As many of you know, close friends and colleagues certainly, I spend a lot of my time on an airplane between London and Toronto. It is rare that I would consider discussing anything in relation to this, as it is not actually riveting news. However, the last trip became noteworthy, through no fault of my own, so I will tell the tale, because I feel it should be told, from a homeopaths perspective and for recognition and further respect for our our profession.
Here is the scoop. Looking forward to relaxing for a few hours after a busy time, I got to Heathrow and boarded the all too familiar flight. The opportunity to read, maybe have a glass of wine or watch a movie or even possibly falling asleep seemed very attractive, in fact, total bliss as I have found there really isn’t much else one can do on a flight and this ‘space’ can be very liberating! So, the time was mine to be unusually, selfishly indulgent. Unfortunately, this was not to be the case.
One hour into an eight-hour fight, the captain asked over the speaker system, whether there was a medical doctor on board. I totally ignored this call, until it happened several times; they were getting desperate. Surely there must be? I convinced myself of this fact and went back to reading and looking at the menu. The cries for help over the airwaves persisted, until I felt morally obliged to state my profession as a homeopath with medical training, amongst many other holistic titles, having qualified both in the UK and Canada. Convinced that I had done my bit, and saying “I am here if you need me’ I was sure that would be the end of it. Thirty seconds later, the steward returns, saying ‘we need you’ having liaised with the doctor on the ground. Recognising this was serious and (God forbid) this person’s health and possible future could rest in my hands, I ran as fast as I could down the aisle.
The patient was 75, female, difficulty breathing, pain in the chest and head. I introduced myself, and gently, took her hand, and held it whilst observing her state. I was given access to the medical supplies on board, familiarised myself with what was available, and as instructed by the doctor on the ground, proceeded to check her vitals (blood pressure, pulse,) palpating where necessary to check the level of pain she was experiencing. I put an oxygen mask on her, all the time telling her quietly what I was doing. I reported to the doctor on the ground via the staff at my side, her vitals, her colour and breathing. All not too alarming, thankfully. Then I sat with her, still holding her hand. I remembered that for some reason I had put my remedies the hold, but I would most certainly have given the one I felt was most indicated were I to have them at hand. However, I had no choice but to just sit, observe and be present. The fragility of life and the responsibility I felt could have become overwhelming, but strength and confidence came from somewhere and the voice within, that frequently speaks to me, got louder, saying ‘all will be fine, you’ve got this.’
I checked all the conventional pharmaceuticals they had on board, recognising that Tylenol* probably wasn’t going to do the trick whilst rambling on to the wonderful ‘go between’ steward about how out of date their equipment and medical supplies were. The blood pressure cuff and stethoscope had seen better days, pharmaceutical drugs limited, there was nothing holistic; rescue remedy, acon, a homeopathic remedy kit with basic instructions for acutes, all would have been welcomed. The steward has subsequently recommended that I instruct the airline as to which holistic medications should be on board; I said I would be happy to advise them. Eventually, after some time, the woman started to talk, I could see the colour come back into her cheeks. She asked me about me, delighted I was involved in all things holistic, as she loved anthroposophic medicine so I recounted my recent trip to the Weleda gardens, and we discussed Rudolf Steiner’s theories. She slowly became more comfortable and relaxed and I removed the oxygen mask. I quickly asked her her medical history, making it easier for me to work out what had probably happened (I guessed the sudden rise in altitude had exacerbated existing health problems.) I ascertained, to the best of my knowledge, she would probably now, be OK, and having given all the information to the doctor on the ground, decided I had done what I could but asked them to keep me informed and that I was ‘still there’ if they needed me. I realised my feelings of possible inadequacy in this situation were unfounded, often ‘just being there’ is enough and doing what you can, with what you have. Two hours later, she was fine, hungry, then slept, Paramedics met her at Toronto Pearson.
Apparently, about 7 per cent of flights are diverted for medical emergencies. Airlines try to avoid this because it’s costly and inconvenient for passengers and, most of all, because sick patients are often worse off in a strange city or country without family members or insurance. But the final decision rests with the pilot. I was told they would have had no choice but to divert had I not been there.
I filled in many medical forms on behalf of the airline and the patient. I had not actually administered any medications, but was still worried should anything occur, having said that in my opinion, she would be OK. It appears there is a ‘Good Samaritan’ law that protects medics in circumstances such as this, as realistically, every flight cannot have a doctor on board. I received a significant discount on a future flight for my ‘benevolent medical act.’
So one for us, my dear colleagues! I thank my extensive homeopathic training, and OCHM for ensuring I did the physical exam module, thus was able to do what I was asked to do. (I am sure other homeopaths who are trained in basic physical examination would have been equally as effective as they know what to look for and the questions to ask.) I am proud of myself for holding it together, but most of all I am happy with the outcome; we all landed safely, alive and on schedule. I descended the plane with slightly wobbly legs and apparently looked ‘very pale’ but with a pride in my training and in our profession, and a proud recipient of the respect it had attracted from the crew and all on board who witnessed what had happened. I wish for that respect to have a ripple effect in society and to credit us all with the dignity and the standing we deserve as responsible healthcare professionals.