Please don't land this plane.
Please do not land this plane.

The visual overload after a full afternoon wandering the Museum of Modern Art put me into 'museum fog.' A cup of coffee and obligatory pastry accompaniment in the Cafe allowed me to sit and savor the museum experience. That evening, I would be flying to my home in Oklahoma on the only non-stop flight from New York City. Scheduled to leave at 8:30pm, it has left as late as 10. That was the case on this day.

I checked my single bag at the counter and eased on through Security. At the signboard above the gate, the ‘Delayed’ sign stared right at me, arrogantly taunting me. Resigning myself to the delay, I walked the concourse. The aroma of fresh brewed coffee perked me right up. The wait was now less of a hassle since I could just wait with my comforting warm cup. I pulled out my tablet and swiped to the bookmark. The wait wasn't too bad, the lounge area gets pretty quiet at that time of night and I had a good book, and my coffee.

Boarding, taxiing, and takeoff were uneventful. I had a great seat - 12A on an Embraer jet, the one that has two seats on one side and only one on the other. I was on the one-seat side and in an Exit Row which meant more leg room. A great seat.

Twenty minutes in the air, I set the tablet in the seat pocket, ordered, and drank a Diet Coke. That brought the number of caffeine drinks to six - double my normal dosage. A few minutes later, I was again lost inside a good story. Then, without any advance notice, my heart just went crazy - beating in a way I hadn't felt before and faster than I could remember, except for that one time in the Lace Strip Club on 8th Avenue, just north of 42nd Street. The full day in the city, flight turbulence, flight delay stress, and all that caffeine; maybe none of these were influencing factors, but my heart was thumping loudly, rapidly, and abnormally. I felt nauseous and sweated slightly. I ordered a caffeine-free Diet Sprite, turned up the cool air, and hunkered in my seat. I was too anxious to do much reading. I put the tablet away. What I really wanted was to lie down. I thought about asking if I could lay on the floor in the rear galley, but decided not to tell the flight crew of my condition. I was afraid they'd overreact and land the plane somewhere in Indiana and disappoint a herd of sleepy passengers. I had heard those stories of planes landing to get heart patients to a hospital.
“Please do not land this plane.”
I drank some of the water from my carryon case and stuck it out.

My plan was to carefully make it to the departure lounge where I could lie down and rest. This flight was the last of the day; the OKC airport would be almost empty at that late hour. No food or shops are open and there are only a half dozen airport personnel. That's about it. Sort of creepy, but in an appealing way. With no other tarmac traffic, the plane got to the gate jetway within minutes of landing. While waiting for the door to open, I mentally rehearsed the next few minutes - up the jetway, turn left to a deserted lounge and lie down behind a row of seats. Emerging from the jetway, I felt strong enough to bypass the departure lounge.

Plan 2: slowly make it to Baggage Claim where I could sit. Down the escalator and around the corner. In the mostly empty bagage area, I sat and stuck my feet out to recline slightly. My breathing was somewhat steady, but my heart was still out of whack. Fortunately, my bag was the fourth bag to march through the rubber flaps and around on the conveyor. I waited for the bag to come closer to where I was resting. Feeling revived somewhat, I considered Plan 3: walk to my car and lie down; I had a dog bed filling the entire back of the car. Alone in my walk through the tunnel to the parking garage, I felt better, maybe due to the cool air, walking, or that my body was adapting to the disturbing heart issue. With my bag on the back seat and comforted in the driver’s seat, I was so eager to get home and in to bed that I implemented Plan 4. I drove home cautiously. Unsure of the symptoms, I was concerned that a heart attack or stroke might happen at any time.
I stayed in the right lane, drove more slowly, and remained on high alert.

Settled into home and my bedroom, I lied down. Something still didn't feel right. Mys heart was still set on abnormal. I stayed in bed for a few minutes.
“This isn’t right - something’s wrong.”
About one in the morning I dressed and drove the short distance to the Hospital Emergency Room. Normally, checking in to this hospital was a bit of a pain, but a heart emergency seems to excite the staff and they get moving and make things happen. A wheelchair slammed through the double doors and I was rolled back into an exam room. Immediately, some guy came in and started wiring me up to machines. They put me through numerous tests (EKG, chest x-ray, heart enzymes, ultrasound, etc.) My heart rate was way out of range - too rapid and too irregular.

Someone else said I would be admitted to the hospital ICU for an overnight stay. I wasn't too keen on that, but they insisted. Apparently, since they knew I had some heart trouble, they could be held responsible if someone left the hospital and something happened to them as a result of the heart trouble. A nurse came in to tell the staff that there were no available beds in the ICU and that I would have to stay in the ER. Ugh. The ER beds and the rooms were not comfortable. I protested and said I would take my chances and go home. I didn’t know if they could force me to stay in the hospital against my will. They did not like my plan to go home and told me to give them a few minutes. Just like that, a bed opened up and I was put back into a wheelchair and taken through a maze of hallways to the ICU and a now-waiting bed. In my new room, the nurses wired me to oxygen, heart rate, and an IV of medicine. I was able to get to sleep about 3:00. I was startled awake for the next few hours by a variety of nurses conducting more tests, taking blood pressure, and adjusting the IV. The interruptions defied their repeated recommendations that I get some sleep.

Laying on the bed was a 'Room pack' containing, among other things, a pair of slippers. They didn't fit. Not even close. I asked,
“Will I still be charged for these?“
The nurse replied,
“Let me see if I can find some larger ones.”
I never heard from her again. I was, in fact, charged for slippers that I couldn't wear. Another nurse came in later to retake my blood pressure. From the doorway, she glanced around the room and didn't see the blood pressure cuff, so she said she'd go get another one. I asked her,
“Will I be charged for the second cuff?“
“Well, it will be charged to your room.”
“Then, let's look for the cuff I already bought.”
The morning paper lay next to me on the bed. I lifted it up. There was the blood pressure cuff.

These two events, among others, confirmed that there was little incentive for medical staff to save money or be very efficient. In fact, I wondered if the incentive was for the staff to charge as many items to the room as feasible. Like a racket; the hospitals overcharge knowing that patients are unlikely to check their bill. The insurance companies pay the bill; they don’t have the staff or the need to check every item on every claim submitted. And the patient just plays along, becoming an unknowing participant in the American health care game.

I enjoyed some good heart-healthy food, watched some college football games, and visited with friends who dropped by - the word had spread. My dogs had been boarded for my trip to New York, so I called and asked them to keep the dogs for another day. At about 3:30 in the afternoon, my heart got back to normal - medical phrase: the heart 'converted to a sinus rhythm’. Despite some scary moments on the plane and in the ER, I was grateful for the technology, wisdom, and experience of the medical profession.

A nurse came into the room at about 8:00 that evening and said I could go home soon. I was discharged about an hour later and went home to rest. The next afternoon, my doctor reviewed all the test results and the notes from the hospital cardiologist. What I experienced was based on a variety of factors that coincided and caused a disruption to the electrical signals that were sent to the heart. I'm glad they did not land that plane.

© James Robert Watson    Email    Text

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