From the moment I entered the airplane last night, I sensed an unmistakable frenzy. Instead of being greeted by a cheerful crew of flight attendants, there was chaos, mayhem, those attendants running ragged, trying to store, pile up, stash away the food, drinks, duty free, blankets and trinkets. Immediately I realized that something was amiss. It took me a little while to realize what was up…
After asking a fellow passenger to lift my carry-on/ roll-on bag into the storage bin above, I settled my magazines and ‘stuff’ onto my seat. It was getting close to midnight, departure time inching that much closer – and still something was out of whack, not quite aligned. There’s some kind of regular rhythm, a typical way and pace of boarding passengers and prepping for a flight that was in this instance missing. But I couldn’t put my finger on it… until I peeked out the window.
I couldn’t have been less prepared for the sight, of an ambulance pulling up just below my window; lights flashing, guards and airport crew at the ready. Everything happened in quick succession, like clockwork.. and yet, to me – so gripped with the sight – it all moved in excruciatingly slow motion. Attendants withdrew a young man strapped to a stretcher, the space around him enveloped in tubes, a mask and infusions. The stretcher was rolled onto a Thai Airways mobile carrier, hydraulically lifted to the side mouth of the plane (normally used by catering and cleaning crews), and the patient rolled out of view of passengers.
I would only learn later, much later, after landing, and while passengers patiently awaited the stretcher’s priority disembarkation, that the young man had been diving when struck in the head by an errant surf-boarder, causing him to lose consciousness and drown, only to be rescued shortly after. After a month long stay in hospital, he was being evacuated by air, to a hospital closer to home. The prognosis, I learned from the head of crew, was grim. His wife, still reeling from shock, was by his side, eager to bring him home come what may.
The sight of the ambulance and all the activity outside my window wasn’t quite a deja vu… it was more like a replay, but viewed from the other side. The young man once was me – at the very same airport. Five years ago. Also in the middle of the night (from the little that I recall). Being flown to the other side of the world. Medical escort. Painkillers. Ineffective catheter replaced with incontinence pads. More painkillers. Being rolled in, out, up and down on a stretcher. Being hooked into the plane, curtained off from curious or prying eyes. Not knowing which was was up, down, front or back. Medication-induced confusion and extended sleep.
My face was glued to the window. I gazed out with empathy onto the heartbreaking scene, with a wish that, as my angels had become known to me through trauma, so would this young victim one day come to learn of his….