“Hello, this is your captain speaking. If there is a doctor on board, please could you make yourself known to the cabin crew?”
My heart sinks. I press my call button and whisper to the airhostess that I am a doctor. She explains to me that there is an old lady who is ill and would I be prepared to have a look at her. Leaving my husband with our baby and 2 year old, I disappear for a good hour to sort her out.
Luckily, nothing too serious, and in fact having always dreaded these sorts of occasions where you might have to act in front of a crowd of curious, critical onlookers, it was fine. The lady, who was travelling home with her daughter from a sunny holiday, had a nasty tummy bug and was rather dehydrated. She kept feeling dizzy and was very nauseous. A nice comfy bed in first class, some rehydration, reassurance and a paramedic with a wheelchair at the other end were all that was required.
I had to liaise by radio from the flight deck, with the medical base in London to agree that the flight did not need to be diverted, and I was rewarded with lots of gratitude from all concerned and a bottle of champagne from the captain.
Always be prepared
There have been other less straightforward occasions. The most memorable was on my way home from a night out in London. I had met a friend for a meal, and as we had queued for a long time to get a table, we had managed to drink a bottle of wine before we even sat down, followed by another bottle with our dinner (well beyond my capabilities these days!)
I was rushing across Trafalgar Square to catch the last direct train home when I came across a hysterical woman outside a telephone box. As I tried to work out what was going on and whether I should stop, a body on the floor caught my eye, or rather half a body; the top half of this body was invisible as it was down a manhole. The legs and feet were motionless on the pavement.
There was quite a crowd gathered by this point and a policewoman speaking into her radio. I soon established that this poor woman had made a call from the telephone box. When she came out, instead of walking straight out of the door, in this rather dark corner of the square, she had gone around the telephone box (something the workmen had obviously not expected) and fallen, head first, down the hole, as it was not fenced off on that side.
It is amazing how a bit of adrenaline can sober you up!
There was no movement and no response when I called her name. I climbed down into the hole with her (quite a tight squeeze, and not very dignified in my short skirt) but her head was wedged at the bottom between a pipe and the wall of the hole, and I could not get close enough to see if she was breathing.
To an accompaniment of all sorts of helpful comments from the crowd like “you shouldn’t move her” and “watch out for her neck”, the policewoman and I managed to drag her, like the heaviest sack of potatoes, out of the hole and onto the pavement.
She was breathing, and I was extremely relieved when she came round a few minutes later and we managed to establish that her neck and back felt ok, and all the pain was coming from her broken arm and head injury.
The whole situation was quite amusing however. I heard the policewoman telling somebody on the radio that she had two doctors with her and looked down the body to see a young women very earnestly feeling both wrist pulses of the injured lady (who we had just removed from the hole and was still unconscious at this point). A doctor, or even a first aider, will always check a more central pulse in this situation (for example in the neck), so it seemed a little odd.
“Hi, are you a doctor too?” I asked, and “no, I am a student of Chinese medicine” was the reply I got. She then started to take the unconscious woman’s shoes off, apparently to give her a foot massage. I am afraid that I might have made some sort of sarcastic comment at that point, however, we came to a mutually respectful understanding, when I persuaded her that her skills would be better spent on calming the hysterical friend, and possibly massaging her feet, so that I could continue checking the unconscious woman for injuries.
Having driven past us around Trafalgar Square a couple of times, resulting in more hysteria from the friend, and more urgent conversation into the policewoman’s radio, the ambulance finally found us and the patient was whisked off to hospital. The policewoman and I heaved a collective sigh of relief, and I went home, by the indirect train, to try and clean the mud off my new suede boots.
All in a day’s work!
By Susie Tunstall-Pedoe, March 2014