In response to Randy Danielsen’s story of emergency response on the airplane, a experienced flier attests that when you travel frequently, you will eventually be called upon to aid a passenger in distress.
Having accrued one million miles just last week on a major airline, I can attest that if you fly enough, at some point you will be asked to assist in an emergency.
My first encounter more than a dozen years ago featured a “pregnant female in distress,” which turned out to be nothing more than eight hours of flying without eating due to nausea. The simple fix was a glass of cold orange juice, some snacks, and convincing the young lady that it’s important to eat when pregnant and not skip small, frequent meals.
The second incident, about a decade ago, involved a full-blown cardiac arrest with CPR for close to 20 minutes and diversion to an airport from 35,000+ feet—unfortunately, with a bad outcome. A death inflight is considered a “suspicious death,” and believe me, there is a lot of paperwork to complete—and the plane is going nowhere until the authorities are satisfied that nothing criminal was happening on board.
My final situation (to date) was just a few years ago. My wife and I were at about the halfway point on a transatlantic flight from Turkey to the US when a traveler in the row in front of us had a grand mal seizure. You can imagine the man’s panicked spouse, screaming at the top of her voice, the sheer terror in the eyes of the aircraft staff, and the surrounding passengers freaking out. In situations like this, you really have to move fast to help secure the “patient,” calm the other passengers, and give direct and decisive orders to show you are in charge. We clinicians know that within a short time, the seizure will stop; but that 30 to 60 seconds will seem like an eternity to others.
My advice is to expect the unexpected when you travel. Others will help, and the aircraft crew will bend over backward to assist you in any way possible. You will feel limited, with limited resources (an emergency kit, O2, and maybe an AED). In most cases, if the situation does not improve dramatically, do not hesitate to ask for a diversion.
My final comment is that most inflight illnesses are minor and self-limiting in nature—and that 35,000 feet is no place to panic or cause more distress!