Is There a Doctor On Board?

November 25, 2015 drdarria 0 Comments

Here’s an excerpt from when I was interviewed recently about answering the infamous in-airplane “Is there a doctor on-board?” call —

By Darria Long Gillespie: My husband and I were flying from Las Vegas to Boston when we heard a flight attendant ask, “Is there a doctor on board?” I stood and saw a gentleman in his 30s having a grand mal seizure in his seat. His traveling companions didn’t know him very well, and had no idea if he had a history of seizures or other medical conditions.

I was delighted to see four other physicians also step up to volunteer — a neurologist, a urologist, my orthopedic surgeon husband, and a surgical intern. It was a moment of camaraderie to see physicians from multiple specialties united.

The first three eventually went back to their seats, but I asked the surgical intern, who was a former paramedic, to stay with me in case I needed the extra set of hands.

The flight attendant opened up the airplane’s medical kit, and I quickly realized how sparse it was. What I most wanted to know was this man’s blood sugar, a potential cause of seizures, but there was no glucometer. Fortunately, the surgical intern was also a diabetic, and he was able to use his personal kit to check our patient’s blood sugar, which turned out to be fine. He also helped me place an IV and give our groggy patient some fluids.

At that point, the flight attendant asked me to come to the in-flight phone to speak with the pilot.

As an emergency doctor, I’m used to colleagues asking me a lot of things. Do you want to give medication? Do you want to deliver the baby here? Is the patient having a heart attack? I was not prepared for the pilot’s question: “Doc, I’m circling Omaha, just waiting to hear. Do I need to land this plane?” I judged that the man’s seizures had abated and he was stable enough to make it to Boston.

The two hours until we landed, with me watching my new patient, were two of the longest in my life. I’ll never forget the relief when we landed.

I got a few glares from other passengers because the flight attendants weren’t able to do their typical in-flight beverage service. The man I helped, however, was very appreciative. When we landed in Boston, we were met by an emergency medical team. The man was doing well by this time, and didn’t want to go to the hospital. I told him he needed to go so he could be evaluated by a doctor. As he was being wheeled away, he flashed me a peace sign and said, “I don’t need to see a doctor. You’re my doctor.”

Well, yes. Yes, I was.

Darria Long Gillespie, MD, is a fellow of the American College of Emergency Physicians, an assistant professor in Emory University School of Medicine’s Department of Emergency Medicine, and “chief doctor” and executive vice president of Sharecare, Inc.


This excerpt first appeared on:

Leave a Reply:

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *