recommended that in an excess of caution I finish it. So: one more week wearing the bag, and then I can be normal again. Thank whatever powers there may be!

When you share medical information with friends, as I have done here, said friends take delight in sharing horror stories with you. My friends came through in grand style. Their tales filled me with dire imaginings. I grew feverish. I could feel my bones rotting away. I could hear the swish of the grim reaper’s robe as he shuffled toward me in the dark.

Today, I feel great. I’m back on the ball at PT, where I can now pedal forward on the stationary bike for a full ten minutes, cheerful once again at home, sleeping well. Well, aside from my achey knee, which still wakes me up from time to time, but I’ve been oxycodone-free for a week now. Life is good again, full of promise. I should be back at the air museum in a couple of weeks, and riding my bike in no time.

But if you think I’m in a big hurry to get my second knee replaced, think again. I had no idea surgery was so risky these days. Tell you what, if you’re considering elective surgery, don’t do it if you absolutely don’t need it. The longer you stay in hospital … the longer you’ll stay in hospital.

*Okay, one story: I once led a four-ship of F-15s from Soesterberg AB in the Netherlands across the Atlantic and down the east coast to Eglin AFB in Florida. It was about a ten-hour flight, with two air refueling tankers to escort us and keep our tanks topped off. You can’t fly that long without peeing; I filled three bags during the flight. When we took off we each had a box lunch containing sandwiches and cans of juice. I don’t know where the other guys stowed their full piddle packs, but I put mine inside my now-empty lunch box and shoved it to the back of the right console, where it sat on top of the map case.

When we landed at Eglin we had to clear customs. Ground control directed us to stay in our cockpits, engines running and canopies down, until the US Customs inspectors arrived. We tried to comply but it was a hot Florida day, maybe 90 degrees and 90 percent humidity, and we were all wearing poopie suits (full-body watertight rubber suits designed to keep us alive one or two minutes longer than we’d otherwise survive should we have to bail out into frigid North Atlantic waters) under our flight suits. We were starting to sweat ourselves to death. After waiting five minutes with no customs truck in sight, I signaled my wingmen to open canopies, shut down, and deplane. Each of us went directly to the shade under our wings, where we stripped off our boots and flight suits, then peeled off our poopie suits, then zipped ourselves back into our flight suits. And that’s when the customs truck finally pulled up. Two enraged agents jumped out and started yelling at us. I said, yell at me, I’m the flight lead and I told my guys to get out. So they yelled at me for a while. And then one of them shinnied up the crew ladder to my cockpit and climbed back down with a box in his hand. “What’s this?” he demanded, as he opened the lid and pulled out one of the bags. As soon as he realized what it was he dropped it to the ramp, along with the box and the two remaining bags. Lord, it was hard keeping a straight face.

They asked us a few questions, cleared us, and left. They didn’t go back up any crew ladders to look into the large spaces behind each of our ejection seats. Which were stuffed with Dutch cheese and bottles of German wine.

Obviously this story begs a follow-on question: what do fighter pilots do when they have to shit? Answer: they don’t.

© 2013, Paul Woodford. All rights reserved.

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