I am not a nervous flier by nature, but on the first flight I took as a newly minted doctor, I sat at uneasy attention. I was trying to relax, but my professor’s words kept echoing in my head: “When you get on a flight, you are no longer just another passenger. You’re the doctor on board.”
I’ve not yet witnessed an in-flight emergency, but many of my colleagues already have, and I know that for me and many other new doctors just finishing medical school this month, flying will never be the same.
Dr. Judy Kwok, a doctor in my training program, has been involved in two medical emergencies in the air. The first was on a flight to Hong Kong. She remembers the overhead call for a doctor filled her with “complete dread,” she told me. She walked to the front of the plane to see a woman sitting up but initially unresponsive. The woman looked sick. “What happened?” Kwok asked, amidst the chaos. Many passengers were offering opinions — most unhelpful.
The sick woman began to speak, but not in English. A passenger quickly stepped up to translate. Finally, Kwok got the story: The woman had chest pain. A medical student had also responded and took vitals. The flight attendants — who are trained to respond to these emergencies — also arrived to help. They offered her an emergency medical kit, stocked with basic supplies and medications mandated by the Federal Aviation Association. Concerned the woman might be having a heart attack, Kwok gave her aspirin and continued to monitor her.
The flight attendants radioed an emergency call center. Kwok asked if they could divert the plane, but was told by the physicians who staff the center that their flight was over Mongolia. Continue reading