The truth behind medical emergencies at 40,000 feet
How many times have you been on an intercontinental flight, downing a drink when an unfamiliar voice over the intercom asks if there is a doctor onboard to tackle a medical emergency at 40,000 feet?
For most of us, because we are not doctors, just wonder who the poor person is and hope that he/she gets help.
For doctors, though, it can be a nightmare, as Celine Gounder writes in this piece for The Atlantic.
She says most airlines are not prepared to deal with real emergencies.
The FAA, she writes, requires flight crews to be trained to coordinate responses to medical emergencies, to use first aid kits, to be familiar with the contents of the emergency medical kit, to use an automated external defibrillator, and to perform CPR.
“But flight crews also rely heavily on the assistance of health care providers aboard the aircraft. Studies by the airlines and ground-based medical support services have found that a health care provider is available and responds in upwards of 80 percent of in-flight medical events," Gounder writes in her piece.
But she points out many health care providers find themselves attending to issues they don’t see in their medical practices.
If asked, many health care providers will volunteer to help, especially if no one else is available, and this can lead to problems, she says.
In 2011, a pediatrician onboard an Air India flight from New Delhi to Toronto helped deliver a baby when the mother went into labour prematurely.
Everything ended well in that story but things can go wrong too.
Gounder also says there is a chance that if more than one health care provider responds to the call for help, they might disagree about what to do.
And then there are times when health care providers may also not be prepared to respond to an emergency because they board the plane as passengers, not doctors. Like the other passengers, they may take sedatives to sleep or have a drink or two.
Dr. Larry Chang, an infectious diseases specialist at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, tells Gounder that he never takes “sedatives on flights because I feel like on almost every other international flight they ask if there's a doctor on board.”
Raveena Aulakh is the Star's environment reporter. She is intrigued by climate change and its impact, now and long-term. Follow her on Twitter @raveenaaulakh