Picture this: I was en route from India to Hawaii, which involved flying from my home in Goa to Mumbai, New York, California, and finally Oahu. I was boarding flight number two in that exhausting stretch, from Mumbai to NYC. This is a staggering 17-hour journey.
As I got to my seat, I noticed the two ladies in the row behind me were already asleep. I thought, "This is good. We're all just going to sleep and it will be over before I know it."
But then, one of the women, in the middle seat, threw up on her shirt and didn't lift her head. I realized quickly, she was unconscious.
I had studied nursing in college, and I immediately tried to wake her up, getting a bit of her vomit on me in the process. She wasn't responsive so I called for help as her friend told me, "She's fine."
Both women were approximately in their seventies. The plane was completely boarded at this point, and the flight crew made an announcement for a doctor or nurse to come and help me out. There wasn't one other medical professional on board.
This would be all well and good, except I retired from nursing at the advanced age of 23 — two years prior to this incident — to move to India and be a travel writer. I wasn't exactly in practice — nor was I ever especially experienced.
When adrenaline pulsing, I used the plane's medical kit to take the patient's stats. She was stable, although not responsive. I felt sure that she had taken sleeping pills and I was nervous she had overdosed, but didn't want to cause a huge alarm.
Her friend admitted the patient took a Benadryl, and they'd each had a glass of wine. After about 10 minutes, I raised my voice to the woman and told her she needed to tell the truth, "I know this isn't a Benadryl and wine reaction! You need to tell me right now what she took!"
The friend at last acknowledged that the woman took sleeping pills and had a little more wine than was first communicated. She hadn't taken the pills before and didn't realize what effect it would have on her. Clearly.
During this time, the unconscious woman had woken up a little to push me away, tell me she was fine, and throw up more. The man on the aisle seat, covered in vomit, had moved away. They had removed his seat to replace it with a fresh seat. (Yes, interesting fact: The seats are removable!)
The woman went back into unconsciousness and the staff asked me quite bluntly, "Should she be removed from the plane?"
Although the crew were wonderful and very helpful during the incident, with four people looking at me to make a decision, it was a little surreal at this point.
I explained that she was stable and that most likely the effects would wear off in six hours, but it didn't seem right to take off on a 17-hour flight with a person who was passed out from pills and booze. It was a no-brainer to me. She would likely continue to throw up, which is not only a choking hazard to her but not great for those around her. I said I thought she needed to be removed.
The friend saw another side of it and as you can imagine, airplane drama ensued. They said that they could ask the pilot to make the final decision if I wouldn't decide. I told them I was firm on my decision. The pilot did end up coming back and agreed that she needed to be removed.
Her friend begged that they would lose so much money, and she would watch her — but as she slurred her words and seemed intoxicated herself, the woman was carefully removed from the plane, at this point alert and able to walk.
All told, it was pretty shocking what decision-making power I was given as the designated medical professional on board.
And it doesn't end there.
Later, I was woken up because a man in the front row was having a "heart attack," as described by the man himself. Being the only medical personnel on board then became quite scary — but luckily, after assessing him, it seemed clear he was having a panic attack. The staff had a notepad documenting the vital signs and seemed upset when I informed them I could not use their blood pressure cuff on this man (who was nearly 300 pounds) because he needed a larger version. They wanted to know if I could just try — and I explained it would be an inaccurate number and they needed to have different sized cuffs onboard in the future. As the man rested, calmed down, and got an upgrade so he could raise his feet, the staff explained that normally in this case they would ask if they should land, but we were over the Atlantic and it wasn't a possibility anyway. (And that's good, because it would have been another tough decision for me to make!)
In the end — and here's a friendly FYI — getting someone else's vomit on you, being the only medical personnel to help, and making the decision to de-plane someone does not get you anything in return. Not an upgrade or a voucher... and not even an extra pillow. (At least not in my case, but I didn't even ask!)
Jet Set is Bravo's launch pad for the most extravagant, luxurious, and unforgettable travel experiences. Ready for takeoff? Then Like us on Facebook to stay connected to our daily updates.