When was your last “Aha” moment? No, not the kind that Steve Jobs had when he founded Apple (he wanted a computer interface with beautiful, poster-like fonts). Or the one that Dietrich Mateschitz had when he had a Thai drink to combat jet lag that led to Red Bull. I mean those little epiphanies that happen to each of us from time to time.
Dozing in Flight
I was taking a late evening flight across the country from Washington DC to San Francisco, trying to get some shut eye before seeing patients early the next morning. Given how hard it is for me to sleep on planes, it felt great when I actually dozed off. Only to be awakened minutes later by an announcement: “Is there a doctor on the plane?” Half in sleepy haze, I thought to myself “Hey, I’m a doctor. A super-sub-specialist kind-of-one, but a doctor nonetheless.”
I jumped to my feet and headed straight down the center aisle and found an older lady slumped ahead of me, surrounded by frightened passengers.
I knelt down above her head and softly whispered into her ear: “I am a doctor here to help you; are you OK?” She said that she was dizzy, nauseated and faint. “Good,” I thought. “She’s conscious and has a good airway.” I quickly learned that she takes no medications, has no medical problems, has no allergies, all the while holding her wrist to feel for a pulse and get a sense of her blood pressure. Regular and thready. Heart’s ok. Probably dehydration. I put a cool moist towel on her forehead and a a smile appeared on her face.
The airline attendants wanted to sit her up and put her back in her seat but I insisted that she remain flat to help maintain her blood pressure and reduce dizziness. Moments later, the color returned to her face. I said, “You will be fine.” We lifted her into her seat and I held her legs in the air near my waist for the next several minutes to keep her blood pressure up while she drank fluids. I requested that the pilots increase the oxygen in the cabin and cool the air down a few degrees.
A Day’s Work
A little later, I quietly left her side and debriefed the attendant who took the seat next to hers. After moseying back to my seat, I soon began to doze off again. I awoke upon landing and, half in a slumber, meandered to the taxi stand to grab one home.
Alas, in that 30-minute ride, well into the wee hours of the morning, the cabbie was a talkative chap. He asked me how my day went and I said it was long and I am tired, but that I did help someone out on the plane tonight. Not sure how or why that piece came out but I guess I felt like there was something satisfying about the moment.
The cabbie loved it. He became effusive: “You’re a doctor! You can help people every day! What a fantastic thing you do! I feel good when I give money to the poor but you can really help people! I’d give anything to be able to help people like that! Bless you.”
Now, I’ve helped at least a dozen people on planes in the last two decades, witnessing seizures, asthmatic attacks, panic attacks and heart attacks. But I rarely feel that what I have done is particularly special or romantic… until today. Some people write code, while others build things, paint, teach, perform, move money or mountains. I help people. One at a time. Every day. In the simplest of ways. And with all my heart. And this is good.