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A Piece of My Mind
September 12, 2017

What Should I Do When I Hear the Call for Medical Assistance in a Plane?

Author Affiliations
  • 1Center for Bioethics and Humanities, SUNY Upstate Medical University, Syracuse, New York
JAMA. 2017;318(10):907-908. doi:10.1001/jama.2017.7187

“If there is a doctor on board, would you please make yourself known to a member of the cabin crew?” Reflexively, my hand shoots up to press the button. Seven times I have responded to such requests. Mostly it has worked out well. Twice I thought the passenger had had too much alcohol. Once I comforted an anxious woman. Another time a young army recruit heading for basic training had unexplained arm pain. Sometimes it was more serious. A man with abdominal pain told me he had cancer and he needed my attention and reassurances. A woman had a cardiac emergency, and I had to request an unscheduled landing. Another emergency on a trans-Pacific flight required the extended care of several physicians.

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