Tuesday, October 13, 2015
I was minding my own business on a plane returning to Los Angeles last week when I heard the elderly man in the adjacent middle-seat say: “Victoria... Victoria?.... Victoria?... VICTORIA!!...” Turning, I saw that he was shaking his wife who had passed out.
I informed the flight attendants who produced the traditional oxygen bottle plus a stethescope and blood pressure cuff and made the usual request for any doctor on the plane. The wife began responding, if groggily. Her blood pressure was undetectable, but engine noise made listening difficult.
By this time, another doctor arrived. She was about forty years younger than I and anxious to be involved. The wife had never fainted, and she was recovering too slowly to blame a heart irregularity. The leading possibility was a stroke – either a transient ischemic attack (TIA) which resolves completely or a full-fledged stroke. We wouldn’t know which for hours, so my suggestion was to land the plane.
This is not a decision airlines make lightly, and my physician colleague did not express an opinion. Headphones and a long cord appeared, and, after some delay, she spoke to a doctor on the ground who advised taking the wife to the rear of the plane, laying her on the floor, starting an intravenous line, and observing. With the other doctor leading the way, everyone trundled up the aisle.
The couple returned to their seats when the plane began its approach two hours later. The wife seemed all right although she had no memory of what had happened. Paramedics came on board at the gate and led the couple away.
I waved off the flight attendants' thanks, but they insisted on giving me five thousand frequent flier miles.