By Susan K. Parson, FAA Safety Briefing Editor
“Surprises are foolish things. The pleasure is not enhanced, and the inconvenience is often considerable. “
— Jane Austen
It’s probably fair to say that pilots don’t like surprises, at least not when they are flying. By nature and by nurture, we are schooled in planning for pretty much everything. We are even exhorted to “expect the unexpected,” although I’ve never known quite how to do that. Aviators take pride in our well-planned lives. So it was with me.
When we talk about avoiding mid-air collisions, it’s almost a cliché that you never see the one that gets you. In that too, so it was with me. But mine didn’t happen in an airplane. Sometime in late 2021, I had a mid-air with a mosquito. I never saw it. I never heard it. I don’t even recall seeing the bite. But that unseen, unheard, and utterly unexpected encounter had an outsized impact. Its magnitude became clear in early November 2021, when my left leg and my upper right arm went on strike. The doctors suspected it right away, but only after many tests did they conclude I had a particularly virulent case of West Nile Virus.
Attitude Determines Altitude
“I believe the only thing that we really have control over is our attitude. If we focus on the positive things in our lives and learn how to cope with all the surprises, we will be happier people.”
— Brandon Jenner
The mosquito mid-air led to a lengthy hospital stay. I came home in a wheelchair with an uncertain prognosis. My long-time beau is a no-kidding candidate for sainthood, having dropped everything in his regularly scheduled life to shepherd me through months of medical appointments and physical therapy. Along with many wonderful others in my network of family, friends, and colleagues, he kept me firmly focused on the positive.
However much I wanted my healthy, mobile, independent, and normal life back immediately, we both had to adopt the attitude that I could live, breathe, and act only in the present. I had to remember that each step forward required intense minute-by-minute work on what needed to be done right then. Only through that here-and-now focus did physically impossible movements become merely difficult and, eventually, normal.
The lesson aligns with this issue of the Safety Briefing’s theme: as in life, we achieve personal aviation goals and improve safety only by aiming for professionalism and best efforts in each moment.
“Life throws surprises, sorrows, sadness, and hardship, and I think that writing has actually grounded me. It kept me grounded when everything else was falling apart.”
— Sandra Brown
The people in my life were, and are, everything. They kept faith in the darkest days and rejoiced over every milestone achieved in clawing my life back from the beastly bite of that bug.
Writing also kept me going. It has been a special privilege in my years with the FAA to serve as editor of FAA Safety Briefing and work with its talented team: Tom Hoffmann, James Williams, Jennifer Caron, and Paul Cianciolo. But since a life-changing event demands actual changes in life, I have opted to retire in January 2023 and open a new chapter, as yet unwritten.
Thank you for allowing me to write for you here. I will miss meeting you in these pages. But you will be in good hands with Tom taking the left seat, leading the crew onward in our mission to serve you as the safety policy voice for non-commercial GA. Godspeed!
Susan K. Parson (firstname.lastname@example.org) has been editor of FAA Safety Briefing. She hopes you will continue to read this publication, and she wishes you blue skies, strong tailwinds, and smooth landings.