Pan Am Episode 8: Would That Ever Really Happen?
Okay, so who’s a fan of Pan Am? Teressa watches it sometimes, and – you know, I just might be around. Anyway, after catching the last episode, titled A Hurricane, Heart Attack, and Haitian Situation I thought, “I’ve got to blog about this!” So here’s the question I know everyone was thinking: could that ever really happen?
The answer is: maybe, yes, and probably not – in that order.
First, the hurricane. I’m not sure a commercial airplane would intentionally fly through a hurricane. But there’s no doubt that bad weather does force airplanes to divert – or limit landing options in a time of onboard crisis. Maybe more often than not (stay tuned, in fact, for next week’s blog on that very topic).
Next, the heart attack. In the episode, an elderly gentleman named Mr. Henry Belson (yes, they called people “Mr.” in those days!) – who had for forty years saved "lots of mason jars filled with spare change" – has a heart attack on board. There’s no doctor on the plane, and no medical supplies that will make any difference. So the pilot decides to divert to Port-Au-Prince, Haiti (because, of course, all of the nearby U.S. airports are being pummeled by the hurricane).
There’s no doctor waiting at the airport (in fact, the airport is closed), so our two protagonists Ted and Colette commandeer a Haitian military jeep to go off into the jungle in search of a doctor for poor Mr. Henry Belson. They find one, but he won’t help except to offer a few nitroglycerin pills. Returning back to the airplane with the pills, Ted and Colette are too late.
So what’s the lesson here? First off, this kind of thing does happen. Perhaps more often than any of us would like to consider. Think about it this way: According to the CDC, an American has a “coronary event” every 25 seconds. About one American every minute will die from a coronary event.
As I’ve written before, that doesn’t mean you don’t fly – even if you’re elderly and/or at higher risk for a heart attack. It does mean you should consider taking extra precautions, perhaps even having a medically-trained commercial air medical escort fly with you (see Can’t I Just Take My Sick/Injured Loved One on a Plane Myself?).
When MedFlight911 Air Ambulance arranges commercial air medical transports for our clients, the patient is accompanied by a critical care nurse, a critical care paramedic, or a physician – a medical professional who has the expertise and the equipment to handle a medical emergency should one arise.
Finally, the Haitian situation. A commercial airplane would not divert to a politically unstable foreign country because of a medical emergency on board. As I’ve said before, it is always the pilot’s – and only the pilot’s – call to divert in the event of a medical emergency, but I’m sure the pilot’s rulebook says, “No diverting to unstable foreign country where the runway is torn up and the airport is closed!”
In fact, I’ve recounted stories in which the pilot, for a range of reasons, decided not to divert the plane at all (see Emergency On Board: Woman Sits Next to Her Deceased Boyfriend for Nine Hours and also this story).
Okay, so obviously Pan Am is a TV show – and we all know they only ever very loosely resemble reality. But the episode afforded me a good opportunity to talk about some of the considerations passengers – especially elderly passengers and/or those with medical problems – should make before booking that commercial flight.