It was a sleepy Sunday morning in New Orleans airport. After just attending my 20 year high school reunion in the “Big Easy” I was tired, wearing comfortable travel clothes, and scrolling through my Facebook feed at the gate as we were just about to begin boarding. However, a man yelled out “someone help” and huge circle of space opened up from where the yell emanated close to the boarding area across the room. He pointed to a man shaking violently in his chair with foam coming from his mouth.
This immediate backing away from the scene is typical of a medical type emergency as most people feel unfamiliar or scared to help when they are not sure what to do, and therefore people tend to scatter out of the way. Contrast that with people who are medically trained- we tend to run toward an unknown situation where help is needed.
This large man was actively having a generalized seizure in a chair where he sat alone. 3 women ran to his assistance. We briefly introduced each other to understand our skillsets (one was a surgical tech, another a nurse, and myself a physician). We worked together to lower him to the ground where we could lay him on his left side to facilitated oxygenation and attempted to protect his head from the surrounding metal seats during the violent seizure.
Southwest flight attendants (or perhaps gate attendants) quickly approached and asked how they could help. We asked for them to call 911. We quickly reached to grab his wallet to find identification and to see if there were any medical alerts that may be of assistance. We asked the attendants to also try to find out if he was traveling alone, and if they could contact family.
No one from southwest questioned our ability to help, or ask for credentials proving who we were before allowing us to assist this man in need.
The man stopped seizing and we all took a deep breath and discussed the next steps, but he suddenly started seizing again. We waited with him patiently, protecting his airway and his head and the second seizure eventually stopped.
EMS arrived about 5 minutes later and got him to a stretcher and off to the hospital. He was still in a post ictal state from the seizures and obviously in no condition to travel.
We realized after the crisis was averted that the gate at the terminal had become eerily quiet as everyone watched the ordeal unravel. Once he was on the way to the hospital people began to mill about, and I joined my husband back at my seat.
Unfortunately, there have been many articles recently about women physicians being turned away by flight attendants during a medical emergency in flight, and having to prove their credentials before being allowed to assist. These women doctors were apparently not meeting a certain stereotypical appearance expected by the attendants. In contrast, older male physicians coming along later were allowed to help without question. These events have hampered timely medical intervention and exposed sexism still prevalent in our country.
Southwest employees did none of this. They were supportive in any way they could be, were appreciative for the help, and had the ailing passenger’s best interest at the forefront of their actions.
After about 10 minutes, an announcement on the load speaker requested the 3 women who assisted in the medical emergency to come to the gate desk before we board. Here we go, I thought. They are now going to make me show my credentials, explain what happened, prove how I am qualified to have assisted. But no, they gave each of us a small voucher for a future flight instead and thanked us for the help, with no further questions asked. Kudos Southwest.
This event occurred a few months ago and I haven’t thought of it since that day. However, I was reminded of it today when I saw an article about how a homeless man helped injured and bleeding children in the wake of the tragic events at the UK concert suicide bombing. His credentials are irrelevant. When a need arises for a fellow human and everyone else runs the other way, I hope more people step up like he did.