Fear of Flying: Forget Crashing, Just Pray You Don’t Get Sick

Before I begin, two notes about what is to follow.  First, the dates, times and descriptions of the  following events  are accurate and true.  Second, some personal details have been altered to protect the identities of those involved. I break the cardinal rule of blogging here by not abbreviating this story but to shorten it would not do it justice.

 

A good introduction to this story might be a look back at a prior post about the need (or lack of) for my presence during an out of office medical emergency.

Ok, get the idea?

This past week we enjoyed a fabulous vacation in Arizona. We hiked amazing terrain, relaxed under the bluest of skies, and let the warm sun melt away the stress of recent weeks. So needless to say, it was with a heavy heart that I lugged my kids and hastily packed luggage through the Phoenix airport and to the dreaded security line.

Because we had spent a small fortune on Prickly Pear Margaritas, Chris decided that we should take the smallest of our six suitcases and carry it on. I had done all the packing under the influence of one such margarita and knew that the smallest bag was full of shoes…nasty, moist, well worn shoes.

Without a second thought,  that bag went up on the conveyer belt along with two pairs of adult shoes, three kids back packs, two adult back packs, two laptops, two iPads, three iPhones, Haddies favorite blankie (given to her at birth,) and a pair of David Yurman bangles.

As we waited for our stuff at the end of the line, I was so consumed with keeping my eyes fixed on my bracelets and the blankie that I failed to notice that the “shoe bag” was getting a lot of attention.

Sure enough, the kind looking TSA worker wearing the finest blue forensic gloves (she may be needed on the set of CSI next) pulled our family aside. Much the way I had years before extracted a festering surgical sponge from a patients newly tightened vagina, Agent Morris extracted a leaking ziplock bag from the outer pocket of the shoe suitcase. Dove Body Wash, Suave Detangler, No-name sunscreen. Oh well.. I thought as I eyed my watch (we were boarding in 20 minutes).

Just as she tossed the bag into the trash bin, my eye caught the smallest bottle in  the bunch: my Bvlgari White Tea Body Lotion-retail price $80.00.

NOOOOOOOO! I cried.

Plunk. Too late. It was gone. My choices were to try to fish it out, go back to check the bag and risk being late for the flight or, sit down on the floor and cry.

I opted for the latter.

As husband and kids swirled around I distinctly heard Chris saying “C’mon Cat–this is NOTHING to cry about! We will get more lotion…so many worse things can happen!”

It only added insult to injury that our flight was delayed 40 minutes so I could have, in fact, salvaged my lotion.

Finally we are on the plane and everyone is settled with their devices. “No. Haddie, you cannot watch Brave until the pilot says its ok…because he is the pilot and he is in charge of everything that happens on this plane. ”

“No Maisy, you may not use my laptop to do your homework because I am going to use it.”

“No, I am not being selfish, it is MY laptop.”

“No, I am not only thinking about myself…I am thinking about the 816 emails I need to respond to.”

Headphones were slammed on (connected to nothing as devices were not yet allowed.) The message was clear: “Mother, I would rather pretend that I am listening to music than keep my eardrums exposed to anything you may have to say.”

At 30,000 feet, I had spent my $14 on in-flight internet and was knee deep in various emails when the  intercom crackled to life.  A slightly panic stricken flight attendant came on asking for a doctor or nurse or “any medical person” to step forward.

Instinct beat rational thinking as my hand went up (clearly my last experience had not left a mark.) I was ushered to the front of the plane where lay the most ashen appearing man. He had an oxygen mask. Someone swiftly put a sphygmomanometer in my hand.

Instinctively, I started talking  and got the story…he had stood up, felt dizzy and nauseous and fainted. I called for someone to get a list of any medications he may have taken. I was rewarded with a large ziplock bag devoid of Bvlgari  but full of blood pressure and cardiac meds. Flight attendants buzzed around with useless information.  I nodded absentmindedly as my heart sank right along with mercury on the dial.

58/40.

I did it again.

56/42.

It was not a mistake. This man had no blood pressure and his life was in danger.

I heard my voice ask for an emergency kit.

Blank stares from 4 flight attendants.

“You know, IVs, medicine, a defibrillator—anything?”

Finally, someone moved. A giant black bag landed on the floor next to my feet along with the sweetest words out of the mouth of an angel: “Doc, I am an ER nurse, can I help you?” Inside: HELL YEAH!! THANK GOD!:  Outside: “Sure, thanks. How about putting a 20 guage in Lester’s  AC vein so we can give him some fluids?”

We got to work, Jackie and I. We had never laid eyes on each other but moved in such harmony you would think we had worked together a lifetime.

Fluids ran, BP was repeated, medications  were poured over.

70/50.

Color was returning to Lester’s face but his  cool clammy skin still made my stomach flip.

The cockpit door opened and my eyes come face to face with the shiniest, nicest pair of loafers I think I have ever seen a man wear.  Captain Atkins was exactly what you would imagine a pilot to be: tall, tan,  handsome, composed, and completely clueless about the goings on at his feet.

“So.” He begins. “I understand we have a situation here. I am going to use this lavatory and then I would like the details.” With that, he stepped over our laid out patient, barely missing my outstretched hand holding the IV line in place.” Jackie and I exchanged knowing looks.

Moments later he appears again. Relieved. Ready for the “scoop.” Thankfully Jackie explained the medical status slowly and clearly. As he blinked  blankly, I felt my blood begin to boil.

The Tower had been notified. They had contacted their physician liasons on the ground The bottom line was we needed to get this man’s blood pressure to 90/60 or our fearless leader was going to have to divert the plane to St. Louis.

“90/60 girls…that’s the magic number…get me that number and I will get us all home on time.”

Whew. So glad to have some real incentive now I was actually going to take a nap, now I think I’ll hang here with Les.

We kept at it. Adjusting fluids. Lifting legs above heart. Spreading blankets and commandeering all available pillows.

Finally, we had it. 92/60. Lester even smiled once or twice. We all breathed relief. Well, that is until I realized that for the entire three hours I had my back to the main cabin. In a squatting position. In my favorite low rise jeans.  My relief at Lester’s improvement was squelched by the realization that I had exposed all of those people to my very own plumber’s butt.

Despite the improvement, Lester was not stable. Jackie and I were afraid to move because everytime Les’ head was moved up a few inches or repositioned in anyway, his pressure would drop. We pulled the head flight attendant aside and asked how quickly we could land in St. Louis.

“Uh…St. Louis honey? We missed that window hours ago. We are going to Philly!”

Fuck.

How long till we land? I stammer. By now, I cannot feel my toes and my bladder is the size of Rhode Island.

One hour. Three and a half hours had passed in a blink.

Jackie and I talked and figured that the best plan was to just hold steady until we landed. We were not moving our patient no matter what. For anything. Till we landed.

Think again.

Captain Atkins was out again. He smiled. His #1 was flying the plane while he sparkled white veneers at us.

“Nice work ladies.” Now, we are going to need to get this man into a seat with his seat belt fastened for landing.

In one voice, Jackie and I emphatically shout “No way!” She follows up in her soothing, not at all like my irate-wanna-kick-him-in the-face-voice: “Sir, we absolutely cannot move this patient. If we do, his blood pressure plummets. No, we cannot give him more fluids because we gave him all you have on board.”

He straightens up, looks pensive for a moment and says “I don’t want to influence your care, but in order to land this plane, I need this man in a seat with his seat belt fastened.”

“Well, Sir, I guess we all better get used to cruising at 30,000 feet because THERE IS NO WAY IN HELL YOU ARE GOING TO GET THIS MAN IN AN F’N SEAT WITH HIS GODDAMN SEAT BELT FASTENED!”

A well meaning flight attendant chimes in “Couldn’t you give CPR or something?”

In my most seething, barely controlled angry whisper I say “Um, well, generally we don’t like to give CPR to PATIENTS THAT ARE AWAKE!”

By now, Jackie and I do not need to speak, we just use eyes to communicate.

I am intimidated by this tall uniformed man standing over me so I choose to stand too.

I pull my panties out of my ass, hoist my waistband over my crack, and tug my shirt down in the back. “Explain to me what happens in a situation where it is just not feasible or safe to put a passenger in a seat for landing.”

He is so somber. I expect him to say something catastrophic like “Well, we fly around until we run out of gas and then fall out of the sky to meet our fate…deserved fate that is —for not having everyone seated in a seat with their seat belt fastened.”

“Well” He has the tone of one speaking to a two year old. “We need to declare an emergency. ”

Wordlessly my eyes question “and?”

“And, well that means A LOT of paperwork.”

Welcome to my world Captain Atkins.  Need a pen?

We secured our patient in the first class aisle. Jackie and I sat in our seats with our seatbelts fastened and leaned over monitoring him closely and periodically checking his blood pressure and responsiveness.

Finally we feel the rumble of the Philly asphalt beneath us.

I have never been more relieved than I was to see the flashing lights of the ambulance waiting by the jetway. Once the EMTs were aboard I got up and headed back to my seat. I am stunned as the entire cabin erupts in applause and high fives. I hear from the back my kids shouting “way to go Mom!”

I am embarassed, proud, exhausted and glad to be home all at once.

As we wearily head to baggage claim I remember my lost lotion and Chris’ words. I made a silent promise to never ever cry over spilled lotion again.

Comments

  1. Rose Maio says:

    You are an amazing woman! I am sure that Lester was thankful you were on that plane.

  2. Cari says:

    You rock, Christine! Makes me proud to call you my doctor.

  3. Krista says:

    Awesome job! What a jerk that pilot was “a lot of paperwork”…

  4. C.W. says:

    You were right, no way you could have shortened that post and conveyed all that happened. Keep up the great doctoring and blogging!

  5. Christine McLarnon says:

    It is unfair that you get to be a fabulous doc, Super-Woman AND an awesome writer! Thanks for sharing.

  6. Heather Wood says:

    Way to go Dr. Meyer!!! You rock! Wow a great story and you are such an amazing Dr and person, Lester was lucky to have you on his flight. I hope that Captain realizes what a boob he is, and thinks twice before he opens his mouth again. He needs to be retrained to learn what is priority, the customer who could have died or having everyone in their seat to avoid paperwork. Sorry Captain Butthead, but I guess you actually had to work that day!

  7. Wow. Terrible experience, great story. Great job, Doc!! :D Thank goodness that ER nurse was there to help with your patient, and your patience! Lester was a lucky man that day… did you ever find out what happened to him after you landed?

  8. Christine says:

    Thanks you all for the kind words and praise! I was just stunned by the ineptitude of that flight crew. It seems to me at least one person on every flight should have a bit of medical training..right?

  9. Julia Welbon says:

    Dear Christine, I’m so glad you had a good break in AZ, where I’m spending a lot of time these days, with my doing-well centenarian dad. I’m so grateful you’re my doc and hope you keep coming forward in these situations. You make a difference in and out of the office every day and encourage others to step up! Brava! Julia W.

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