I am training to be an Emergency Medicine physician, but sometimes I wonder how I would do in an actual emergency. I mean, I can run a trauma or cardiac arrest code without much problem on my own turf. But, how would I hand a situation at 36,000 feet?
Obviously, most of us won’t be faced with a situation like Wallace who relieved a tension pneumothorax with a wire hanger, a catheter and a bottle of brandy. However, I would like to think I could handle something reasonably simple. A bump on the head from a piece of falling luggage?
The British Medical Journal in 2000 ran an article listing the top 10 medical emergencies as: chest pain, collapse, asthma, head injury, psychiatric problems, abdominal problems, diabetes, allergic reactions, and OB-Gyn emergencies. Since 1986, most airlines carry an AED, and most also carry oxygen and some basic medical supplies. A study in 2008 by USA Today stated that three overseas airlines and only one US airline seem to do more than carry the minimum medical equipment.
Of course, I didn’t think about what could potential be in this particular aircraft’s safety kit as I sat watching the other passengers start to board the airplane: the morbidly obese person who was wiping sweat off their face as they hurried aboard, the obviously pregnant woman who was pacing around the waiting area, the barrel-chested passenger who looked as if they couldn’t wait to land to be able to pull out their cigarette pack and take their next drag, the laughing out loud been-at-the-airport-bar-during-their-layover pair, and the other 50 or so ticking time bombs of potentially unknown medical problems.
Armed with my medical knowledge and last year’s ACEP presentation “101 Uses for a Safety Pin and Duct Tape” I boarded, thinking in my head, “Surely you can’t be serious?” “I am serious, and don’t call me Shirley.”