Thursday, July 31, 2008

Is there a doctor on the plane?

Camilo, thanks for the encouragement. Witness is a big word.

My plan was to wrap this little blog up. Most of the sexy stuff worth writing and reading over. My final thoughts about the whole experience, the processing and reflection, will take days to weeks, a lifetime, I imagine. I'm not ready to write about that--still need to sort more of it out for myself. And as much as I would love people caring enough to read the details of my adventures heading home through 3 days in Nairobi and 16 hours in London, I dunno--seems a little presumptuous (not like the rest of the blog wasn't, but nevermind that for the time being).

But, by popular demand, the blog goes on. Yes, someone actually requested that I continue to write about these things, and include the goings on of travels and the week long international AIDS conference in Mexico City. I thought about it long and hard (ya right) and well, because you twisted by arm...

The blog continues.

Let's start with the story from the title...


A 9 hour flight really isn't that bad. You just watch a bunch of really crappy movies (like, Definitely Maybe, Jumper and another I forgot it was so bad--Drillbit), talk with randoms, and take naps. Like more than one nap. You can also drink beer.

I was 6 ounces into an Amstel can when I heard the following:

"This is your captain speaking and I would like to say bla bla bla

The call to action. I imagined myself standing up, busting my shirt off button by button like Kent to Superman, with my red cross shirt on underneath (it was), and stethoscope around my neck, ready to respond to duty's call.

This is not the first time this has happened. I'm kinda an ambulance chaser. It's always worked out just fine, before. And by fine, I mean, I feel really cool saying, "Why yes, I'm a doctor," and then not having to do anything because someone's already there taking care of everything. I've actually never really attended anyone in the field. Except for the lady that showed up with chest pain at my house, but that's another story altogether.

So, they ask for a doctor, and I was drinking beer, watching movies wondering, "What did they just say? Should I be attending someone a little buzzed at 16,000 feet?" So I ask everyone around me if they were asking for a doctor, just to let the entire right rear section of the plane know that i was, in fact, a physician. Would have been more efficient to just jump up like Leslie Neilson in Airplane and say, "Yes, I'm a doctor," throw the stethoscope over my shoulder and just march to the front of the plane with my chest all puffed out.

But I chose the more subtle route. I just sat calmly and hit the waitress button once. She didn't come. This was a medical emergency. They needed me--they said so overhead. They just asked for a doctor, I'm a doctor, I'm responding, and they're not coming. I felt like hitting the waitress button continuously until they came--"buong, buong, buong." But the Amstel hadn't drained enough of my senses to know that would have been absolutely ridiculous, so I waited patiently.

Finally, I grab one of the waitresses, and tell her I'm a doctor, asking what's going on. Never at any point, mind you, did I really think this through. A plane is about the worst place to have to see a patient. What if they were having some life threatening emergency? And I had to make the call to land immediately? Or what if they had something that might be really bad, but I wasnt sure. Ironically, the plane was limited like the third world in terms of supplies and medicines, so I should have been in familiar uncomfortable territory at least. Nonetheless, did I really want to see this guy?

"They've already got someone."

What? A combination of relief and disappointment. But I'm a doctor, and you need me. Who did they get? What kinda doctor are they? Do they need backup? A second opinion?

I mean, this was my chance. After 2 years of residency where we take care of ICU level sick patients, I was ready for a little airplane medicine--not much in comparison. I totally wanted to save the day, be needed and put my training to use. As opposed to when the woman who showed up on my doorstep the first month of intern year, I was ready.

In Mountains Beyond Mountains, Paul Farmer landed many a seat in first class because he had, on numerous occassions, responded to such calls on flights. I was totally wanting to start that kind of a relationship with Virgin Atlantic.

Not meant to be. Some other doc took care of it. Looked like appendicitis, according to the waitressing staff. They gave him some fluids and antibiotics, and hauled him off when we arrived. Interestingly, there's quite a protocol they have to go through in order to administer medicines. You have to get the captains approval, then they have to call some consult service over the phone, and they have to check out all the doctor's credentials, etc. At least they didn't call on my credentials and shoot me down because I'm still a resident. That might have been a little embarrassing, "Uhm, is there ANOTHER doctor on the plane?" They've apparently got quite a slew of medicines, in addition to the automatic defibrillator.

Rest assured, Lorenzy, you're time to save the day (or deal with the tough airline cases) will come soon enough. With an 11 hour flight from London, and 2 flights to Mexico in the next 3 days, maybe sooner than you'd like...


John said...


Wow. I finally had a chance to read your posts from your time in Tanzania. Intense, especially the one titled "Depression". I always considered you the analytical one and me the touchy/feely sensative type. I shudder at the thought of what feelings I would have had if thrust into the same situation. Well, there is a reason your a doctor and I am a CPA that sells insurance. Lar, I am proud of you man, you made a difference. Also, next time you are on a plane and they ask if there is a Doctor on board, Jump up dammit and rip your shirt of. How many chances do you get to do that in your life time. Have a great time in Mexico. Love you man...

barryllium said...

Just finished reading all the posts (I'm even farther behind than JT, this is something I need to seriously address!). I'm proud of you, bro - I feel like you've done something great. We'll definitely have to chat sometime soon - phone, facebook, maybe lure you out to the Bend - so we can figure out how to save the world!

Luke Macaulay said...

I may be the latest reader to finish off all the posts. I'm proud of your dedication to a mission of helping others. You are not only doing good work, but helping to inspire me (and others i presume) to get out of my small little world of comfort, trials and tribulations, and do something to give back to others... Good job, and see you soon.