True airplane emergency horror
A Canadian doctor was
treating a man who suffered a heart attack on
an Air Canada flight to London, and the patient
vomited all over him. Stepping off the plane,
covered in vomit, not having slept or eaten, he
asked the airline for help. The answer was no
until he went to the press, at which point
two free tickets materialized.
Two BC nurses got free tickets
from WestJet after treating patients when their
Calgary to Halifax flight suddenly dropped 300
metres, throwing passengers against the roof of
Last September an Italian woman
died on Ryanair of a blood clot in her lung. A
doctor on board was unable to do anything because
the plane carried no medical equipment.
In 1995, a British physician
flying out of Hong Kong operated on a woman with
a collapsed lung, improvising using only a coat
hanger, some tape and a water bottle.
Providing emergency care when you're
miles above the earth is any physician's nightmare.
Last year, Montreal FP Henry Coopersmith was called
on to help three patients during flights. Now he's suing
Air Canada. Dr Coopersmith doesn't just want Air Canada
to pay for his help he wants to establish precedent
to make all the airlines compensate doctors for airplane
Here's Dr Coopersmith's story. A squawk over the PA
asking for a doctor. Dr Coopersmith stands up dutifully.
It's October 11, 2006 and Dr Coopersmith and his wife
are on an Air Canada flight to Paris to begin a five-day
"I was taken to the back cabin
of the airplane," Dr Coopersmith recalls. "The lights
were on. Everyone was running around. Three passengers
were ill, and the workers thought something might be
wrong the food or the air."
Dr Coopersmith took it all in stride
and began working. The first case was a simple case
of abdominal pain. He calmed the patient and resolved
the problem quickly. But the next patient didn't appear
to be doing well at first glance.
"She was about about to faint,"
he says. "She was sweaty, diaphoretic. And she was white,
clammy she didn't look good."
While he tried to elicit some answers
from her, Dr Coopersmith administered oxygen and had
her lie down. "After dealing with her for a while, I
found she'd taken sleeping medication and then drunk
some alcohol. No major problem."
The third case was the worst. A
woman sitting in the back was outwardly upset. "She
was very agitated," says Dr Coopersmith, who had trouble
getting any coherent answers out of her. "I asked a
man there if he knew anything about her history. He
refused to answer." He asked nearby passengers if they
knew her. They said no, but told him the tight-lipped
Frenchman was a doctor. Odd, thought Dr Coopersmith,
considering the man wasn't doing anything to help. "I
asked if he needed help, and he refused to answer again,"
Dr Coopersmith says. "I went back to sleep, but the
chief stewardess came and woke me up and told me the
French doctor was going to inject her with something."
So Dr Coopersmith got up again and tramped back to the
rear of the plane.
"When he saw me coming back, he
flipped out and start yelling, questioning my credentials,"
says Dr Coopersmith. "He threw the syringe back in the
cart and left." Dr Coopersmith checked the syringe:
valium. He talked to the woman and managed to calm her
down without any valium, and then went back to his sleep
to try to rest a while longer.
But again, he was woken by the
stewardess. This time it was to fill out incident report
forms. "I was up all night," he says.
After his arrival, Dr Coopersmith called Air Canada
to ask them to replace his 160,000-point executive class
tickets as compensation for the time he spent helping
their customers. "They said, 'No, you're ethically bound
to do it,' and they offered me 10,000 miles," he recalls.
"I said, 'That's not enough.'"
Little did Air Canada know they
weren't dealing with just any doctor. Henry Coopersmith
is also a lawyer, and in mid-September he filed a lawsuit
in Montreal small claims court. Because a physician's
help saves airlines from having to hire their own medical
staff, and can prevent planes from making unnecessary
emergency landings, Dr Coopersmith says they should
replace doctors' tickets, give them extra miles or even
pay them for their time.
"It's a natural obligation on behalf
of doctors, to help people when we can," Dr Coopersmith
says, "but that shouldn't be taken for granted
even abused by the airlines."
Doctors have long complained that airlines don't help
them enough when they help the airlines. In August,
Vancouver physician Muni Nazerali had to treat two critically
ill patients while an Air Transat plane made an emergency
landing in Iqaluit. Speaking to the Vancouver Sun afterwards,
she bemoaned the poor supply of adrenaline and nitroglycerine
on board, the basically useless little hijack-proof
scalpel, a broken oxygen tank, and needles that didn't
fit the syringe tube.
"They are not carrying enough [equipment],"
Dr Nazerali told the Sun. "Some of the things are inadequate...
It is terrible to be put in a position like this."
Concerns about insufficient equipment
raise liability questions for physicians. Do you need
to keep medical records? What if a patient sues?
But Canadian Medical Protective
Association (CMPA) risk management director Dr William
Beilby says not to worry you'll most likely be
covered by Canadian law if you're on a Canadian flight,
and the CMPA will cover you except in truly exceptional
circumstances. "Most provinces have some sort of Good
Samaritan protection built into the legislation, and
it's usually worded that actions have to be grossly
negligent or pretty egregious to incur liability," he
says. Nevertheless, he says, keep a record of the incident
just in case.