Wednesday, March 04, 2009

life itself

back home in l.a. after a short visit to florida to see my dad. the whole trip was a synchronicitous mixture of routine and remarkable, of the sort i've come to expect (in a weird way) out of life. but yesterday on the plane ride home, something happened that was uniquely horrible and amazing at once.

the plane took off exactly on time from orlando, and the cabin crew had just finished doing the whole snack/beverage thing. i was sipping my OJ and reading my thriller novel when a commotion arose two rows behind me. something was going on with the young family back there; the father started wailing, and someone shouted something about the baby. seconds later, a flight attendant announced over the intercom "CODE RED! we have a medical emergency! is there a doctor on board? we have a CODE RED, a baby is choking!"

so everyone gasped at once and turned to look. flight attendants rushed down the aisle, and again the announcement pleaded for a doctor or EMT. time seemed to stand still while we all waited, and no one seemed to respond. i remember thinking, "really? there's NO doctor on board? OMG!" then suddenly a guy came rushing down the aisle, and then two more, and i looked back just in time to see the baby be handed out to the flight attendants and this man. the baby, a boy, was rigid and turning gray, a sight that was alarming beyond belief to simply witness as a stranger, let alone have to endure as a parent. and so the father started ... i don't know what you'd call it. howling and sobbing all at once, a sound i've never heard another human being make and hope never to hear again.

the crew was shouting to get the medical kit, get the oxygen, make room, etc. there were people in the aisle, not really rubbernecking -- i mean, of course they were watching, but mainly there was just nowhere to go. it's kind of hard to get of the way on an airplane when there's not a lot of room to move anywhere. even when one flight attendant ran up with the requested kits, she couldn't quite get people out of the way enough to hand the stuff back. so i jumped up out of my aisle seat and said, "here!" she flung herself toward my seat and passed back the necessary equipment, leaving the rest of the stuff on my seat. so then i was standing in the aisle, holding my orange juice and fretting, while everyone else in the area started murmuring and looking wild-eyed at each other, like "OMG! no!" the father continued to wail, the mother cried quietly and said "my baby," and the group of medical professionals (a doctor and two disney EMTs) disappeared into the last row of seats with the child.

it couldn't have been more than a minute, maybe less, while we all held our breath. the couple had an older child, a little girl of about 3 or 4, who was right in the middle of all this chaos and crying of course. a black lady in a pink track suit with a gorgeous cascade of reddish braids stood up and said, "JESUS!" the adrenaline was blasting through me, and i thought i was going to cry. it was so awful to hear these poor people in such distress, and there was nothing any of us could do but watch and wait. and of course my mind went straight to the bad place: OMG PLEASE DON'T LET THE BABY DIE! as horrible and sad and scary as the situation was, we all knew how much worse it could get.

so we watched and we waited, and some of us prayed. some ladies near me said they had kids too, and explained that's why the were so upset. i thought, damn, i don't have kids but i'm totally freaking out! across the aisle from me was a young couple with a baby girl, and the mom just held onto that kid and looked both grateful and worried. (her baby didn't even cry during all this commotion but just sucked her pacifer and gazed out placidly.) someone shouted again for oxygen, and a man hurried up with a little tank and mask, and we passed it up to the medics. again, hundreds of years seemed to pass while we waited. i started thinking the worst again, wondering how any one of us would bear it, not really daring to imagine what it would be like to be onboard this aircraft with a dead baby and a devastated family. and definitely not wanting to find out.

and then ... the baby started crying. and the dad started wailing again, and then the mom finally really lost it b/c the crisis had ... if not passed, at least lessened. i've never been so happy to hear a baby cry in my life.

"we're landing!" a flight attendant barked, and seconds later the captain was on the com, telling us there was a medical emergency and we were going to land in new orleans, where paramedics would meet the plane. luckily we were just east of NOLA, and we were on the ground in about 20 minutes. EMTs came on board, swooped up the baby and the family, and rushed off again. then we had to wait to refuel and re-file the flight plan, but nobody even cared. we all saw the baby being carried out, alert and awake and breathing, and we were all shaking and grinning.

it turned out that the child hadn't choked but had actually had a seizure. the doctor/EMTs seemed to think he'd be all right. and for the rest of the flight (we were back in the air 30 minutes later), everyone was just totally cool to each other. it was all excuse-me-please, and let-me-pick-that-up-for-you, and no-please-go-ahead. cuz, yknow, it was like this near-death experience that we'd all had, even though we weren't really involved at all.

even when we landed and the captain asked those of us who were at our final destinations to wait for the people making connections to deplane, we totally did it! it was pretty kind of wonderful. the humans had been tested, and they aced it. this warm, fuzzy feeling lasted all the way until i got onto the people-mover to the baggage claim at LAX. walking along the left side in a column with the rest of my fellow passengers, i felt this brushing to my left, and this dickhead in an ed hardy blazer (not from our plane) cut me off, and the women in front of me too. i mean, we were mere feet from the exit. i said, "REALLY?" and he just turned to look at me like he hadn't even seen me.

and so i was rudely reminded that in reality, people totally suck -- unless they've been on a plane where a baby almost died.


Eriejan said...

Sounds like an adventure to remember! Amazing how people can change in a crisis and bond, however briefly. Glad it all ended well.

g said...

Unbelievable. What a tale. How amazing that people came together...a little weirdly, but came together.

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