We were just crossing between Greenland and Hudson Bay when the call came out over the intercom. “Is there a doctor on the plane? Please immediately make yourself known to a flight attendant.” Now, this has happened a number of times when I have been flying. But there was a certain urgency to this call, particularly when it came again, and was amended to “A doctor or nurse on the plane.” Call buttons rang out and a few medical personnel made their way rapidly to the front of the plane, flight attendants speaking in hushed tones. Shortly thereafter, the cabin lights came on. This was no ordinary medical incident.
Over the northern tip of Hudson Bay is about the worst possible place to have a medical emergency. There is no airport closer than Edmonton that can handle a fully loaded 777. And Edmonton is 3 hours away. Sure enough, “follow the plane” in the inflight entertainment shortly showed us tracking to Edmonton. Whatever was happening was really serious. Airlines don’t divert flights unless it’s absolutely necessary, given the high costs of doing so. And they especially don’t divert flights to a third country–where not everyone onboard is guaranteed to be admissible, and where it’ll cost a fortune to get everyone to their final destination–unless it’s an absolute dire emergency. Whatever was happening was a life or death situation.
About 5 minutes later, there was another announcement–one that I have never heard before. “Does anyone onboard have any diabetic test strips for measuring blood glucose?” Now, this could only mean one thing, given everything else going on: diabetic shock was suspected. The victim might already be in a coma. This is an absolute life threatening emergency.
I snapped a picture quickly, and was quickly approached by a flight attendant who asked whether I was taking pictures. I avoided the question and sat down. “You’re not allowed to take pictures,” she said. I didn’t care to argue the point – the flight attendants definitely had more pressing issues than being the photo police, but they were already tired, stressed out and had their eye off the ball. No need to make the situation worse, even if I was in the right.
Periodically, I heard the sounds of an EKG monitoring the heartbeat, and then the heartbeat stopped. The medical personnel turned the sound way down as not to alarm everyone, but I heard it. When I saw our flight divert again to Chicago, I knew that we’d probably run out of time.
The O’Hare Fire Department, Customs and Immigration came onboard and quickly took someone out on a stretcher. We were deplaned shortly thereafter. When I got to the immigration counter, I asked the officer whether he knew what happened. “The old woman didn’t make it, she passed away,” he said, crossing his chest as devout Catholics do. I replied “On Ash Wednesday, no less,” and the officer crossed himself again, nodding and returning my passport. “Welcome home.”
Life is short. Your time is limited. The economy class meal you just choked down might be your last. Life for today, and make the most of it!