Medical Emergency In Flight: Heartburn or Heart Attack?

(Words Of Caution From An Editor In Flight)

This is a true story of an incident that occurred on an airline flight in which the Chief Editor of was a passenger. The events of the flight present medical messages for all.

On a flight across country the recently, I had an experience that was exciting and fulfilling as a doctor and a passenger.

We left Newark, New Jersey at 7:20 am destined for Las Vegas. Just after the morning breakfast, I began to doze off into sleep. (My 2-day stay in New Jersey, from California, was work-filled.) Suddenly, my slumber was interrupted by the flight attendant's overhead anxious query, "Is there a medical professional aboard?"

I rushed to the back of the jet, stated that I was a doctor, and immediately was directed to the lavatory. There was a fully-clothed man, sitting on the closed toilet seat, slumped against the right wall. He was barely conscious, sweating, and had a slow, weak pulse. I explained to the man that I was a doctor and wanted to lay him down on the floor of the adjacent kitchen.

Slowly, he was able to assist in the transfer and I was able to lay him down gently onto pillows that the attendants had gathered. We applied oxygen and took a blood pressure reading that was relatively normal. His pulse rate, breathing, and strength became normal. His lethargy rapidly improved the longer he was lying down and he denied feeling any pain.

As he regained his senses, the man explained to us that he was being treated for recently diagnosed high blood pressure. He had been taking his new blood pressure medication for about 1 ½ months. He also informed us that he had borderline diabetes for which he was monitoring himself with a sugar (glucose) measuring device (glucometer), which he had in his pocket. He was not taking any diabetes medications. His blood sugar, which we were able to measure, was fine. He had no history of heart problems.