1. Adj.: Describing a person born between 1 Jan. 1946 and 31 Dec. 1964
2. Adj.: Description of a person, place or thing possessing Baby Boomer je ne sais quoi
3. See also, Boomer, Esq.: A Baby Boomer who is also a licensed attorney (See, e.g., About).

Baby Boomer Travel Induced Hypochondria

by Suzanne Fluhr on April 5, 2013 · 41 comments


As Boomeresque readers know, my husband, Steve, and I returned from a trip to Hawaii at the end of February. We live in Philadelphia, so despite the curious fact that the island state of Hawaii actually has roads that are denoted “Interstate” highways, this meant our trip involved about 24 hours in various airplanes to get there and back. 

Interstate Highway H1, Honolulu, Oahu, Hawaii

Interstate Highway in Hawaii? Huh?

I guess technically, we could have cobbled together a series of cruises to Hawaii, starting in Baltimore or New York City. (For some reason that I cannot fathom (pun sooo intended), no mass market cruises have started in Philadelphia since 2010.) We would then have had to find a cruise to traverse the Panama Canal, sail up the west coast of Mexico and chug across 2,274 miles of Pacific Ocean. Since one of us still has a full time day job, that would have taken entirely too much time.

Two long airplane trips were our only realistic travel option. When we fly, Steve and I persist in engaging in magical thinking by picking aisle and window economy seats and expecting no one to be seated between us. The truth is that the airplane industry has figured out that a sustainable business model requires that their planes fly full. Hence, soon after taking an assigned middle seat (depressing enough in itself), some unlucky fellow passenger realizes that he or she is ensconced between a husband and wife who, throughout the flight, will pass snacks, water, reading material and the occasional note back and forth over them.

Airplane passengers waiting to board crowded airplane

Fellow Passengers Waiting to Board One of Our Completely Full Flights

In economy class on airplanes, we sit closer to complete strangers for longer periods of time than any of us would willingly tolerate if we were not needing to get somewhere far away fairly quickly. The truth is that while we are touching knees, entangling feet, and sharing an armrest and the occasional shoulder with the poor soul in the middle seat, we are also partaking of the same recirculated air and using the same rest rooms (um, rest closets?) as the others also confined to our metal tube.

We weathered our twelve hours of flying time to Hawaii without contracting any illnesses that would have interfered with our enjoyment of a thirteen day break from winter. On our trip back to Philadelphia, our main concern was whether we would make our connecting flight in San Francisco. We should also have had another concern. Within half a day of returning home, it became clear that somewhere during our trip, one or more of our fellow travelers had shared some nasty microbes.

Person with a headache

Recreation of the Author’s Posture While Suffering From an Intractable Headache for Four Days

Steve came down with a generic sore throat, cough and feeling crummy virus. He soldiered on and waited until the weekend to collapse. I, on the other hand, immediately took to my bed with a stomach virus and fever. I will spare you the details because that would be definitely TMI (too much information). When the nausea and fever subsided a few days later, I commenced having a four day headache that was not particularly responsive to ibuprofen, my usual cure all pain remedy.

This is when being a disability lawyer married to a physician is not a good thing. I am not your every day, garden variety hypochondriac. I am a hypochondriac with special knowledge. I didn’t even have to resort to WebMD to come up with possible diagnoses of a leaking brain aneurysm, a brain tumor, an incipient stroke or encephalopathy of unknown origin.

Finally, after four days of being in a head pain filled daze, right before I was going to suggest to Steve that he was being negligent in not recommending a brain CT scan and that he was going to feel very sorry if I expired from lack of medical intervention — I started to feel better. The pain subsided and my mind cleared. (Of course, this does not mean I will be so lucky the next time I have a headache).

Rather than wallow in toxic self pity and self loathing about everything I did not accomplish during my lost week, I decided to see the silver lining. I got a nice jump start on losing weight so I won’t  look like a sausage in my mother of the groom dress in May.

Does anyone else want to fess up to occasionally being a hypochondriac?

{ 41 comments… read them below or add one }

Deanna April 5, 2013 at 4:03 am

Ohh, this is the worst. When we lived in Hawaii, we never made it back to the East Coast for a visit without one or all of us getting wretchedly ill. You have my sympathies.

Also, I can answer the Interstate thing–the roads were built using federal funds earmarked for the creation of interstate roads. Thanks to bureaucracy, they share the name (if not the interstate function) of mainland federal highways.


Suzanne Fluhr April 5, 2013 at 8:07 am

I’m just really grateful it didn’t happen going the other way.

I figured that the Hawaiian “Interstate” highways had something to do with the program under which they received funding. When they started the program (during the Eisenhower administration in the 1950’s), I don’t think anyone could imagine that Oahu would need major highways—–nor that they would have major traffic jams.


Debbie April 6, 2013 at 1:23 am

Well, my mother is a hypochondriac and has been “dying” of something, long as I can remember. First, her mantra was “I’ll never get old”, then, when she did, it changed to “This will be my last Christmas”. HA! She just turned 89 last Monday. Due to her wailing and moaning, I took the complete opposite tactic and rarely consider the possibility that something really is wrong. MY mantra is “it’ll go away”. Good thing my doctor insisted I get a colonoscopy a few years ago, (I have a history of IBS and stomach issues), because they found a pre-cancerous polyp! There has to be a happy medium in there, somewhere. LOL Glad you are feeling better, now.


Suzanne Fluhr April 6, 2013 at 1:41 am

I remember seeing a gravestone in a cemetery in Key West, Florida. The deceased died at age 95. Right under the date of birth and date of death it said, “See, I told you I was sick.” 🙂


Poppaea April 6, 2013 at 4:49 pm

I have gotten so anal-compulsive about the possibly of contracting illnesses when sharing the canned air on flights, I have taken to wearing a medical face mask. Don’t care how much of a geek I look like.

Glad you’re feeling better.

Please feel free to stop and see us if you ever pass through San Francisco again. Have fun being mom-of-the-groom!


Suzanne Fluhr April 6, 2013 at 5:07 pm

Wow. A mask. That’s some serious germ phobia. Now, if only the sick people would wear them.


Carol Covin April 7, 2013 at 10:59 am

Suzanne, I’m so sorry to hear about your headache. Sounds miserable. I think you pretty much can’t travel anywhere, long flight, close quarters or no, without being exposed to colds you have no immunity to. The only thing you can do is wash your hands often, don’t touch your mouth or eyes and hope for the best. Sounds like the trip was great, otherwise.


Suzanne Fluhr April 7, 2013 at 10:35 pm

Carol, it’s true that in addition to being exposed to new interesting cultures, food and sights while traveling, it’s impossible also to not be exposed to “foreign” germs—as in “foreign” to the traveler’s immune system. Otherwise, it was a great trip—so we definitely will continue to get into long metal tubes to be whisked to every corner of the globe. That’s the thing about human beings—hope seems to spring eternal.


Patti April 7, 2013 at 4:42 pm

First… I think couples book the window and aisle seats because they hope no one will sit in the middle and they could have the row to themselves. Rarely, does this happen anymore because as you say most flights are packed these days. We’ve taken to booking two aisle seats across from each other. I tease my hubby that he just doesn’t want to talk to me or hold my hand through turbulence, but really, it’s a good solution.

Second… On our return flight from Paris to Washington, D.C. I sat (row of 4 seats) next to a young woman who was clearly ill. She coughed, sneezed and sniffled the entire flight. I was SO worried I was going to catch whatever it was, but I popped a Claritin in hopes of keeping it at bay and it worked.

p.s. I “hate” to fly for so many reasons. If there was a bridge across the oceans I’d drive every time. Ha!


Suzanne Fluhr April 7, 2013 at 10:37 pm

Hmm. I wonder why Richard Branson hasn’t come up with the Bridge Across the Ocean idea. 😉


The Guy April 7, 2013 at 5:29 pm

Sorry to hear of the illness, always a frustration when this sort of thing happens and interferes in a long planned and awaited trip.

Interesting in your choice of seats. Whilst I’m sure it would be a pleasure to be sat with you two I’m surprised the person in the middle doesn’t offer to swap with one of you.


Suzanne Fluhr April 7, 2013 at 10:42 pm

Actually, people do offer to swap seats with us — every time. But, I like the window seat and my husband likes the aisle seat. I thank them and explain that we’ve been married for over 30 years, so we can endure being one seat apart for even 10 hours 😉


Catarina April 8, 2013 at 6:21 am

Sorry to hear about your headache and glad it wasn’t serious.

Have most of my life been a frequent flier and have never contracted any illness while flyging all over the world. It’s just bad luck when we happen to be on a plane and get ill as a result.

For long flights I always try to get an aisle seat even if I’m in business. That way I don’t need to step on another passenger if I need to go to the bathroom.


Suzanne Fluhr April 8, 2013 at 7:19 am

Catarina, thanks for joining the conversation. I agree that the aisle seat has its plusses—starting with the one you mention. I like the window seat because no one will be climbing over me. There will still be climbing going on, but I get to decide when. I also don’t want to give up the joy of looking out the window. To be sure, there are many hours of flight time with nothing to see, but there are other hours when I have my eyes glued to the window.


A.K.Andre April 9, 2013 at 9:17 am

I think travel is such a stressful thing these days that if there wasn’t a bit of hypochondria, or at least an anticipation of picking up some horrible bug during the trip or on the plane it would be an unusual thing. I do sometimes dwell to long on things that are minor, but as I recognise it in myself ,I’m not too worried about it. Glad you got rid of the headache!
Happy to find your blog and connect with you:-)


A.K.Andrew April 9, 2013 at 9:19 am

Oops! In my haste ,I managed to misspell my own name in comment above! Now how unfocused is that?


Suzanne Fluhr April 9, 2013 at 9:27 am

Been there. Done that. 🙂


Linda Bibb April 9, 2013 at 2:47 pm

With all the traveling we do as bloggers, my husband Dan and I have finally – after three years – settled on a way to avoid having someone sit between us: We sit across the aisle from each other.

By giving up his favorite window seat/wall to nap against, he can now stretch his legs and use the rest room (closet) whenever he wants. He can easily satisfy his midnight, mid-flight munchies in the galley. And we can now pass whatever we want to each other without getting up-close-and-personal with someone else’s breathing space. Yep, works for us.


Suzanne Fluhr April 9, 2013 at 3:47 pm

That’s obviously the thing to do, but unlike Dan, I’m not ready (I don’t think) to give up my like-affair with the window—to lean on, to look out of to make sure the pilot is landing on the runway. 😉


Madaline Fluhr April 13, 2013 at 8:46 pm

As you know, Suzanne, I am a very experienced hypochondriac. The fact that, occasionally, something is preemptively fended off because one insists on getting something “rechecked” sooner than the time frame recommended by the medical profession, doesn’t help to alter the behavior of a died-in-the-wool hypo! What has altered my attitude and behavior is time, motherhood, the worldly responsibilities one must deal with to keep a roof over ones head and food on ones plate, etc., etc. In other words, there is not a lot of time to “dwell” on ANYTHING! Hypochondria, I’ve concluded, is a luxury, not a necessity! It’s best suited to people with a lot of discretionary time!!


Suzanne Fluhr April 14, 2013 at 7:00 pm

Hypochondriacs also need an enabler and you are lucky not to have anyone who will overindulge you. That’s kind of my situation also. Physicians’ families are typically over treated or undertreated. Guess which we are.


Cathy Severson April 14, 2013 at 6:50 pm

I seem to get sick for at least 24 hours every time we go overseas. Our last days in Budapest last fall, I got a cold. I was also sick-24 hour kind in Morocco and in Thailand. I remember exactly what everyone else got to do while I was in a hotel room sleeping. Sorry about the lost week. It’s very disappointing.


Suzanne Fluhr April 14, 2013 at 7:02 pm

It’s the new germs that our immune systems generally haven’t been exposed to when we travel far afield. I remember during college that the week after a long break, everyone would return from all around the country and everyone would get sick. BTW, my lost week was after we returned home—far better than a lost week of vacation!


Madaline Fluhr April 20, 2013 at 11:54 am

Follow-up on “Travel Hypochondria”. My previous comment didn’t particularly apply to travel, but hypochondria, in general. Travel-wise – I do seem to get sick (a cold, scratchy throat) every time I fly to Philly. Being totally honest, it may have more to do with the fact that I generally pull virtual all-nighters the night before traveling (packing, finishing up work projects, etc.), rather than germs picked up from fellow travelers and bad air on the plane. I’m determined to test my hypothesis…..I vow to pack in advance and plug away at the workload this week. Of course, our 6:00 am flight from SF on 4/27 doesn’t help my test case, but I vow to at least go to sleep at a decent time the night before. Stay tuned……


Jenny May 6, 2013 at 10:38 am

Okay- I just have to point out that we have no way of knowing that you wouldn’t have gotten sick anyway even without getting on a plane and going to Hawaii. Lots of people who don’t travel still experience illness.

Glad you’re feeling better!


Jeannette June 11, 2013 at 6:33 pm

I can so relate to this! Loved our trip to Hawaii, except for the flight time. I want to go back but I’m not interested in flying there. Course – don’t want to cruise there either….Did get deathly ill when flying to Alaska, though – URI – Ugh! Almost ruined the trip, but thankfully brought along my “goodie” health bag.


Suzanne Fluhr June 11, 2013 at 7:22 pm

Traveling there is the price we pay for getting there. I’m not ready to give up getting there and being there 😉


Bobbi McBride July 22, 2013 at 6:24 pm

WOW! What a depressing self-loathing article! Is your cup half full or half empty? Maybe you shouldn’t travel anymore, and if you do…DON’T WRITE ABOUT IT!


Suzanne Fluhr July 22, 2013 at 9:14 pm

I hope you read my post about the Hawaii Tropical Botanical Garden.

Most of the time, my cup is more than half full, but I admit that Februaries are tough. Some people get sick of a never ending stream of Pollyanna stories. My experience is that my readers prefer knowing I’m human — like they are. 😉


Judy Freedman October 30, 2016 at 11:05 pm

I feel for you. My boyfriend got sick after our long flight from Philadelphia to Belgium. I brought lots of cough drops and Tylenol sinus meds and gave my stash to him. Sadly there was nothing left when I wasn’t feeling well. The air on planes is just awful!


Jo October 31, 2016 at 4:25 am

Ouch, that wasn’t very nice – how inconsiderate of the person with the dodgy microbes. Glad to hear you’re feeling better now though. I hate planes for that very reason. Each year when I travel back to England to see my Mum, I nearly always end up getting some virus. I too have thought of a face mask, but think that’s a bit phobic!


Donna Janke October 31, 2016 at 5:34 am

Airline travel can be an ordeal even when we don’t catch some bug. The Internet has made it easy for those of us without specialized knowledge to discover all kinds of horrible diseases we could be suffering from, so you are not alone in imaging the worst when ill. You may have lost a week, but on the plus side you recovered and you weren’t sick during the vacation.


Suzanne Fluhr October 31, 2016 at 8:01 am

I agree. If you’re going to catch something, it’s better to do it on the way home so you can be sick in your own bed and not ruin your vacation.


The GypsyNesters October 31, 2016 at 5:48 pm

leave the middle seat open trick, but since it almost never works anymore we have given up on it. now we just book two together, ideally on a plane that has sets of two by themselves along the windows. As for fighting the soup of germs on board, don’t have any secrets to survival. Guess we could just not breathe for eight hours.


Doreen Pendgracs October 31, 2016 at 6:22 pm

Hi Suzanne. I am the opposite! I try and ignore any symptoms until I can’t ignore them anymore. Fortunately, it is not too often that I get really sick. But I did fly home from Switzerland recently and came down with a viral infection–no doubt from the germs I acquired on the plane. Usually I take echinacea for 2 weeks before I fly, while I’m away, and for a week or two after I return and that seems to keep me well. But I’d run out of echinacea before I flew to Switzerland, and look what happened! Needless to say, I shall acquire some before my next flight. Stay well …


Suzanne Stavert November 1, 2016 at 12:40 pm

I don’t mean to be insensitive, but I found your writing so clever and funny. I am not laughing at your illness, but that you can approach it with such a great sense of humor. We flew to Australia once and the person sitting behind us coughed this gooey yucky cough the entire 14 hour flight. My husband was so sick for a week of the trip. I was furious!


Irene S. Levine November 1, 2016 at 11:25 pm

We used to use the same magical thinking strategy but it is SO awkward when a stranger is in the middle. We now usually opt for two aisle seats, running the risk of getting bruised by people and carts going bak and forth on the narrow aisles:-(

Glad that you have recovered!


Debbra Dunning Brouillette November 3, 2016 at 10:22 am

Since I am leaving on a trip in two days, I am now thinking of strategies (more than ever!) to reduce my chances of picking up a stray germ on the flights. I have been paranoid the past week or so of getting a cold or other malady. Hand washing is frequent for me at all times, every time I come back in the house. I will take antibacterial wipes to wipe down the tray and seat arm rest and I keep cough drops to offer a passenger around me who may be coughing. If I have to get sick, I always want it to be after I am back!


Sue Reddel November 5, 2016 at 8:03 pm

No matter how much we try to shield ourselves from germs with anti-bacterial wipes, sprays, gels, etc. they still manage to find us. Perhaps personal bubbles on planes will be the next big thing. My sinuses have now taken to being trouble on flights and different climates. I had a horrible sinus headache in Mexico that lasted all day and night. Not fun.


Kristin Henning November 6, 2016 at 1:59 pm

It’s fun to revisit this story…because it is in the PAST! I’ve been whiny traveler of late, nursing a knee injury from this summer. WHAH whah whah. So your story caught my eye:)


Suzanne Fluhr November 10, 2016 at 10:43 pm

And I’m now undergoing physical therapy for rotator cuff impingement from being too proud (stupid) to ask for help hoisting my suitcase into overhead bins on airplanes and the like.


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