A medical student, a nurse, and a med tech board a plane

  • Published
  • By Patti Holloway
  • 349th Public Affairs

Air Force training prepares you for many things; sometimes it can even prepare you for ‘making the big decisions’ such as the landing destination of an aircraft full of people.

Recently while traveling on a flight to a Unit Training Assembly weekend, Staff Sgt. Amy Adams, 349th Aeromedical Evacuation Squadron Technician, used her Air Force training to come to the aid of a fellow passenger, and help everyone on the flight get to their destination as scheduled.

Approximately 45 minutes after takeoff, a flight attendant announced there was a medical emergency onboard, asking if there was a doctor. Several minutes passed. When Adams observed an attendant leading a female passenger up to the front of the plane, she assumed a doctor had been found.

Minutes later the attendant made another announcement, “At this time we ask that any medical professionals please come forward. Please ring your call bell if you are able to assist.”

“I waited a moment or two, hesitating to see if perhaps the call bells would begin binging all over the plane, however, no bells rang,” Adams said.

“I reached up and rang my call bell. I took a deep breath and realized that this is why I train -so that when the time arrives, I am able to help a fellow human being; most specifically in the air,” Adams said. “I silently reviewed my most basic medical principles, numbers, protocols and realized I had no idea what I was about to encounter.”

The attendant led Adams to first class. She approached the passenger, a female approximately 30 to 35 years old lying in the aisle with a non-rebreather mask applied with 100 percent oxygen flowing.

The woman Adams had previously witnessed being escorted by the attendant was standing over the woman on the floor.

“I introduced myself as an Air Force Medical Technician and Emergency Medical Technician and asked what was going on.”

She said she was a medical student, and was not sure what had happened with the passenger, however, she had applied the oxygen after talking with the flight attendants.

“I turned to the attendants that had been with the passenger during the emergency, and they stated the woman said she felt lightheaded and nauseated, and then lost consciousness.”

Another woman who identified herself as a nurse was taking the patient’s blood pressure, and indicated it was very low.

“I knelt down and spoke to the patient who was now alert and oriented. She appeared pale and her skin was cool and dry. She told me that she had become extremely uncomfortable right after takeoff and experienced extreme gastrointestinal pain,” Adams said

“I went through a medical interview with her, and determined she had the following possible contributing factors; vegetarian, consumed a non-vegetarian meal before flight, taken GAS-X to preemptively relieve discomfort along with drinking two glasses of wine upon boarding flight, indicated she had previous history of gastrointestinal pain leading to temporary loss of consciousness.

Adams took a second set of vitals and determined they were within a normal range. The patient stated she was beginning to feel better and was assisted to her seat.

“I sat with her and discussed her previous experiences and diet. Her skin began to regain color and she was able to take breaks from the O-2 mask. The patient stated she still felt nauseated but, overall, felt much better,” said Adams. “I remained with her for about 30 minutes and she continued to improve so I was ready to return to my seat.”

The attendants said at this point the pilot needed to know if he should turn the plane around, or if he should continue to their destination.

“I realized the weight of responsibility was upon me. I also felt the value and understanding of all the training I have experienced!” Adams exclaimed. “Relying on my training, experience, and with my mentors voices replaying in my mind I told them confidently - I believed that turning around the flight would not be necessary.”

Adams returned to her seat.

About 25 minutes later the flight attendant returned to Adams and stated, “We need you back upstairs!”

It turns out the passenger, given the choice of medical student, nurse or AES technician, picked Adams.

“I had an instant rapport with her,” said Adams.

Adams returned upstairs to find the patient in the latrine, experiencing diarrhea and vomiting. Adams assisted the patient back to her seat.

“I encouraged her to sip water and chew ice chips, and applied a cold compress to her forehead and neck along with the reapplied oxygen mask, and I continued to monitor her vitals,” said Adams.

Soon her vitals were within the normal limits, and although tired, the passenger said she was feeling better and wanted to sleep. Adams again assisted the passenger to her seat, and the flight continued.

About 30 minutes passed when the flight attendant returned to Adams and said, “I’m sorry can you please come back upstairs?”

Adams returned to find the patient back in the latrine experiencing more diarrhea and feeling very anxious and upset.

“I tried to reassure her that we were almost to our destination and reiterated the stresses of flight as we had discussed earlier, and that I believed she would find some relief upon landing,” she said.

Adams led the woman back to her seat and stayed with the woman until it was time for descent.

“I encouraged her to see her doctor as soon as possible, or head to an emergency room if she felt it was necessary upon landing.”

The passenger refused an emergency medical response upon reaching the destination, and the flight landed without further incident.

“Overall, this experience was valuable in my flight career. Although I provided minimal medical care; I provided comfort, reassurance and support to help someone get through an extremely uncomfortable situation,” Adam said.