Sunday, February 24, 2008

On Oxygen -- A Simple Prediction

An hour ago, the AP wire carried a story of a death on an American Airlines flight from Haiti to New York. Every attempt is made in that article to imply that the death was because "Desir said she was having trouble breathing and asked for oxygen, but a flight attendant twice refused her request" [for oxygen]. After all, we all know that all jets carry oxygen for when those little masks fall from the ceiling "in the unlikely event of loss of cabin pressure". Right? You know that. Of course.
But where does that oxygen come from? Oxygen generators which make oxygen by burning a chemical that releases oxygen as a byproduct -- enough for an entire planeload of passengers for enough minutes to descend to below 14,000 feet. That's it kids, it is an all or nothing deal.

Then writer goes on to say that they found two portable oxygen tanks, but both were empty. "Nothing works on this plane" Desir's cousin Antonio Oliver is quoted as saying. There are oxygen bottles carried in an airplane - for the pilot and co-pilot. FAA regulations require the pilot or co-pilot to be on oxygen whenever one of the officers leaves the flight deck. Let's see? Haiti to New York is a flight back, not a flight out, so they would be returning for refilling at point of origin? The writer doesn't even consider the possibility of any reason why if you can find an oxygen bottle in the closet behind the cockpit it shouldn't be filled and waiting for use by anyone.

"Desir was put on the floor, and a nurse tried CPR, to no avail, Oliver said. A "box," possibly a defibrillator, also was applied but didn't function effectively, he said" . Neither he observer and the writer knew what the box was, but they both knew it didn't work. Why? Because it did not raise the dead. I think the world has seen far too many TV doctor shows.

But you know what is missing in the whole article? Any thought that a patient with any special medical needs should be prepared for her own condition. Of course not, your every need is the responsibility of the airline. Does this mean that if next time I fly to Denver again and forget my Levothyroxine, I need to demand the airline provide me some? Of course not. Then, where is the cross-over point?

Since I seem so without sympathy and cruel about this, let me state that my mother has been on oxygen for some years now and I have moved her about the country quite a bit. Before you travel, you determine how much oxygen you are going to need and you make allowances for contingencies. You make arrangements for replacement oxygen at the other end of the trip. And maybe, just maybe you make sure the trip is worth the risk. Ms. Desir's failure to plan adequately cost her her life. Remember that over the next few days as you hear how American Airlines failure to prepare for that incompetency is reason to declare her next of kin the winners of the lottery.

No comments: