There was obvious commotion in the galley. Something was up. I initially turned a deaf ear to the overhead call for a doctor but my laptop’s Powerpoint images were a dead giveaway.
Flight service attendant: Are you a doctor? (you’re not dressed nearly well enough but we thought we’d ask)
DrV: Yes (but trust me, not the kind you need)
Flight service attendant: We have a sick passenger and we were wondering if you might help us out (beyond the chiropractor in first class who’s desperately trying to sell himself as a doctor, you’re all we’ve got)
DrV: I’d like to help you but I’m not sure I can. I’m a kid’s tummy doctor, you see and….
Flight service attendant: ….come right this way, doctor. We need you out back.
Moments later in the galley I find an obese, 55-year-old woman sporting an oxygen facemask and looking at me like I’m her last great hope. Little does she know. After some awkward pleasantries surrounding my introduction as baby doctor and my referral to her as a ‘big baby’, I chuckle nervously and we get started.
DrV: Maam’, what seems to be bothering you?
Patient: Well doc, I was just sittin’ there and suddenly I became dizzy and sweaty (kinda like you)
DrV: Are you having any other symptoms?
DrV: Do you have any medical problems? (Oh, sweet Jesus, please say no)
Patient: High blood pressure.
DrV: What medicines do you take? (as if I’ll recognize them)
Patient: 2 antihypertensives (didn’t recognize ‘em … but very catchy names)
DrV: (scratching chin, one eyebrow dramatically higher than the other) Hmm, okay then, let’s get some vitals.
At this point three flight service attendants look at me impressed with my apparent command of this dizzy, perspiring woman on medications I’ve never heard of.
Flight service attendant: Just for your information, doctor, we have a functioning AED on board.
DrV:Perfect (what the blazes is an AED?).
I take her blood pressure, respiratory rate and pulse. Slightly hypertensive and tachycardic. Not tachypneic. (Differential? Good gosh, what makes an adult lightheaded? Okay, think now, she’s an adult…. diverticulitis, pheochromocytoma? No … focus, focus, you fool. Okay, airway/breathing/circulation. No, no…that’s for a code).
At that very moment, vindication. From the main cabin appears an internist sportin’ a Tommy Bahama shirt, a tan and sparkling porcelain veneers. Like an angel on my shoulder he followed up on my basic history with a little more detail. And nearly as quickly as help appeared, the woman removed her oxygen mask and reported that she felt 100% better. She reclaimed her seat in the main cabin where comfortably spent the remainder of the flight.
In the minutes to follow I hung out in the galley and learned, among other things, how they cook those savory microwave hamburgers. The attendants regaled me with their experiences ministering to the sick and indisposed at 30,000 feet. And at that point I realized how much my presence was appreciated. When you’re a flight service attendant alone in a plane, even a kid’s tummy doctor is a whole lot better than nothing. And having an internist in your back pocket never hurts.
I took my seat and collected a complimentary beverage.
Two weeks later I received a warm letter from a senior executive and 1,250 frequent flier miles.