The M Word

In flight medical emergency

After 24 years, it has finally happened…
While flying home from Mexico today they paged overhead for a physician to help with a sick passenger. I was able to help, and it felt so great.
When I was 26, I was working as a consultant and liked my work well enough. I was good at it but it was not a calling. On a flight home from the east coast, a woman in the row in front of me complained of chest pain. The flight attendants paged overhead for a physician on board and an older gentleman with a black leather bag answered the call. They cleared out her row and he took care of her by giving her some medicine (I now know that it was probably aspirin and nitroglycerin), hooking up the oxygen, and talking to her. From my seat directly behind them, I could hear all that they said. To me, the questions he asked and the things he said seemed so straightforward that anyone could have asked or said them, but because he was a doctor, she felt better and we did not divert.

I wanted to be him. I had never wanted anything before then. I had gone to college because that’s what was expected of me, then graduated and started working for the same reasons. I spent the rest of the flight writing in my journal and wrestling with this crazy idea – I would have to go back to college and take (gasp) chemistry! Moreover, I would have to take all of the premed classes and the MCAT and then get through med school… When friends heard what I was about, they would ask if I was crazy and did I realize I would be almost FORTY by the time I was done?!? I just thought, I’m going to be 40 anyway and I’d rather be 40 and a doctor.
And now, I’m turning 50 in a couple of months. So very grateful to be a physician and for that doctor on the plane. I never saw his face. He will never know that he changed my life by living his as an example of what one could be and do. It feels like a butterfly effect. We never know how far away the ripples of our actions may touch a distant shore.

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