incident on a plane

So I flew to Oregon last week (to make the acquaintance of my new granddaughter) and experienced a little excitement on the way. Our plane was still airborne, about a half hour outside of Portland, when a man came walking down the aisle. He passed me, and soon after I heard people shouting “Get him!” and “Don’t let his head hit the floor!” Then I felt this man fall against my shoulder on his sudden trip to the floor. (Would it be the “deck” on an airplane the same way a wall is a “bulkhead”?)

So there the man lay, in the aisle right by my seat, his eyes rolling back in his head as he groaned and moaned. He was a big, powerfully built man along the lines of a football player. Suddenly people were up and crowding around the man. (As much as you can crowd up in an airplane aisle.) One young fellow actually leapt over him and then knelt beside the man’s head to hold it. Turns out the aircraft was filled with nurses. At least a half dozen were there on the spot, acting and speaking authoritatively, but since the space was so limited, it was only the young man kneeling there and the young woman at the man’s feet who could actually administer any care. Even the flight attendants — for whom this kind of thing must be as close to a professional nightmare as it gets — couldn’t get near the man. The man drifted in and out of awareness, sometimes answering the nurse’s questions, sometimes not. A bag of ice was called for. A cup of water. An announcement went over the address system calling for any medical professionals to come forward, which they pretty much couldn’t since they already had.

Eventually a man who identified himself as a doctor was able to push his way through the many, many nurses jammed in the aisle, and he took the place of the male nurse who had gotten their first. This was all right beside my seat, so I was able to listen as the care was given.

The fallen man was questioned about his medical history, and his answers came sporadically. No, he was not diabetic. No, he had no heart condition or any other problems. No, he was not taking any medications. He gave his name when asked, but I think everyone missheard him because he tried correcting people several times as they repeated it. (They called him “Dan” but from what I could tell, his name was “Dain.”) The doctor had the man grip his own fingers and then try as hard as he could to pull his arms away from each other. The doctor had sized up the situation quickly (and correctly it turned out) that the fallen man had had a sudden, precipitous loss in blood pressure. Apparently, this effort to pull his arms apart while gripping his fingers would elevate his blood pressure. The man couldn’t do it though, in part because he was still somewhat delirious and in part because he had no room in that narrow aisle to maneuver his arms very well. Soon a blood pressure cuff was presented (because I suppose that kind of thing can come in handy on long flights in planes full of all kinds of people), but the man’s beefy arm was too big for it. The nurse had to ask the doctor to hold the cuff shut around the man’s arm as she took the reading. After several tries they were able to confirm that the man’s blood pressure was dangerously low.

The fallen man, by this time, was no longer interested in being the center of attention, and said he just wanted to get up and go to the bathroom, which was his original goal when he came down the aisle. The doctor would have none of that though and commanded the man to stay on the floor (deck?) and perhaps raise his knees if he could. Several passengers in nearby seats helped him do this, and the man reported that he almost instantly felt better. Then the doctor asked the nurse at the man’s feet to lift his legs. This nurse was a tiny person, and I imagine lifting and holding up the legs of this large man was a challenge. But in my observation, nurses are up for the challenge. When she did this, the man again reported that he felt a lot better. The doctor took this as a sign that his original assessment had been correct, and when they took the man’s blood pressure again, it had elevated to a better level. The doctor cautiously asked the man if he thought he could get himself into a seat, which the man felt he could, and the passenger across the aisle from me quickly volunteered his seat for the man. Getting this large, unsteady man easily into the small seat was a challenge the flight attendants were up for. One told the doctor to raise the armrest on the aisle seat just surrendered by the passenger. This is the aisle arm rest, not the one between the seats. I didn’t know you could raise this, and neither did the doctor who fumbled with the attempt. Finally, the flight attendant authoritatively barked to the doctor “Look at me! Watch me!” She then demonstrated on a nearby seat where to find the secret latch that allowed the arm rest to be raised. (Now I know how to do this too.)

By the time they got the man into this seat, the crisis was over. Even I could see how recovered he was. The doctor spoke at length with the flight attendants, who were filling out some forms and asking questions. And then the captain’s voice came over the address system, asking us all to be patient after we landed since the stricken man would be visited by EMTs and then escorted off the plane before any of us would be allowed to leave. By this time the man was mostly over the attack and was joking about how this was his secret way of getting off planes before everyone else and how it worked with every airline. (I noted that he never did get to visit the bathroom.)

After I got off the plane and into the terminal, I saw the man sitting on a gurney, surrounded by EMTs and security people. He looked dazed, but otherwise I think he was okay. I later saw him on his own at baggage claim, I suspect more stricken with embarrassment than anything else any longer.

Later, when I left the terminal, in search of a cab, I saw the two nurses who had first attended the man. (Apparently they were a couple.) I asked the man if he had any hesitation, literally leaping into a situation like that. He said he had none at all, that while he had no moral or legal obligation, he would have felt horrible if he hadn’t acted as he did, without hesitation.

My son and daugther-in-law — Elaheh’s parents — are both doctors, and they confirmed that they would have done the same. And I suppose I would too, if I ever found myself in a situation where someone needed some emergency wordsmithing.

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2 Comments on “incident on a plane”


  1. My best friend’s father corralled me just before her wedding and demanded that I help him figure out the proper wording of his doggerell in her honor. You do what you have to do.


  2. Crazy story! I’m glad the football man was ok!


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