One of my friends—let's call her Henrietta because that is not her name—has a treasure chest full of anecdotes. Let's face it, I'm not above plundering other people's personal stories in the same way that the Marianas Trench is not above the Himalayas. So here's a piece of her life, stolen shamelessly for your entertainment.
You know those movie clichés where someone falls ill on a aeroplane and the cabin staff ask if there's a doctor on board? It's one of those incidents that you never imagine would really happen. Well ...
Hen was trying to sleep on a long-haul flight to the U.K., when her other half (we'll call him Quentin, for similar reasons to those outlined above) prodded her in the ribs.
'There's a medical emergency,' Quentin said. 'Maybe you could do something.'
'F'off.' Hen is nothing if not thoughtful and caring. It was going to be a long flight. She went back to sleep.
Then the steward appeared. Quentin prodded her awake again.
'Are you a doctor?' the steward said.
'No,' Hen said. Then, remembering her professional title was written on her boarding pass, 'Well, yes. But I'm not that sort of doctor.'
'But you worked in a hospital,' Quentin said.
'As a medical microbiologist.'
'That'll do. Come with me.'
So Hen followed the steward down the aisle, terrified that she was about to be handed a Swiss army knife and a biro barrel and asked to perform a tracheotomy on a choking patient. We've seen the movies. That sort of thing happens all the time. So often, it's a surprise that anybody arrives at their destination still alive. Or at least with an intact throat.
Luckily, when Hen got to the poor man, she recognised the problem. His windpipe wasn't blocked with a wedge of dinner roll. He had severe conjunctivitis. Not exactly life-threatening but distressing for him. And obviously not much fun for those around him.
'Can you do anything?' the steward said, as if the patient were a racehorse that had just fallen at a hurdle. Hen was expecting him to suggest they fetched the canvas screens and put the patient out of his misery.
The only solution that she could think of was to cover his eyes so he didn't keep blinking. Dragging eyelids over infected corneas is like scraping the bucket of a front-end loader over them. But putting on eye patches wasn't quite as straightforward as is should have been.
'Gloves,' Hen said, getting into the swing. 'Surgical tape.'
They didn't have any latex examination gloves. So they offered her the nearest alternative: pink flock washing-up gloves a couple of sizes too big. They also didn't have any scissors—sharp objects and all that—so she had to use a plastic knife to saw through the tape. In the end, she managed to place gauze pads over the poor man's eyes and fix them in place with ragged strips of adhesive tape.
The steward led the patient back down the aisle looking like Ray Milland in The man with x-ray eyes. Hen peeled off the rubber gloves and mopped her brow. From now on, she'd bring her own gloves and a spare biro, just in case someone did start choking on a dinner roll.
See, folks, it does happen.