Hero Doctors: 30,000 Feet Up in the Air

Shelly Reese


November 24, 2015

In This Article

Doctors: The True Heroes

Our recent article, 'Is There a Doctor on Board?' Keeping Quiet vs Stepping Up, generated a lot of comments. You shared stories about treating panic attacks, broken bones, kidney stones, bloody noses, epileptic seizures, heart attacks, concussions, and dozens of other emergencies.

You've jumped in to help others despite language barriers, cramped spaces, difficult crew members, travel inconvenience, and unwanted paperwork. In the process, you've displayed some of the qualities that define the practice of medicine at its best.

So here's to the physician heroes on land, at sea, and in the sky. Specifically, thanks for:

Demonstrating Ingenuity

When Dr Michael Ginsberg, a pediatrician, responded to an emergency call while flying from New York to San Francisco, he was convinced the patient would be the elderly lady with the nasal cannula he noticed upon boarding. To his surprise, the patient was an 18-month-old boy who had developed acute-onset vomiting and diarrhea.

Because there was neither Pedialyte® nor Gatorade™ onboard, Dr Ginsberg asked a flight attendant to bring him sugar and salt packets; determined the amount in each; and "from somewhere in the depths of my brain, the recipe for homemade oral rehydration solution (ORS) came bounding up."

Dr Ginsberg asked the attendant to mix one packet of salt and 18 packets of sugar into a liter of water. "I then asked for the medical kit and found a 5-cc syringe," he recalls. "I asked the parents to give 5 cc of my improvised ORS every 5 minutes. I also had the flight attendant open a can of ginger ale to (let it) flatten out, and told the parents they could give a bit of that as an antiemetic. Most commercial ginger ales lack sufficient ginger to have an effect, but at 36,000 feet, it was all I had."

"I spoke with the captain and told him that I thought it was safe to proceed, and asked him to arrange an ambulance to meet us at the gate to transport the child to an emergency department (ED). I checked on the family every half-hour or so for the remaining 2 hours of the flight, and the child did well and appeared to be clinically hydrated."


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