We’ve all seen movies where a traveler on a plane has a health crisis and the flight attendants make the hurried announcement, “Is there is a doctor on board?”

In February, while on a coast-to-coast flight, a passenger fell unconscious while waiting to use the bathroom. The announcement went out quickly asking for assistance. I immediately stood up and made my way up the aisle. The person was lying on his back unresponsive.

There are many things that go through your mind at a time like this. While it was difficult to tell if he had a radial pulse, he certainly had a strong carotid pulse. He was pale but breathing on his own. In less than a minute, he was responsive but still very dizzy. The crew provided a blood pressure cuff and stethoscope so I could check his blood pressure. It turns out the man was making his way to the bathroom due to nausea from food poisoning. The medical team on the ground recommended 30 minutes of oxygen, which was administered.

A passenger in business class gave up her seat so we could get the sick traveler in a seat that reclined. For the remainder of the six-hour flight, I stood in the aisle next to him, providing ice chips or a large plastic bag to collect the contents when he threw up. He continued to improve but was still taken off the plane by EMTs and admitted to a local hospital. He made a complete recovery from his illness.

A few years ago, I read an editorial by Walt West (from Vision Source) who described an incident where he provided care for a patient on a Southwest flight. At the time, I thought this to be a rare occurrence and how fortunate the traveler was to have Walt on board. As an OD, I am proud to use my training and expertise in caring for others in need.

Richard Clompus, OD, FAAO | Professional Editor |


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