Coping with emergencies in the sky - By: Gambo Dori | Dailytrust

Coping with emergencies in the sky

One of the most plaintive sounds you would ever hear in an airplane, high up in the sky, would likely be: “Is there a doctor on board?” Then it dawns on you that someone is really ill and could not wait for the plane to land to get help him out of the stricken condition. This is what happened to us on an eventful Egypt-Air flight from Cairo to Abuja recently. The cry for a doctor sounded not just once but twice in the flight that had a duration of only about five hours.

The flight left Cairo as scheduled that fine Friday morning. Cairo was cool and dry with the occasional morning mist overhanging the sky. The plane had a mix of passengers, those of us who embarked locally and many others who joined on transit from other parts of the world, particularly the large numbers that were coming from Umrah in Saudi Arabia. The plane, a 737 Boeing type was filled to the brim. However, the plane is medium-sized and most passengers were within sight of each other.

Soon the plane was nosing up and in a short while was rising above the clouds and was heading to cruising at near the maximum level. It was a day’s flight and the aircraft cabin bustled with activities as soon as the seat belt and no-smoking signs were off. The flight attendants sauntered the aisles taking one complaint or the other, and elsewhere in the cabin, passengers took leave of their seats to chat up with others. In due course refreshments and lunch were served. Definitely, the aircraft was now at cruising level, the journey was almost halfway and the attendants were clearing up so that passengers could ease up for the rest of the way.

It was at that moment tragedy nearly struck. One of the passengers, seated somewhere in the mid of the cabin left for the toilet at the back. Just before reaching the toilet, he tottered and collapsed. Those who witnessed the collapse related that his eyeballs went white before he fell unconscious on one of the seated passengers. Nearby seated passengers rose to help and the cabin crew immediately arrived to keep away the crowd. Then the cry of “is there a doctor on board?” went through the cabin. Fortunately, there was a doctor on the flight and he quickly left his seat to come to the aid of the beleaguered passenger. Some anguished moments passed as every passenger’s eyes were foisted on the doctor who was crouched over the fallen passenger. We then saw him sit up and was aided into the toilet. Happily enough, moments later we saw him walking back to his seat unaided.  

The entire plane seemed to have heaved a big sigh of relief. It was time to put the frightful episode behind us and once more stretch our legs to enjoy the rest of the journey. That was destined not to be. Soon another cry went up, ‘where is the doctor, please?’ Suddenly the cabin crew was rushing to the trouble spot with the doctor in tow. Information quickly spread around the cabin that a lady had fainted and was in danger of going into a coma. She was traveling with her relations who told the doctor that she is a diabetic patient who had refused to put the day’s Ramadan fast aside despite the obvious decline in her condition. The crew was able to clear the crowd that had left their seats to assist. One of the passengers rummaged through his bag to bring out a piece of equipment to measure sugar level. A bottle of Pepsi was also found and administered and with the doctor superintending, some recovery was observed. For the rest of the journey, all attention was focused on the lady as it seemed she was much slower to recover than the first afflicted.

When the patient became conscious and seemed to stabilise, the doctor returned to his seat. On his way back to his seat I engaged him in a conversation. Much traveled himself, the doctor has seen these kinds of episodes times and again. And that if not left to luck and the presence of medical personnel, the situation would have led to dire consequences. He is surprised that up till now airlines do not deem it their responsibility to permanently have among their crew at least one medical personnel to meet these kinds of exigencies. They should also have well-stocked first-aid boxes with all the first-line medical supplies that could be deployed in a variety of cases. I agreed with him.

Nevertheless, we also agreed that these episodes were one-off cases, and to have medical personnel on every flight might be rather stretching it too far. Medical personnel could be expensive to employ and keep and even the richest airlines might not cope. However, some middle ground must be found to avoid a tragic occurrence in flight. Probably, the crew could be given more intensive training on how to deal with medical emergencies. Together with more well-stocked first-aid boxes, tragedies could be avoided. And with luck whenever the cry goes up in flight, ‘is there a doctor on board?’ there would always be someone to answer in the affirmative.

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