It started the day before my flight. I had abdominal pain that just seemed to get worse throughout the day. It occurred to me that a 13 hour flight over the mostly empty Pacific Ocean wasn’t exactly the most opportune place to have appendicitis. Visions ran through my head of those Readers Digest stories about a poor doctor doing emergency surgery on a suddenly dying patient. You know the ones--when the surgical equipment consists of a pocket knife and a drinking straw, and vodka doubles as antiseptic and anesthesia. Only nowadays I suppose it would have to be a plastic knife that did the honors.
Of course, my gut pain was only indigestion that was mostly gone the next day, but the whole thought process turned out to be sort of eerie foreshadowing.
About a third of the way into the flight, the call came over the sound system, as though right out of my dreams: “Would any medical personnel that happen to be on the flight please come to row 22?” I sent up a prayer for those involved, and then attached my rubber neck. For the next few minutes, any passenger who rose to stretch their legs or go to the loo was subject to Sticky-beak Amy’s scrutinizing gaze.
An older lady rose and headed toward the front of the plane. Ah ha, perhaps this was a nurse or doctor. A few minutes later she came back again, murmuring something about stretching her legs. Then a young distinguished-looking man, perhaps of Indian decent, rose from the seat directly in front of me. I assessed him. Yes, I could easily picture him a doctor. Then he turned to his friend. “Row 22, was it?”
It was quite some time before he came back again. I dozed with one eye open so as not to miss it. When he finally appeared, he started to slip into his seat without a word. Then, lucky me (good thing I’m not a cat), he stopped and faced his friend--and by default me. “She’s pretty sick. We’re going to land early,” he explained. “We’re gonna try to put down in Hawaii.”
We all stared at him.
He laughed. “No, really, she has a fever. I gave her an Advil.”
Nothing major. Good. So that was that.
At least for the moment. Several hours later I opened my eyes to find him once again returning to his seat. “This is becoming a regular free clinic,” he said wryly. “That guy passed out.”
For the entire rest of the flight, the poor doctor was in an out of his seat, attending his patients, often summoned by a pointed glance from a flight attendant. I’m not sure whether it was just the two sick people, or whether there were more. Or perhaps I was mistaken and there was only one, I’m not sure. At one point I saw the flight attendants giving oxygen to the lady.
About an hour away from our landing in California, an announcement came once again over the loud speaker. “Hello, this is the crew captain. We have a medical situation that is rapidly becoming an emergency. We’re going to land a little early and try to get into a closer gate. Please ensure that the aisles are clear and remain in your seats until the EMTs can come take out the patient.”
I exchanged glances with the man next to me. The crew captain’s voice sounded downright shaken.
The doctor in front of us was explaining to his friend that he’d once had a patient with the same symptoms as this person. He thought the person would be fine and was going to send them home when they keeled over and died, right on his medical table.
When we arrived, I was able to see that the lady, though surrounded by EMTs, was able to exit the plane on foot. I pray she recovers quickly. I hope the generous doctor has an uneventful rest of his journey.