Taken – Control over my immediate future

I was removed from the queue of passengers, held to the side as they passed by staring nervously. My bags were removed from the plane and set next to me on the jet way. My escorts stayed with me as the door closed and the plane left without me.

They made perfect sense; of course I had to agree with them. No one who had seen me on the jet way was going to want to see me stumbling down the aisle of their plane. “We’ll get you on the next available flight”, they said. “We just want to make sure that you are all right. We are going to take you back up to the gate and let someone check you out, just to make sure. If they tell us you are okay we’ll get you a seat on the next flight out”

And just like that my travel plans were shattered. My wheelchair was parked off to the side of the gate with my bags. I was left alone to wait and scramble to reach my brother who was going to drive 90 miles to get to the airport only to find me missing. I left messages hoping to catch him before he left. I had assumed that we were waiting for someone based at the airport to come look me over and give me a thumbs up so I could be on my way. I didn’t realize my only chance to escape the nightmare that was about to unfold was to immediately flee the airport, abandon any plans to fly, and scramble to find ground transportation across 3 states to my final destination. And even that window was quickly closing.

The EMTs from the summoned Ambulance arrived with their gurney. The EMTs and the gate personnel have a brief conversation. “We just want to look you over and make sure you’re okay. Would that be all right?”

The airline representative added, “We can’t let you fly until someone verifies that you are healthy enough to fly. You really ought to get checked out” It seems I really had no choice. To refuse would leave me stranded hundreds of miles from home. Strengthened by the knowledge that I had just received a clean bill of health from my own Doctor less than two weeks ago, I agreed. I just wanted to get home.

So, as one EMT did his checks, the other drilled me with questions. They checked my blood pressure, blood sugar, pulse, breathing, and pupil response. Then they huddled for a minute. “Sir. Your blood sugar is a little high and so is your blood pressure. With your breathing and reported history of heart problems we would like to do an EKG, just to make sure nothing is going on there we can’t see. Would that be all right?” My window for escape is closing rapidly. I look from the EMTs to the gate attendant waiting for their decision on whether I am able to fly. “Sir. We really need to do this, just to make sure”. I submit.

They wheel me to a little more secluded spot and hook me up to their EKG. A foot long strip of paper rolls out the front of the machine. The EMT rips it off and studies it. He shows it to his partner while he pulls out his pen and circles 3 spots on the strip. They talk some more. “Sir. We are seeing some irregularities on your EKG. They are not big and are probably nothing, but we feel a Doctor should make that call. We think you should go to the Hospital and get this checked out”. The EMT turns to the gate attendant and repeats his assertion, “We think he needs to go to the Hospital to get checked out.” The gate attendant started writing on his clipboard, “Okay, what Hospital are you taking him to?” One EMT looked at the other who pauses for a moment before deciding on “XYZ Medical”. The first EMT says. “XYZ Medical?” and the second one confirms it, “Yeah, We’ll take him there”

As they moved me from the wheelchair to the gurney my window of escape slammed closed. I no longer had any control over my future. Whether I ever got to fly home was now in the hands of some nameless Doctor at some Medical Facility in a town hundreds of miles from any family. As the EMTs prepared to leave, the gate attendant asked if I was likely to be returning soon. The EMTs answer was short and directed to the gate attendant, “It probably won’t be tonight”. I no longer had any say in the matter.

The next few hours was the usual ER madness. Despite all the computers and all the pieces of paper being filled out, everyone seemed to ask the same questions over and over. I recall thinking, “This is the third person I have given my medical history to. Doesn’t anyone read what was already written down?” One person would come in, introduce themself, ask some questions or do something on the computer, and then they would leave. Then someone else would come in, introduce themself, ask different questions, and then they would disappear.

An EKG technician came in and hooked me up. He reviewed the strip of paper his machine produced. “Yeah, I can see what the EMTs were seeing, but it’s really pretty small. Given your heart history that’s something I’d expect to see on your EKG. I don’t see anything alarming here, but that’s for the Doctor to decide. Take it easy now.” And he left.

Others came and went. More questions, more forms, more signatures, more vitals, more blood samples. The EKG tech came back and did another EKG. No changes. By now the last flight of the day had left. I wondered what the airline would do with me “after I got released”. The EKG tech came back for a third EKG. Somewhere in there the EMT came back to get my signature on a form authorizing them to bill me for the ambulance ride. “Don’t worry”, he said, “When the bill comes in just send it to your insurance company”

“Hello, I am Doctor SoandSo” Finally! The Doctor was in the house! “Well, the good news is that we’ve checked you out and we don’t see anything wrong with you. The bad news is that I really don’t like what I saw on your last EKG. Have you ever been told that you have an abnormal EKG? It may be nothing, it may be something. We really need to compare it against one of your prior EKGs. If they are the same, then there is no problem. But if they are different, then it could be an indication that there is a problem. We just need to contact your Primary Care Physician and get them to fax us a copy of an EKG” He took my Doctors information and disappeared.

Well, at least it was down to one last thing keeping me from getting cleared to fly. One quick fax and it would all be over. I forgot that it was already late on a Saturday night. The Doctor returned to tell me that he couldn’t get an answer from my Primary Care Physician. No answering service apparently. “Without a fax of your normal EKG I just don’t feel comfortable releasing you at this point. I think my Cardiologist should examine you. So hang in there and we’ll figure something out”

So I lay there in that ER thinking about how I was going to get home. I reflected on the events that led me here, that put me at the mercy of a Doctor I had just met. It is no secret in my family that I hate Doctors. I don’t take “Doctor’s Orders”, I decide whether to accept “Doctor’s Advice”. Yet here I was being forced to accept a strange Doctor’s absolute control over my future. Without HIS permission I wouldn’t be allowed to fly home.

Was there really something wrong with my heart? It had been a couple years since I’d seen a Cardiologist. It would be no surprise to learn yet another part of my body quit functioning properly. What if I was really very lucky to have discovered this problem, right here right now, before it turned into something worse?

My stomach began to churn. I began sweating. It was getting harder for me to catch a breath. I began breathing heavily through my mouth. My legs started thrashing like they wanted to go somewhere. I called for a nurse. I was going to be sick again. I looked for something to throw up into, but there was nothing. I called for a nurse again, louder this time. I tried to wave people down as they passed my door. Finally a nurse came in and gave me a “barf bag”. I quickly demonstrated what I did to get into this mess.

That was the determining factor. The Doctor said that based on the fact that I was “still vomiting” combined with the abnormal EKG he had no choice but to admit me. He was going to have to get to the bottom of this.

I started the day as a free born United States Citizen. A Vietnam Marine Combat Veteran who earned my right to travel freely across these United States. I ended my day as an unwilling laboratory test animal, pulled from my travel by some nameless employee of some airline and handed over to my “captors” to be held as long as they saw fit.

I had yet to learn that they also felt they could do whatever they wanted to me while I was there. Day one ended with me still lying in the ER trying to figure out how things could go so wrong.

Sorry, comments are closed for this post.