A half hour into a five hour flight the call comes over the speaker, “Is there a doctor on the plane?”  I get up, and am told there is a problem in the back galley.

My patient, and her mother are sitting there.

I will stop there with the details of the child and her mother, suffice to say I spent an hour sitting with them, reassuring them, and we avoided an unnecessary diversion.

The flight attendant wanted proof of my credentials, first time I have been asked that, I guess the stethoscope I carry with me wasn’t enough, so I gave my medical license number from the state. The flight attendant than proceeded to give me medical advise since he suffered this mythical condition (the child had a real problem, the flight attendant had an imaginary problem and false erudition).

They called the ground medical group (standard procedure) and I gave them the necessary information to the flight attendant who poorly translated to my fellow physicians.  The captain asked, through the flight attendant, if we needed to divert. We didn’t. The ground medical group agreed.  The patient was much better off getting back home.

During the hour I spent with the patient and her mother I learned they lived close by my home, we knew a number of fellow physicians, and she knew my name and where my office was.

The flight attendant took my name, my frequent flier number and said the airline would get back to me.  The airline didn’t. The passenger didn’t.

Airlines ask us to help.  The equipment on the planes is pretty bad (I carry my own).

When I was waiting for my luggage a older couple came up to me and asked if I was the doctor who helped. She said she use to be a flight attendant on Pan Am, and when doctors helped in those days they would get a free flight. I told her that those days are gone  – today airlines have little appreciation for those who respond.

In medicine we respond because it is in our DNA. It is always nice to be appreciated, though – even if it is note from the airline and a package of peanuts.

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