Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Adventures in the Air

I don't fly often enough to have earned the title of - or any of the perks associated with - "Frequent Flyer", but I take to the skies a few times each year and as a result have accumulated a beaten up rolling suitcase's worth of stories about lost luggage, odd passengers, and crazy delays. (You can read about a couple of my "favorites" here and here.) On my recent trip, however, I experienced two in-the-air "firsts". I wrote about one of these firsts on Monday, but I thought the other deserved a little screen time as well.

After an uneventful hop from College Station to Dallas, I boarded my second flight and it took off on time. As we reached our cruising altitude I leaned back in my seat, took a deep breath, and said to myself, "Wow! Two on-time flights in a row!"

Just seconds later, the flight attendant's voice rang out over the loudspeaker.

"If we have a doctor on our plane this morning, could they please press their call button?"

Her tone didn't suggest she felt nervous or tense, so while all of the passengers on the plane - myself included - looked around at one another with quizzical looks on their faces, none made a move toward the buttons above their heads.

Not 15 seconds later, the flight attendant spoke into the loudspeaker again, this time with a greater sense of urgency in her voice.

"If we have a doctor aboard, please come to the back of the plane immediately."

With that, a young man in first class - I'll call him Doogie Howser from this point on because he looked somewhere between 16 and 19 years of age - jumped up and ran past me down the aisle.

For the next few minutes the plane buzzed with activity. The flight attendants gathered the first aid kit, the oxygen tank, and the automated external defibrillator. The patient - a 60ish male traveling alone - had passed out for an unknown reason, and given his age, Doogie Howser and the flight staff likely assumed this had occurred because of a heart issue. (I'm not a doctor or a nurse, but I have taken and taught enough American Red Cross First Aid, CPR, and AED classes to know that when an adult loses consciousness, the cause is almost always cardiac-related.) Doogie Howser applied the AED pads to the patient's chest to monitor heart rate and potentially shock the heart if needed, put the patient on oxygen, and started an IV.

After about 15 minutes of in-air treatment, the pilot came over the loudspeaker and said what we as passengers had been expecting to hear: "Ladies and gentlemen, because of a medical situation, we will be making an emergency landing in Tulsa, Oklahoma." We began our descent, and a few minutes later we landed in Tulsa and were immediately met on the tarmac by a team of at least eight paramedics and fire fighters. These first responders cruised quickly and calmly up and down the aisle for about 10 minutes, at which point they rolled an airplane-compatible wheelchair onto the plane.

The medical team loaded the patient into the chair and slowly wheeled him toward the front door. As he rolled past my row, the patient's glasses began to fall out of his right front pocket. I watched as they became wedged between the patient's leg and the armrest of the seat in front of me, and then without thinking, I gently grabbed the paramedic's arm and loudly exclaimed, "WAIT! You're crushing his glasses!" The paramedic backed the chair up, and the glasses fell out of the patient's pocket and onto the floor in front of me. I picked them up, handed them to the paramedic, and then sat back in my chair feeling far more accomplished than made sense given my minuscule role in the response efforts. As Hallie put it when I told her this story at the end of the weekend, "Mama, you really saved the day!"

Career-wise I ended up working for the Red Cross and eventually becoming a writer, but a part of me dreamed of a career in medicine. As I mentioned in Monday's post, I have always been a medical gawker. (I grew up near a hospital, and the arrival of the med flight helicopter triggered in me the same response most children have when they hear the ice cream truck rolling down the street.) I felt awful for the patient on the plane, but that flight was one of the most exciting of my life. And while the flight attendants wouldn't let me watch Doogie Howser up close and didn't need my Red Cross skills, I was thrilled to have joined in the rescue...of the glasses.

Note #1: though I can't be certain, the patient seemed to be stable and out of immediate danger by the time he was removed from the plane. 

Note #2: Doogie Howser turned out to be a fully-trained anesthesiologist who just happened to look young. 

Note #3: If you need a good laugh, watch this clip of comedian Jack Whitehall talking about a recent experience on an airplane - it brought tears to my eyes, in a good way.

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