Not all fun in Finland . . .

Updated: Dec 31, 2021

I’ve just come home from a really fun trip to Lapland, Finland. I will remember the positives, but I also want to write about the traumatic experience I went through at the end of my trip. Travelling with both an eating disorder and epilepsy has always been challenging. And on this particular trip, my problems led to a very distressing incident which I’m still recovering from.

'Being away from my routines is hard, with no gym and different eating habits. But I always try to ignore those voices in my head and just focus on my trip and the memories I’m making'

Firstly, the issue of taking my ED on holiday with me. Being away from my routines is hard, with no gym and different eating habits. But I always try to ignore those voices in my head and just focus on my trip and the memories I’m making. I had so much fun in the winter wonderland that is Lapland. But at the same time, less exercise and much more food made it very stressful at times and I was looking forward to going home and getting back to normal.

I arrived at the airport, early as always! I made it through security fine. I was flying with Finnair, and I was irritated when my flight home was delayed for an hour and my Covid test had to be cancelled. But I used mindfulness strategies to not worry; I sat there and kept thinking about getting home, back to the gym, seeing family and friends and having fun training to my 80s music.

I got up just to put some things in the bin - and I had a tonic clonic fit. Epilepsy is the other travel companion that I sadly cannot leave at home. As I’ve blogged about before, it is a very misunderstood condition and people often overreact. If I’ve been unconscious for 10 minutes, then I need to go to hospital. But if I’m up and about again straight away, I just need a glass of water and some reassurance as I get my bearings back, and then I am fine. Tired and headachy, but fine.

This time, the fit was brief and I woke within 3 minutes, scared and stressed. A very kind British woman understood what was happening and reminded me of where I was. In 10 minutes I could tell my name and remember what I had been doing in Finland. The medics of the airport came to check me over and confirmed that I was fine. I knew I could still get my flight, as I have previously when I’ve had a brief fit at an airport. But the airline staff said ‘no, she cannot fly’. I showed them my Tap2Tag wristband, informing them I was fine to travel, but they refused. I was told that I could not fly unless I went to the hospital and got a certificate from a doctor.

"2 large security guards pushed me to the ground, put heavy pressure on my legs and put me in handcuffs"

Being a delayed late afternoon flight, I knew this would mean staying another day and I panicked. My eating disorder told me, ‘no exercise, you’ve gained so much weight, you’ll never loose weight’ etc. and I became extremely distressed. I burst into tears and shouted “you have to let me go home, please let me go home!”, waving my arms around. The next minute, 2 large security guards pushed me to the ground, put heavy pressure on my legs and put me in handcuffs. It was just like what I’d seen in the movies when someone is arrested! It hurt an incredible amount, and my wrists and arms were very sore and aching. I shouted that it hurt and was crying so much, but they wouldn’t listen. It instantly triggered memories of the rape - trying to get up but not allowed. All the while, an aeroplane-load of passengers were watching what was happening and I felt very embarrassed. After 10 or so minutes, I got up and was forced to the ambulance, where I was put on the bed and a bandage was put around my legs. I still had the handcuffs on which felt like they were tearing into my wrists. I can’t recall ever crying so much and feeling so distressed. I was extremely scared and felt so alone.

On the way to the hospital, the handcuffs were finally taken off and I was transported into the A&E ward. I had a very nice nurse waiting, and she spoke good English. After waiting a few hours, the doctor came to check me over and, as I knew, I was absolutely fine. I was alone on the hospital bed for 8 hours, communicating with my parents, booking a hotel and a flight and sorting new Covid documents. I felt so lonely and scared that I wouldn’t be going home to the UK and still exhausted from the fit and pain in my arms and wrist.

Imogen wearing a pink jacket and face mask in hospital
At the hospital waiting to be discharged, achy and sore

I eventually got a letter of travel permission from the very nice doctor, and the nurse booked me a taxi to the hotel, who were very kind and helpful. The following day I got onto the morning flight home and couldn’t have been happier and more relieved when we landed at Heathrow.

I really want to raise awareness of how to handle an epileptic fit and not overreact. The airport staff could have checked my wristband, listened to the medic who said I was good to go, and let me on the flight. More importantly, the airport security acted appallingly. To wrestle me to the floor and handcuff me was completely disproportionate, and they should be ashamed of using unnecessary force on a woman who had just had a fit. I will certainly be writing a strongly worded letter!

I want to share my story so others can see how people with difficulties are sometimes treated unfairly. I refuse to let this horrendous experience affect any of my good memories of Lapland. I will cherish the dog sledging and the walking through the snowy forest, the place, the people and animals. But I have learnt to avoid Finnair and will be using British Airways from now on!

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