Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Is There A Doctor On Board?

The morning of our flight to New York was uneventful. We made it through airport security without taking much offense, and found our gate without losing our way or a small child. Boarding the plane with our crew of five, I remember thinking how relieved I felt that the hard part was done, that we could finally take a break from work responsibilities and enjoy our brief trip.

I must have momentarily forgotten that where we travel, shenanigans are sure to follow.

We all were seated in the same row, in the middle of the plane. The flight was smooth, the children well behaved, and the landing perfect. As I unbuckled and began to collect my belongings, a frantic stewardess raced from the back of the plane, almost colliding with another stewardess coming from the opposite direction. The commotion was enough to gather the attention of everyone on board.

Before long, a huddle of four panicked stewardesses arranged themselves around a passenger sitting five rows in front of our family. In a high pitched voice, an attendant yelled out the question that always causes my chest to tighten, my heart to race, and my palms to sweat: “Is there a doctor on board?”

My nervousness doesn’t come from lack of confidence in my spouse, who has practiced medicine for almost twenty years. There is very little he hasn’t seen or responded to. The anxiety comes from that same place that finds you holding your breath when your child is up to bat with two outs in the bottom of the 9th, or wringing your hands when another is only one of two remaining in the school spelling bee. Time seems suspended during those moments when you are praying for the best outcome, but prepared to comfort your loved one in case of the worst.

John stood from his seat and made his way towards the huddle of stewardesses. Years of dealing with the medical induced hysteria of yours truly only served to help his cause as he encountered the plane personnel, who made me seem calm, cool and collected. While trained in first aid, the dire situation before them was more than the training manuals had covered.

A young lady traveling alone was unresponsive. Apparently, she had boarded the plane in a somewhat confused state but not enough to warrant concern from those sitting beside her. Eventually, she closed her eyes, appearing to sleep, when in fact she was unconscious.

John arrived in time to prevent a stewardess from forcing orange juice into the mouth of the ill passenger, potentially asphyxiating her in the process. A medical alert bracelet and insulin pump identified the young lady as a diabetic, but clenched jaws prevented sugar intake. John found glucose pills in the woman’s purse and held one to the side of her mouth, hoping it would absorb through the lining.

In the meantime, passengers were directed off the plane, filing past John, the woman and the array of flight attendants. Mary Mac, our seven year old, began to feel nauseous. After turning the shade of green that signals imminent upheaval, I picked up my daughter and raced to the back of the plane to the bathroom. As she vomited, I looked towards my other two children, one of whom had taken out the video camera and WAS NOW RECORDING THE MEDICAL CRISIS OF THE POOR LADY. Holding one child over the toilet, and wishing that I had arms long enough to snatch the other, I yelled across the plane, “STOP FILMING RIGHT NOW!” I added the evil eye to emphasize the point. The flight attendants all looked at me as though I may be their next emergency.

It would be another thirty minutes before the EMT’s arrived with a stretcher. After conferring with my spouse, they carried the still unconscious lady off of the plane and through the terminal.

Another thirty minutes later, after conversations with the pilots, and forms to complete with airport administrators, we were allowed to finally disembark the plane.

We had officially arrived in New York City.

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