Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Travel Unraveled - Part Two

Second entry in a long distance flight adventure

"Ronald, can you hear me?"

Long distance flights of 7117 miles can be pitifully boring and physically challenging.  I sit in the Economy section where space is, well, economical.  It's imperative to determine way before nap time who is going to have access to the shared armrest.  Polite Americans choose to allow that privilege to their adjoining seatmate on short flights, but a long distance flight of 7117 miles is a different ballgame, sweetie.  Establishing one's space becomes a game of "excuse me" & "I'm sorry."  With the need to shift and doze, entering someones space is inevitable on a long flight of 14 hours. 

FACTS: A coach seat is now 17" wide instead of 19".
            Legroom has decreased between 1.5" and 2.0."   

Why have the airlines done this?

They can get up to 10 more paying participants in each flight by increasing the possibility of an extra row of seats.

I get it. But it hurts.

Because the Big Guy is 6' foot 4" we try and get the bulkhead or emergency exit row to increase leg room space. Our 'happiest seats"  on Boeing 777 long distance flights are 44A and 44B.   There is room to stretch one's legs and one of us has the window seat to lean into.

This particular flight back to Nanjing, China I was flying without the Big Guy but still chose the coveted seat, 44A.

The seat is pretty close to Five-Star perfection in the cheap seats except it's proximity to the 2 lavatories directly in front.  Traffic from my section and from the section ahead of me assure a steady stream of visitors using the facilities or toe-touching, torso twisting and stretching their legs.  It's people watching at it's best.

I give those seats a Four-and-a-half Star ranking because when the cabin is darkened for "sleepy-time", the lights in the lavatory remain ON.  Each visitor is announced with a bright ray of light aimed right at my eyes.  Ear phoned and ready to watch 2 or 3 movies in a row and doze a bit, I usually cover myself with what Delta airlines calls a 'blanket.'  It's red and as thin as an old man's favorite boxer shorts...opaque at best.  On this particular flight I wore a cozy hooded sweatshirt I purchased at the Salt Lake City, Utah airport and pulled the drawstring as tight as I could without suffocating myself.  Hiding from that lavatory light.

With so much dozing and shifting in a cramped space, the sharing of the armrest sometimes results in setting off the CALL button. This happens so often during "sleepy-time" that those lights are often dismissed and ignored by the cabin crew.

And this is where my story is going. 

As most of the cabin snoozed away, I saw what seemed like the one-thousandth "facility" visitor walk toward the lavatory from the front cabin.  I grimaced behind my hoodie awaiting the inevitable stream of light. A tall and handsome man with a shaved head in his late 40's, wearing blue jeans and tan sport jacket approached the lavatory.  Instead of searching for the latch he stumbled into the door.  He swayed a bit, as if we had just hit some more turbulence and "Phlooop!" - despite his size he gently crumpled to his knees. His forehead held up the rest of his body.  There was no thud as he landed in a 'downward facing dog' yoga position. 

I ripped off my noise-cancelling headphones, peeled off the chintzy red blanket and said, "Are you alright?" 

No reply. 

And then his body succumbed to his weight and he plopped on his side and began curling up into a fetal position. I couldn't discern if he was breathing. I pushed my call button and looked around...nothing. The entire cabin behind me was snoozing or mindlessly staring at their screen.  In what seemed like forever (but was only a minute or so), a flight attendant came down my aisle with a tray of water-filled glasses.  Startled, she looked at him and then looked at me as if I had the answer to the million dollar question.

"He just went down!" I chimed dumbfounded.

And that is when the medical drama unfolded right in front of my eyes. Here I was ringside in a real-life episode and I felt helpless.  Using the PA of the in-flight phone, the head flight attendant calmly requested the assistance of any medical personnel.   While waiting, another flight attendant arrived with oxygen, strapped it on him and asked another to find out this Poor Man's seat number, name, etc. 

Young Dr. Wang (yes, Chinese) arrived to assist, knelt down and checked his pulse.  Poor Man's hand was bent backwards at his wrist and it was all I could do NOT to leap out of seat 44A and untwist it.  Next arrived a military medic named Joe (African-American)...it was beginning to look like a well-casted multi-cultural drama, since Ronald (I now knew his name) was as white and Caucasian as a sheet and the flight attendant in charge, Cassie, had a definite Australian accent. She chirped at other attendants who arrived with a manila envelope from Ronald's brief bag.  Dr. Wang opened it and began shuffling through the mini-stack of 8 1/2 x 11 inch papers.  Determining from the date he found on the papers, he announced to his newly formed triage team that Ronald was being treated for "thyroid" and the papers indicated they were trying to adjust his dosage.

"Ronald, can you hear me?" asked Cassie.

No reply.

"Look in his brief bag for meds," said Dr. Wang. 

"None here," said Flight Attendant #2.

Cassie leaned close to his ear and asked, "Did you take your medication today?" 

He murmured something inaudible through the oxygen mask to the three knelt at his body. 

<We were 12 hours into our flight and flying East so "today" could have meant any number of things to the semi-conscious Ronald.>

"Do you have your medication?"

He blinked hard through closed eyes.

"Where is it?" 

"Wuggg-edge" he exhaled through the oxygen mask.  


Again he blinked hard to indicate 'yes.'

Dr. Wang queried, "Can we get to it?"

"NO," said all three flight attendants in chorus.

Dr. Wang looked at me, "Did he hit his head?"

"NO," I replied.

Up the aisle came the flight medical bag. Unlocked and clipped Dr. Wang looked hurriedly through it's contents. Out came the blood pressure cuff.  "90/70" he announced.  Shuffling through the bag and not seeing what he determined Ronald needed, he asked for a call out to other passengers.

Flight Attendant #2 over the horn:  "Attention Please, we have a medical emergency and need some thyroid medication.  If you have any please bring it to Aisle B, Door 2."

Three bottles arrived as if the prop man and his table were right off stage.  Dr. Wang looked at each one for strength and determined which one would be best for Ronald handing back the other bottles. It took 3 people to sit Ronald up and thankfully he was conscious enough to swallow what was popped into his mouth.  And then we waited...

Flight Attendant Cassie looked up and said, "We need blankets and pillows." 

No one MOVED. I mean NO ONE MOVED.

So I, big-mouthed American Ex-pat, unwilling to sit by any longer as a stupid staring stooge; stood up, turned to all the passengers behind me and yelled, "We need Pillows and Blankets!"  (I avoided the word "stat," but it was on the tip of my tongue!)  

Mini-pillows and red cheesecloth blankets were hurled at me like a snowstorm.

I knelt with the cast and crew cushioning and covering Ronald. I told him that he was going to be Okay, stroked his shaved head, uncurled that hand (cos it was driving me crazy) and held his other one just for a moment. Returning off stage to my seat we waited and waited. I fully expected that he was going to hurl that medication right back up, but he did not and within 20 LONG minutes he began to rally...slowly.  Eventually he returned to a Business Class seat where they could keep an eye on him for the remainder of Flight #181.

"That's a wrap, people!," I said to myself.

My point in telling you this entire story is a simple and serious one. 

A life-lesson learned from Seat 44A.

When you travel, have your medications WITH YOU, carry your medical information WITH YOU, have a list of your medications in your wallet, on your person and WITH YOU! 

I'm not a medical professional, never had the stomach for it and faint at spurting blood.   The closest I came to anything medical was to help my mother study for Nursing School.  I haven't a clue about hypo-thyroidism or hyper-thyroidism or what the difference is between them. I don't know the full seriousness of Ronald's condition.  But I can tell you that I came awfully close to witnessing a very serious unhappy ending that unfurled at my feet at 30,000 feet. 

I have since downloaded WebMD to my Ipad and listed my medications and blood type which will also show up in my Iphone. There's probably an app. for that...

I won't stop there and will place a hard copy in my wallet and backpack. 

I pledge to have my daily medications with me for all future flights.

I hope you do the same. 

Don't let a cabin full of strangers witness your near death experience.

Don't let some random on-looker write in her blog about you, either.

Thanks for Reading,

Side Note:  The captain of this flight asked that everyone remain seated while the "medical emergency" passenger was escorted off the plane upon landing in Shanghai. Miracle of miracles EVERY passenger politely waited.  Having people comply with this request is highly unusual in my experience...but I was definitely happy for Ronald.


Becca said...

Wow I was riveted to the screen for this story ! you never know what will happen when you travel, that's for sure.

You make a very good point about the medication list in the phone or wallet. I will do that for someone in my house who takes quite a few medications.

Bella Rum said...

What a harrowing experience. I've been saying that I need to update my med list for my wallet for some time - good intentions and all. Thanks for the tip about MedMD.