This is possibly the most freakish string of events and coincidences I have ever experienced.
And it's all true.
Our team of doctors, nurses and logisticians had just spent a grueling week in Nicaragua running a full medical clinic in a remote village. As we readied for our two flights home, all we wanted was rest. And drinks with ice in them.
At least we got one of those things.
The flight from Managua to Miami went by without incident, besides lying through my teeth on the Entering-the-Country form.
Been around any sick people? Psh, of course not. This was during the height of the swine flu paranoia, too. Not like a couple of us wandered into the village and watched a family butcher a pig. And ate their totally untreated cacao beans. Of course not. And contraband items? Of course not.
Well, besides the five totally legit Cuban cigars I stored in my Keds in my checked luggage. (When we went to market, one of our trip leaders told us not to be tempted to buy anything "inappropriate." I'm a smuggler AND a sinner. They were damn good cigars though.)
We waited in the Miami airport, weary and bedraggled for four hours, stuffing ourselves with American food and crunching on ice. Finally, we boarded the plane to take us back to North Carolina and settled in to sleep, eat pretzels and zonk out watching the in-flight movie.
Thirty minutes or so into the flight we noticed a bit of a commotion at the front of the plane. A worried flight attendant rushed past and a man fell to the floor, shaking. Dr. Dad and his friend the SuperDoc (fun fact, SuperDoc delivered me and has many secret superpowers) raced to the front of the plane, followed closely by one of the women in our group who happened to be a trauma/ER nurse.
"Ma'am, we're doctors, let us handle this." It was just like something out of a movie!
The seat mate of convulsing guy got removed from his seat so they could run diagnostics in the aisle, with the shitty plane first-aid kit and all their medical gear in their carry-ons. This poor, visibly horrified man came and sat in Dr. Dad's seat.
"So, you know those doctors? I guess it's really lucky there happened to be two whole doctors on board. Heh." The guy was practically trembling.
"Yep, that's my dad.... that's the guy that delivered me. She's a trauma nurse. We also have a gynecologist, labor and delivery nurse and an oral surgeon so I wouldn't worry about anything."
"Wha... Whoa! That's amazing. What are the odds?"
"Well we just got back from a medical aid trip. But yeah, haha, we've got it covered if anything else happens."
Well yes, why don't I just go ahead and jinx us all?
They got seizure guy mostly stabilized, but the flight attendant still paced nervously and seemed on the verge of tears, and an air of barely-contained panic hovered around the front of the plane. She skittishly suggested making an emergency stop in Georgia for medical assistance.
Aw shit, they were going to ground the plane. We were going to be stuck in transit even longer. No, no, no. Between the docs and the sick guy, they were able to convince her to continue on as planned. My dad sat down next to me again, joked about our little adventure and leaned back to take a nap.
Ten minutes later, someone at the back of the plane started violently vomiting everywhere.
The doctor crew leapt up again, while the trauma nurse stayed at the front monitoring seizure guy. Panic started spreading throughout the passengers, and I somewhat bemusedly thought of the House episode where EVERYONE on the plane gets sick psychosomatically. This could be interesting.
The flight attendant has officially lost her shit and is freaking out on the intercom, telling everyone to stay in their seats (rules don't apply to doctors) as we had an emergency situation. Then, SuperDoc turns around, swishes his gray mane and says:
"Ma'am, I happen to be a licensed pilot in addition to being a doctor. I know I can't go talk to the pilot personally (post 9/11) but let me tell you the exact instructions to give him so RDU clears the runway and we have immediate emergency care upon landing."
Told you he had superpowers.
Meanwhile, barfing guy happened to be sitting right behind his personal physician, who happened to be on vacation in the same area. She was horrified when he stated he'd gone snorkeling and galavanting about the ocean because... he was in the early stages of congestive heart failure.
The Doctor Team is trying to discern if he has "the Bends" or is currently having a heart attack, and puts him on that little drop-down oxygen mask. It really doesn't inflate, by the way, but that doesn't mean it's not working. Those informational videos at the beginning of flights are actually accurate.
The people who aren't dying on the flight are getting increasingly nervous and antsy. All we need is a panic attack on top of this. I've been watching the back-of-the-plane action intensely, because this is undoubtedly the coolest flight I will ever be on in my life. Dr. Dad shoots me a look and a nod and I understand immediately.
I need to help halt the hysteria.
Those of us on the Nicaragua crew are fanned out throughout the plane, and start talking to our seatmates and those across the aisle. "Everything is going to be okay. These are trained professionals. It's not contagious. We're all in good hands and everything will be taken care of. You are all okay."
You know, the kind of stuff corporations say right before a zombie outbreak.
I first alleviated the fears of the people in front of me, assuring them everything is under control. I don't know how a sleep-deprived, makeup-less eighteen-year-old could be mistaken for an authority figure, but the wife relaxed enough to stop digging her nails into her husband's arm. Life lesson: If you sound like you know what you're talking about, people will take you seriously.
I turned to the two guys behind me, one wearing a hat with my college's logo on it.
"Nice hat. I go there. You don't have anything to worry about, by the way."
"Thanks. Can I ask you a question?" I figured he wanted to know how I knew the doctors, or what gave me the right to assume crowd control, but I nodded sure. He leaned in.
"Are we on TV or something?"
"You know, is this like one of those hidden camera shows or part of a movie where they want really real reactions from the extras? Should we be freaking out more?"
You have got to be kidding me.
The only two non-medical people NOT freaking out on the plane were only calm because they thought they were on some psychotic version of Candid Camera.
No, I explained to them. All of this was really real, and we were EXHAUSTED and just wanted to go home. They seemed a little more uneasy at my exasperation, but peered around the overhead baggage containers as if looking for hidden cameras.
Finally we arrived at the airport. The shaking flight attendant, who would probably need to be on a heavy dose of Prozac for the next 6 months, took to the intercom again.
"When we land a team of emergency medical professionals will board the plane. (Way to go, SuperDoc) We ask that you please keep your seats until they have exited the aircraft. We apologize for the slight delay but as you can all see, these are very unusual circumstances and we ask that you all COOPERATE OR ELSE." She then disappeared, probably to curl into a fetal position in the snack room.
The flight landed quickly and the medics boarded, carrying out one of the men on a stretcher and helping the other one walk. The Doctor Team rushed out with them, and half of the plane started applauding.
Applause? Maybe some people really thought they were in a movie.
I struggled with Dr.Dad's two large carry-ons. Of course, he gets all the glory and I get to be a pack-mule. Neigh, I say. Suddenly, another passenger lifted them out of my hands. As I looked around, I realized other passengers, complete strangers, were helping the medical team carry out their bags, shaking our hands and smiling.
"Was that your dad?" The stranger asked. I nodded. "Tell him thank you. You must be really proud of him."
I fought the urge to roll my eyes and say 'not usually' and smiled. We reunited with everyone in the terminal and began the trek to our van, where we had a two-hour car ride before home.
We piled in and SuperDoc looked around at all of us.
"Absolutely no one is allowed to get sick on this car ride. You hear me? No one is getting sick on this ride home."