SOMEWHERE OVER HOBOKEN, NJ – It’s amazing how there is always a doctor around when you need one. Hardly 200 miles into my flight out of Albany last Thursday, a young woman in 3B could not wait any longer to find one. “Is there a doctor on board?!” she shouted, interrobang and all. Casually, I did my best to ignore the anxious din roar through the cabin, tending to the Angry Birds on my Kindle Fire. “PLEASE SOMEBODY HELP! SHE’S HAVING A BABY!!” they kept calling out. Dear God. Hopelessly, the passengers and crew fumbled around with the imminent delivery, trying to make way for an extra passenger to board the flight.
“I’m coming, I’m coming!” I finally surrendered after seeing that nobody else knew what they were doing. “Quick! Give me some vodka!” I demanded of the wide-eyed flight attendant as I barreled down the narrow corridor. In seconds, she had procured two vials and handed them to me.
I downed the first bottle. It would have been better with some juice, to be honest. The second, I showered over my hands like they do in the movies. My patient, an extremely fertile, Caucasian 20-something who had apparently convinced the TSA she was safe to fly at 41 weeks, was tachycardic, diaphoretic, and red from head to toe in her reclining pleather armchair. A man behind me tapped my left shoulder and asked, “Are you a doctor?”
No, but I stayed in a Holiday Inn Express last night. I told him of course I was. Confessing the truth, “a radiologist,” was simply not an option here. Without giving the gentleman a moment to interrogate me further, I mobilized my army of equally inexperienced bystanders on board. Imagining the mess this poor girl would make, I articulated a list of the things I would need. Water. Towels. Scissors. Garbage bag.
I started encouraging the young woman to use breathing exercises I learned from having watched 16 and Pregnant. I nearly syncopized from the hyperventilation with her. Then the rest happened all too quickly.
Her Hello Kitty sweatpants were cut off by the flight attendant using the on-board safety scissors while a plastic basin was placed amid the turbulence in seat 3A and between all the grunting and panting on my part and the whooshing and rocking and nasty matted down blonde highlights that belonged to this soon-to-be mom a head finally poked out and oh my god it was swiftly followed by a shoulder and another shoulder when the flight attendant’s blue and bloodless face fell flat to the floor out of disbelief or was it fear, but no other doctors were available for her so I told 4C to fan her with his tattered Red Sox cap and then I remembered how slippery newborns were but there was at least a towel and that damn vomit-colored basin to catch the thing in.
Clamp, clamp went two binder clips that had previously belonged on some document of some businessman’s. The safety scissors which had fallen beneath the second row were snatched up and used to cut the violet lifeline. I handed the crying glob of a child to mom as she smiled back at me, and thank God someone reminded me to deliver the placenta.
At this point, the on-call medical personnel at some military installation out in Fort something-or-other responded to our captain’s MAYDAY hail and helped us until we emergently landed at Dulles, only about 3 hours away from our destination in Atlanta.
All passengers were eventually compensated for the diverted landing in the form of frequent flyer miles and meal vouchers. “Thank you for flying Southwest Airlines!” The ground-based personnel later asked me if I would like to be interviewed by news reporters seeing as this was an incredible story and all, but having thought JESUS I nearly KILLED this woman, I respectfully declined.