Is There a Doctor on Board?

Posted by mwallach on June 22, 2011 in Crazy Follows Me Everywhere, New To You |

Dear That’s Life,

It should not be that hard to get on a plane and have a quiet, uneventful flight. People do it all the time. And if it is not at all that difficult, why can’t that happen to me?  That’s because crazy follows me everywhere – even 40,000 feet into the air.

Hatzolah members must have been boy scouts in their former lives. That, or they watched too much ‘MacGuyver’ as children, growing up believing that with only a roll of duct tape, you, too can save the world from a nuclear explosion. Regardless, many if not all have travel packs, filled with just the right items to handle a minor emergency. Preferring to be safe rather than sorry, the pack is accessible and kept in a carry-on bag, making sure they are always prepared.

The reality is also that in the event of an emergency, an EMT is often better equipped to run the call than a doctor who has specialized in a field requiring no emergency medicine. Practicing EMTs, like Hatzolah members, regularly handle traumas and emergencies, making them the ‘go-to-guys’ over, for example, a dermatologist or an endocrinologist. If someone in cardiac arrest is fortunate enough to have a cardiologist serendipitously nearby who is ready to step-up, well, then, that is a different story. The chances of being that lucky, however, are slim. Hatzolah, on the other hand, is ready and waiting.

When the flight attendant called for a doctor over the PA system, I knew I was going to be switching seats. My husband, who had been sitting next to our children while I sat in a different row, seemed to leap over them in an effort to get to the patient. Identifying himself as an EMT and producing his identification, I moved into his seat to be closer to the kids while he went to work. “What kind of a doctor is your husband?” asked the gentleman sitting in front of us. I smiled. “Oh – he’s a tax attorney,” I replied, only to be met by a face in horror, but then I clarified. “It’s not like he just slept at a Holiday Inn Express and felt great,” I said, referencing the commercial in which people stay at that hotel and feel so good that they partake in activities for which they are otherwise completely untrained or skilled. “He’s also an EMT.” The face of horror softened and eventually smiled.

For the next 45 minutes or so, my husband tended to his patient, caring for him as if we were on the ground and this was any other call. Assuring the flight attendants that we did not need to make an emergency landing and that the flight could continue to Los Angeles as scheduled, he monitored the gentleman even after the patient had stabilized. My daughter asked me where my husband had gone. I gave her the standard answer she has heard many times before. “Daddy is on a Hatzolah call,” I said, to which she responded, “But you can’t make a phone call on a plane!” The irony was that while her observation was correct, had this gentleman been at home when this episode had occurred, Hatzolah’s number would definitely have been called.

While he did not wear a kippah and was otherwise indistinguishable from anyone else on the plane, it turned out the patient’s name was Avi. He was Israeli and lived in Brooklyn. It must be exceedingly terrifying to need emergency medical assistance, let alone while flying in a tin can miles above the ground. However, once my husband identified himself to Avi as a member of Hatzolah, the patient breathed a sigh of relief. Avi knew exactly what that meant: he was in good hands.

By simply stating he was on Hatzolah, my husband provided his patient and the patient’s family with immediate comfort, effectively guaranteeing a standard of medical care that could otherwise not have been expected aboard an airplane. Almost like ‘shibolet’, ‘Hatzolah’ acts like a code word with those ‘in the know’ fully aware of what it means.

Admittedly, I am not a supportive Hatzolah wife and would prefer he not leave Friday night dinner while we are all enjoying each other’s company. However, as a person who thinks there is no such thing as a coincidence, I am sure we were supposed to be on that plane although we had looked into other flights and that twelve years ago, he was meant to become a member. Life was supposed to happen just the way that it did so that one night, on a flight to Los Angeles, he could help a fellow Jew, allowing him to breathe a little easier, simply by saying, “I am on Hatzolah.”


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