Emergency Landing

For those of you busy businesspeople without a second to spare – here is a quick synopsis:

Was he faking chest pain on an airplane?

Did he cause an emergency landing in Dnepropetrovsk in order to visit family there?

Can you sprain your wrist whilst having a heart attack?

Why do folks think they can fake medical emergencies in front of persons (me) who have seen them all before?


The unemployed amongst us – please do keep reading.

I am happy to join with you today in what will go down in history as the greatest demonstration of coolness in the history of our nation. Five score years ago, a great American, on whose website you stand today, signed the EMS vow and became an EMT. This momentous decree came as a great beacon light of hope to millions of the sick of Israel who had been seared in the flames of withering injustice. It came as a joyous daybreak to end the long night of their illness and suffering.

But one hundred years later, still no emergency call on a car. One hundred years later, still no call on a boat. One hundred years later, still no call on a plane.

So we have come here today to dramatize a shameful condition. But let us not wallow in the valley of despair. I say to you today, my friends, even though we face the difficulties of today and tomorrow, I still have a dream. It is a dream deeply rooted in the American dream.

I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up to the heavens in great metal ships with wings.

I have a dream that one day in the fluffy clouds, miles high in the atmosphere, someone will urgently need help.

I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will stand safely back on the ground, their Dad having saved a life in the sky.

I have a dream today.

Back to the present – and if you haven’t yet guessed, my dream, is to be called upon to save a life on a plane. We have all heard it, the familiar ding of the airplane’s PA system; purser gets on and asks in a calm and yet petrified voice – “Is there a medic on board?”

YES! There is! And he has been waiting for this day for the longest time.

I walked to the front of the plane, and introduced myself.

“How can I help?” I said in the most professional, deep, manly voice I could muster.

“What seems to be the problem?” I said in the most qualified, profound, macho voice known to man.

“Stop it with the theatrics, Mister,” said the stewardess, “This man is having a heart attack.” And with that she disappeared to get the dying man a cup of water.

I looked at the man and the man looked at me.

30 seconds go by.

“No he’s not,” I wanted to say, but then nobody would believe me.

So I started from the top.

SHMEEL: Hello Sir, my name is Shmeel and I am an EMT – What seems to be the problem?

MAN: Ищу сердечный приступ

Oops – translator needed. Another PA announcement: “Is there anyone on board that speaks Russian?”

149 people raise their hands.

“What I meant to say was, is there anyone on board that speaks Russian and English?”

One candidate.

She makes her way over to us and we are now a quartet. Patient, Stewardess, Doctor and Translator; a team that can’t be beat.

I ask again, he responds, and the translator translates. Let’s call them the Duo.

DUO: I am looking for a heart attack.

ME: Look no further… No seriously, what’s bothering you?

DUO: I got the pain in my stomach.

To maximize the effect, he points to where he thinks his heart is – near his left shoulder.

Wrong. The heart is located anterior to the vertebral column and posterior to the sternum. For those of us that don’t speak French, it is in the middle of the chest, with an inclination towards the left. Somebody having a heart attack feels pain, sometimes described as pressure, exactly in the middle, and normally points with his whole hand and not just a finger.

ME: How bad is the pain on a scale of 1 – 10; ten being the worst?

DUO: (he looks up at the seat numbers on the overhead lockers) About 23.

ME: When did the pain start, and is it constant?

DUO: He started many years ago, and was still hurt.

Due to the excitement of the moment, I made a silly rookie gaffe and asked him a closed ended question. Big mistake; the answer is almost always a resounding, “Yes!”

ME: Do you have pain in your arm?

DUO: YES! Much pain in my arm, right here, (points to his wrist.)

End of the exam.

Let’s revise what I had gleaned so far;

The man is looking for a heart attack near his shoulder, is sitting in seat 23, and has pain in his wrist.

Oh and before I forget, he was red faced, slurring his words, and had 7 empty bottles of scotch on his tray table in front of him.

If you answered Drunk – I hereby award you with your pilot’s license.

But – and this is critical, so listen carefully; you can never really know. I firmly believe that anyone with any sort of chest pain should get it checked out as soon as possible.

The excitement continues. Inflight entertainment was abandoned by all on board, and 298 eyes are looking at us. Airfare very well spent, if you ask me.

I was invited to the cockpit to present my findings to the pilot and advise on the best course of action. The stewardess leads the way, with me, translator, and drunk in tow. She turns around and says “No, no – only the Doctor comes with me.” The Duo return to their seats, dejected.

I try to explain that I am but a lowly EMT. She wouldn’t hear of it. We get to the locked and bolted door of the cockpit (since 9/11) and the stewardess does a secret knock that sounds like Vivaldi’s Four Seasons.

Door opens and I am ushered in.

“Do we need to do an emergency landing in Dnepropetrovsk, or not?” asks the Captain. I can’t tell whether he is joking or serious. A glance at the first officer tells me he is not sure either.

“Well, in my humble opinion, it seems as though the patient is just intoxicated. However, we can’t rule out a Myocardial Infarction unless we do an ECG and blood work to check for cardiac biomarkers.”

“Go ahead, order the tests,” says the Captain, turning his face back to the controls.

“But all we have on board is a blood pressure cuff and an empty oxygen canister, Sir.”

“Ah, well, that’s a different story then, isn’t it!” He is deep in thought now. “Well, we are only about an hour out now; perhaps we could just ‘put the pedal to the metal’ and have EMS await us on arrival.”

I concurred, and so it came to be. We landed safely in Kiev and a team came on board and ushered the dying man into their idling vehicle. I looked out of the window and could have sworn it said Boryspil Cleaning Crew on the side!?

I never did find out if he made it, but was nonetheless very proud of my performance.


“A call at last! A call at last! Thank G-d Almighty, a call at last!”


(Many thanks to MLK Jr. for his help with this post.)

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