Friday, 25 July 2014
Is There A Doctor On-board by Naomi Elana Zener
My name is Jackie and I crave status—this is my story. For me, nothing is better than having airline Elite Status. That’s the kind of status that grants a person passage into exclusive airport lounges, premium reserved seating, and more direct flights. The only way to get Elite Status is to rack up your air miles by traveling a lot. I’ve watched with envy the lucky Elite Status flyers float in and out of airport lounges around the globe before I’ve boarded my flights—flights where I’ve made my way through the gate, down the gangplank, and down the aisle to my last row coach seat nestled beside the pungent lavatories on various trips I’ve taken over the years. Right now, I’m 100,000 miles away from achieving my Elite Status nirvana.
There is one miniscule problem with my plan to join the one percenters in the sky—I’m dirt poor. I’m a severely underpaid medical resident whose paltry salary doesn’t allow me to fly enough in a given year to reach my flying Mecca. I’m on call every one in four days, killing myself at work to save lives, such that my hourly wage works out to being worse than that of a garment worker in a Bangladesh sweatshop. Making matters worse is that in addition to my empty wallet and coming close to reaching my personal debt ceiling, I only have one week of vacation left for the year, on which I’m about to leave as soon as the plane I’m sitting on pulls back from the gate.
My vacations have been full of multiple stop overs, layovers, and connections making it more appealing to stay home than to fly for twenty-four hours to get to a destination that should otherwise take three hours to get to on a direct flight. This year, I’ve managed to save up enough shekels to hightail it out of town on an adventure to Rwanda to see the gorillas, but it’ll only net me an additional five thousand status miles. Basically, at this rate, I only have about another fifty thousand more flights to go before being served my slice of Elite Status pie in the sky.
Regardless of the seven connections I have to endure on my journey, before I know it, in forty-three hours, I’ll find myself prancing around like Jane Goodall in the Rwandan jungle. After take off and having reached the sweet spot of cruising altitude, thoroughly ready to enjoy the first flight of seven, I’ve reclined my seat back ready to enjoy the video-on-demand movie service that came with my overpriced airfare. Like the unwanted jolt of unwanted turbulence, the captain has suddenly come over the loudspeaker, and is prattling on about a medical emergency.
“Is there a doctor on board?” the captain cried.
Furtively glancing around to see if any of my comrades in arms had risen to the call of duty, I saw none. Buoyed, I was not by this auspicious beginning to my holiday. I quickly shrunk back in my seat hoping not to have to be exposed to unnecessary international medical-legal liability by helping a fellow passenger out for free. I increased the volume on my personal entertainment device, ignoring the little birdy on my shoulder telling me to man up to my Hippocratic oath. As easy as it was to ignore my conscience, unfortunately, it was the airline stewardess’ incessant tapping on my shoulder that couldn’t be ignored.
“Sir, our passenger manifest identified you as Dr. Jackie Bansheet. Is that correct?” the stewardess asked. I stared back at her blankly. “Sir, may I see your ticket?”
I had no way out, unless I quickly opened up one of the emergency exits and made a run for it.
“That’s me. But, I’m only a resident. I’m not quite a real doctor yet,” I advised.
“Well, half a doctor is better than none. And, since there are no other doctors aboard the plane, you’ll have to do. Come with me, sir.”
I rose from my seat slowly. The stewardess escorted me to the front of the plane to the first class cabin where I was confronted with a moribund humanoid lying prostrate in the middle of the aisle, impeding the distribution of the unlimited supply of complimentary champagne. Ah, so they do get Cristal up here, I thought to myself.
“Doctor, you have command of the plane. If you tell us we have to land, the captain will make an emergency landing,” the stewardess advised. The surge of power in my hands was less than exhilarating. I just want to play Gorillas in the Mist, I complained voicelessly to myself.
The patient’s labored breathing was barely audible. His lips were purple and eyes bloodshot. I was surrounded by wannabe MDs, who shouted their diagnoses at me, while I tried to take the patient’s barely-there vitals. His morbidly obese corpse-like physique wasn’t helping either.
“I bet it’s a tension pneumothorax,” one passenger shouted.
“No, he’s clearly having a stroke,” said another. “My third cousin had one right in front of me, so I know what it looks like.”
“I bet it’s a heart attack. I had one of those and I turned purple just like this poor son of a bitch,” shouted another.
“Are any of you licensed practicing physicians?” I shouted. The passengers shook their heads.
“I’m an accountant, and he’s a golf pro,” Mr. Tension Pneumothorax advised. “We’re going on a golf trip.”
“I’m a teacher,” the third advised. “But, I watch a lot of Grey’s Anatomy.”
“Well I am a doctor. So, with all due respect, shut the fuck up so I can save this man’s life,” I commanded. The purple in my patient’s lips spread to the rest of his face. Without knowing why, I just glanced over at the patient’s empty seat and took note of a half-eaten spring roll. Looking back at the patient, I realized that he was choking to death. I climbed his Ayers Rock-like belly and performed a modified CPR-like Heimlich manoeuver. After three giant compressions, the other half of the spring roll shot across the first class cabin as if it was the cork of a newly opened champagne bottle. A round of applause ensued.
“He was choking!” the golf pro exclaimed.
“Is the rest of my spring roll still on my tray?” the patient asked the stewardess, who nodded at him. Clearly, the patient had his priorities straight—locate rest of the spring roll and fill his belly. Not bothering to thank me for saving his life, the patient returned to his seat to gluttonously consume the rest of his amuse bouche with a bottle of champagne, and I returned to my seat next to the crapper with an extra bag of roasted nuts, which I’d left behind on the floor of the first class cabin. I’m anaphylactically allergic to nuts.
Nary a further spec of gratitude was showered upon me, not even a “good job” from any of my fellow flight economizers. Hell, I’d just saved them from enduring an emergency landing, and not one of them could bother to pat me on the back. After that flight landed, I waited out my stopover browsing books in the gift shop, ready to climb aboard my second flight, trying to shake off my frustration and get happy about the rest of my trip. Forty something hours later, I finally arrived in my destination and decided to forget all about my medical heroics. I had a marvelous, albeit short, time with my furry friends who treated me like one of their own. My trip was fast and furious, and before I knew it, I was back home and on call again. Several weeks of my monotonous existence had passed, when I came home one day to find a letter in my mailbox. It was from the airline.
Dear Dr. Bansheet,
Thank you for your act of bravery on Flight 900090 where you saved a man’s life. To show you our gratitude, we hope you’ll accept 100,000 free air miles on us. According to our records, this will give you Elite Status. Welcome aboard!
President, Blue Skies Air
Overjoyed, my faith in the airline’s proverbial humanity restored, I quickly pulled out my laptop to confirm that the air miles bestowed upon me had in fact been deposited into my account. Once confirmed, I looked at my work vacation calendar first to figure out when I could book my next trip, followed by a perusal of my near negative bank account balance to see what I could afford. Fuck it, I thought, I’m only young once—that’s what credit lines are for. Midway through booking my trip, a light bulb went off in my head. What if I answered every medical call of duty on board my flights? If the airline thanks me like this each time, I’ll never have to pay for another flight again.
Bearing my epiphany in mind, I decided that on each and every one of my future flights, I’d remain wide-awake with help from Red Bull, in order to be first on the scene and first to answer every “is there a doctor on board this flight” call. My plan was brilliant. Exercising my mad medical skills, saving lives first and taking insurance numbers last, I happily enjoyed the reward of receiving bonus air miles from the airline I flew every time. At the rate at which I was performing my medical heroics at 30,000 feet in the air, I knew that my Elite Status was going to last forever.
Seventeen flights later, and well into my fourth year of a pediatric cardiology residency, my Elite Status was the victim of a blunt force trauma. I received an email from some minion at the airline informing me that they, alongside all of their alliance partners, were no longer rewarding physicians with air miles for being medical saviors in the sky. Having made a sizeable dent in my credit line to finance the hotel and food portions of my vacations, with my six-figure outstanding student loans waiting to be repaid, no longer having an endless supply of free air miles coming to me anymore, my travel days were facing a swift execution by guillotine. I only had a mere 105,000 air miles left—enough for either several jaunts to New York City in coach, or one first class round trip ticket to Riyadh. With an opening in my department’s vacation calendar in four days, I quickly booked a week off, in the hopes of enjoying one last hurrah in the Middle East.
The day of departure was on my doorstep. I arrived at the airport with two hours before my scheduled flight. I checked my bags and headed to the lounge for one last time. I imbibed my complimentary Chardonnay and watched the hockey game on the 70-inch jumbo screen TV until it was time to board the plane. Once aboard the 747 jetliner, I slid into my oversized comfortable first class seat, and told the stewardess that as soon as she was allowed, to bring me flute-after-flute of champagne—basically never allowing me to see the bottom of an empty glass. Several hours into the flight, and slightly tipsy, I got up to stretch my legs to prevent any deadly deep vein thrombosis from setting in. I slowly brushed past the curtain separating first class from the plebian people with whom I had more in common and would soon rejoin when I could afford to fly again on another trip, making my way down the long aisle for my little promenade.
“Oops, sorry ma’am,” I said as I knocked into one woman in coach. “I didn’t mean to knock over your drink.”
“Not a problem,” the woman muttered sleepily.
“I didn’t mean to shake your tray,” I said to another passenger, as I lost my footing again.
My apologetic refrain was on repeat as I walked down the aisle and then back again towards the first class cabin. The champagne had clearly affected my balance. I returned to my seat, ready to sleep off the flight and my buzz. Suddenly, I was jolted awake.
“Is there a doctor on board?” the captain shouted into the loudspeaker. I ignored the call.
“Is there a doctor on board this flight?” the captain queried again to no answer.
“For the love of Christ, is there anyone with any medical training of any kind whatsoever on board? I don’t care if your medical license was revoked. Thirty passengers in coach are vomiting up and down the aisles. We have a fucking medical emergency!”
I turned my head to see a green-faced steward rushing toward the back of the plane with a plunger-type device. I grabbed his arm before he could get away.
“Excuse me. I just woke up and couldn’t help but notice that you don’t look well. I’m a doctor. Can I be of any assistance?” I asked.
“You’re a doct…bleh.” The steward vomited on his shoes. He wiped his mouth. “Didn’t you hear the captain’s announcement? Come with me.”
Without waiting for my answer, the steward pulled me out of my seat and dragged me to the back of the plane to where the thirty airsick passengers had been moved.
“Is this MERS? Do we have MERS?” one cried out.
“How could it be MERS? We haven’t even arrived in Saudi Arabia yet,” another retorted.
I attended to each passenger methodically. After checking out each one, I came to a singular conclusion.
“Food poisoning,” I declared. “These people need Gravol and Xanax.”
“We don’t have either of those,” the steward complained before throwing up again, but this time into an airsick bag.
“Luckily for you, I have a large supply of both. Knowing that gastro bugs exist in the Middle East, I came prepared,” I advised. “If you retrieve my bag from in front of my first class seat and bring it to me, I can dole out the medicine. I’ll happily forgo sitting in first class for the rest of the flight to tend to the sick until we reach Riyadh.”
The captain came over the loudspeaker thanking me for sparing them an emergency landing in Iran. The entire plane erupted into thunderous applause for my heroism. Prayers in English, Arabic, and even Hebrew were shouted out, blessing my name. Upon landing, emergency medical personnel were waiting on the tarmac for our arrival, ready to whisk the sick away to a nearby hospital, while checking out the rest of the passengers to ensure that I’d been correct in rightly disqualifying MERS as the diagnosis. My Middle Eastern escapade got off to a rocky start, but the remaining three weeks traveling through Saudi Arabia, Israel, Abu Dhabi, Dubai, Jordan, and Egypt were glorious. By the time I got home, I was six thousand dollars and 105,000 air miles poorer. But, waiting for me in my mailbox, was a singular letter from the airline.
Dear Dr. Bansheet,
The dedication you demonstrated in caring for the sick on your recent flight to Riyadh made us rethink our decision to cancel rewarding doctors with air miles who tend to medical emergencies on board our planes and those of our alliance partners. Not only are we reinstating the program, but also we are naming you as our In-Flight Physician-in-Chief. Along with this title, you’ll now enjoy lifetime Elite Status, and will be able to fly on our airline and those of our alliance partners for free for the rest of your life.
Again, thank you for everything! We’ll be seeing you flying in the friendly skies.
President, Blue Skies Air
I grinned from ear-to-ear. My plan was to get only a few hundred thousand-bonus miles. In my wildest imagination, I never thought I’d be rewarded with lifetime Elite Status and free flights for life. As it turned out that quick thinking and a little Ipecac, undetectable by any lab several hours after being ingested, randomly and surreptitiously dropped into coach passengers’ complimentary beverages, went a long way to further my globetrotting adventures.
© 2014. Naomi Elana Zener. All Rights Reserved.