bitter chocolat

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Year 2002 – It was a routine. And in a routinely environment  you just move, you don’t look for details. It was a Sunday, the 10th of February.

Please sir, may I see your boarding pass. This way, please. The air hostess said. And I walked to seat 32C, my usual seat. I was already adjusting the seat belt when someone approached my seat.

Excuse me mate, this seat is mine. Said a man with an unmistakable Australian accent you wouldn’t confuse with anything else and with whom you wouldn’t think to mess around.

– Sorry? I questioned. I was sure this would be my seat because as a frequent flyer it was on my airline profile, so I didn’t bother to look at it.

– This is my place, mate. The man said with an impatient manner while holding his duty free bags and his boarding pass.

Are you sure? I asked. While I asked I retrieved my boarding pass from jeans and I looked at it. Seldom this seat was “stolen” from my booking but this time this guy was right. I apologise and move to the front row. They allocate me the seat 31C which is the first Economic row just besides the aircraft boarding door and I don’t like it! I don’t like it for two reasons. The passengers have all to enter the same door and while moving to the monkey class (as me, anyway) they keep bumping on my knees with their shopping bags and handy carry luggage. The other one is because in this seat you don’t have place to support your feet or knees and while sleeping you keep sliding down, down, and down… It is true there is more leg space and many people like it, but I don’t. I find it annoying.

– Excuse-me. I called out the air hostess. I can show you my itinerary print-out where my seat was stated to be 32C but during the check-in, somehow, they changed and I did not double-checked, I trusted. Is there any possibility to change to somewhere else after the boarding is completed?

– But this is a good seat, you have more leg room and I think the staff saw your frequent flyer card and  probably wanted to please you and changed…

– Maybe you are right. But if I am a frequent flyer it means I know quite well the airplane configuration. That is why I choose that one, otherwise…

– I think it will be difficult because the flight is full. But I will keep an eye and let you know. Sorry about this mistake.

Every month I had the duty to fly Sydney/Bangkok/Sydney for business purpose. After my assignment in Thailand was finished in July 2000 I moved to Sydney. But both market companies agreed I should continuo my technical support to Thailand one week a month. It was the best professional time of my life. Needn’t to say that working in Australia was the easiest task I ever had in my life. I loved and I still miss it!

– Boarding completed. Crew, safety cross-check please. Announced the inflight manager.

Only when the flight was airborne did the air hostess came to me to apologise but could not move me unless I really wanted but she needed to ask someone in the back to exchange place and most probably only middle seats would accept… It’s alright, I said. I will keep this seat. Thank you for your effort.

The dinner was already served and all trays picked-up. Time for toilet before trying to accommodate the seat environment in order to get some sleep. The TG475 bound to Sydney leaves Bangkok at 6:00pm and arrives in Sydney at 7:00am, a roughly 9 hours flight and going directly to work upon arrival one’s need some sleep.  The monitors were playing the movie Chocolat, a wonderful movie performed by Juliette Binoche and Johnny Deep. I have heard so much about this movie that I decided to watch it no matter what. My week at work in Bangkok, for once, has been tough because some disputed claim the marketing team wanted me to help, which I did, and the end was satisfactory for both sides. For once too, I succeed to be diplomatic in my discussion of the issue. I felt happy after all but diplomacy is a career I would never embrace. Virtually you need to live in a permanent lie and I don’t feel comfortable with this behaviour, I find it imoral.

The movie was coming to an end and, although tired, the interest kept my eyes open in order to see the conclusion. I loved the scene when Vianne threw a party with the gypsies to break the xenophobic and hypocrite tabus haunting the village and its villagers through Monsieur Le Conte demoniac qualities…

Attention to all passengers, this is your captain speaking. We have a passenger in need of medical assistance. If any doctor onboard please kindly come forward. 

Meanwhile the air environment was getting colder. I felt colder after some time and looked around to check if it was my impression or I was getting sick. No, I was not, everybody seems to feel the same because most of them took more than one blanket to cover themselves. We were more than 4 hours into flight schedule. This means we were about to enter the wild Northern Territory of Australia and if absolutely needed the captain could land in Darwin, otherwise it has to continuous till Brisbane which would probably represent another 2 hours. Most of passengers were sleeping by now so is probably that not all listen the captain message. I saw no one moving except two air hostesses and her manager with cold water damped towels. Meanwhile the fasten seat belt warning signal seemed to rind more than usual. It actually rang 3 times.

– Attention to all passengers, this is your captain speaking again. I would like to stress that we have a passenger in urgent need of medical assistance. If any doctor or even any experienced nurse onboard please kindly come forward. 

It seems that the fasten seat belt beep signal worked. People started to move in their seats, looking left and right with the eyes half closed wondering what was going on or where was that passenger sitting. This time a tall, fit and middle age handsome man approached the crew manager followed by a young but mature girl. From where I was sitting, just beside the 747 aircraft configuration area where inflight service is prepared, I could hear all the conversation going on.

Sorry, said the man holding the hand of the young girl behind him. I am a doctor practitioner and my girl friend is a nurse practitioner both working at Sydney Hospital. How may I help you? 

Lord be blessed! We have a young girl trembling, sweating as if we were in hell inside the airplane but it is not as you can feel yourself. She threw out 3 times, seems incapable of talking or talking nonsense, muttering words we did’t understand and it seems is getting worst and worst.

– Was she Ok when we boarded? Have you noticed anything since the beginning or…? 

– When we started serving the dinner and we approached her seat we noticed that she could not hold the tray, her eyes were gazed and locked, looking far distante and asked very slowly in low voice for a cold towel. I noticed her shirt was wet, very wet. Otherwise she seemed awake. But now she seems knocked out. 

The three staff, the doctor and the nurse walked away to the rear airplane section. I din’t hear any news for about 15 minutes until they approached, carrying – virtually dragging – a young girl with them. They kindly asked the three of us, seating in the front row, to make room by means of retrieving our legs towards the seat as much as possible. The 747 configuration has quite some room in front of the main boarding door, between the economic class and business class, but they were in need of as much space they could grab. They laid down the girl, looking more like a dead body, a mass dripping warm sweat. The doctor seemed experienced about the symptoms he saw because he did not panicked. After checking that the girl was comfortably laid on the floor he pulled up the sleeves of the girl’s shirt and examined her arms. He looked at his partner and muttered some words by pointing to the quantity of blueish and reddish bruises she had all over in both upper arms… He put his hands together by aligning the tips of each hand and rise them while looking up the ceiling…

God! another victim of this f*** drug! He said loudly, as to decry the universe we live in.

Please I need the medical emergency kit! And more cold damped towels! The flight manager ran to the business class compartment, opened the first bin on the right, grabbed the emergency case and came as fast as she went. The doctor opened it and after looking for the emergency supplies he seemed to check for some information on the plastic container he had in hands, probably the expiring date, and after taking everything out of the case he said;

– I need to disinfect the arms of this girl because I will administrate her this intravenous serum and since you don’t have a disinfectant here I need whatever strongest alcohol you have. Please rush up! The girl is unconscious and is getting weaker very quickly!  Bring me the oxygen kit too!

The flight manager seemed confused, very confused, her face expression denounced it so. Not only her english understanding was rather poor, let alone Aussie understanding, but also she could not understand what a drinking alcohol had to do with all that.

– Please ask the captain to come here. Said the doctor. It seems the captain was hearing everything from its cabine because at this precise moment he showed up…

– Yes doctor, it seems serious! His own face looking pale. Do you have any idea if we should land for an emergency? Brisbane is now at 1 hour detour of our route…

– It seems I can manage and I will give a try. She his heroin addicted. See here all these holes and bruises? She has probably taken an extra dose, but not near to an overdose, before the scanning at the airport but she already threw out which is a very good reaction and a good thing to do and now the body seems confused because she had not eat – this people eat very little – and this is now a mixed reaction. When drug addicted people inject the heroin the “happy” effect is rather fast in their brains and they can manage the situation but if they overdose themselves this gets out of control. We need to inject her that serum but need alcohol to disinfect this area and I have yet to find a place where I can inject her in the middle of all these holes!

– But we don’t have anything in the emergency box? The captain asked.

– It seems so, I can’t find any disinfectant.

– Ok, what do you suggest doctor? 

– The strongest drink you have for the passengers, maybe Vodka. Do you have it?

– We have Smirnoff, is that Ok? Asked the flight manager

– Please bring it to me asap!

The doctor and the nurse went on with their dedication to find the right spot to place the needle. He was right, both arms looked like a kitchen fine strainer and they had some difficulties to find a proper vein to inject the needle. They disinfected the right arm knowing that the left arm was really damaged by the heroin needles constant piercing. It was easy to guess she was right hand, the doctor mentioned to the nurse, because you have to master one of your hands to inject the opposite arm. They prepared the needle, the bag with the serum and connect both through the plastic pipe. They asked a flight attendant to bring a coat hanger to hook the serum bag to secure a proper flow.

Meanwhile the nurse prepared the oxygen bottle, put the mask on the patient and opened the control valve.

Both, doctor and nurse, seem exhausted more with the stress of their decision and the situation than the work itself. This doctor was probably thinking about the ethical contradiction between stay sleeping and say nothing and the decision he took to show up. What if something goes wrong…. They both sat and lean against the wall which was the door. He touched the nurse’s right hand with warm affection and any attentive soul could read his leaps; thank you for your help, I love you… and she responded with a silent kiss in his left hand fingers. For safety reasons is not allowed to lean against the airplane doors and kindly but right away the flight manager asked them to do not lean against the door. Before the flight manager could offer any seating possibility I understood the situation and offer my seat to them, gesture followed by the middle seat passenger, so they could rest a bit and observe the patient from the seat. But the doctor did not accepted saying he needed to constant follow her blood pressure, tools he luckily (for the girl and the flight schedule) had with him in his handy carry. But he asked the nurse to seat and rest her back  because they would swop soon. With the flight manager consent I moved to the air hostesses seats further away in the same area.

Thirty minutes later the doctor touched the leg of his partner whom seems to be about to close her eyes.

She is getting better. The blood pressure is getting to normal levels and her hot sweat disappeared, I guess she will soon open her eyes. Please seat here in my place because I need to rest my back. Just keep measuring her blood pressure and we should let her take all the serum. If I fall asleep please wake me up in 30 minutes or in case of any abnormally. 

He sat in the 31C and after a few minutes looking at both, girlfriend and patient, he indeed felt asleep.

The soft lights of the aircraft went on. The cabine crew was about to start serving the breakfast. This meant 1,5 hours remained before landing. The agitation of the passengers in their seats started just after a second set of lights went one to brighter up the airplane. The silent, only disturbed by the aircraft engines until then, was broken by that agitation. Seating in the cabine crew take-off and landing seats I could look directly to the economic class left side and observed that most of people have not noticed the dramatic and fragile situation a few people have been handling during the night. Nobody was looking into this direction with the curiosity one’s show when they know what had happened.

Meanwhile the serum bag was empty and the needle removed. Either because it was the right moment or because the lights or because the agitation of the breakfast service, the girl started to move her eyelid and her right hand moved from the floor to her belly in a very relaxed way, like a Michelangelo’s hands angel painting. The doctor kneeled down and put his hands affectionally in a face that has now gained some color, the sweat had completely gone and a faint tranquility could be observed. Like a photo camera shutter her eyes started to open and close in a sequence that seemed trying to adapt to a new environment of light… or maybe of life.

– How are you? Asked the doctor while moving affectionally his back hand in her face and picking what it seems were bits of the face towels she had used for her hot sweat. She blinked her eyes to say what it could be interpreted “fine…” and her eyes peacefully closed again. The doctor made a sign to her partner and the air hostess to let her rest a bit more until the final minute we could no longer wait for the landing preparations. She is exhausted, he said. But we can put back everything in the emergency kit as well the oxygen kit. All her vital signals I can check seems now stable but will need to go to hospital upon landing.

– Attention all passengers, this is your captain speaking. I hope you had an excellent flight and a nice rest. We have had good weather all along the flight route and because this we could catch-up the slight delay we had in our departure from Bangkok. In the name of Thai Airways I apologise for that delay and meanwhile we will land in thirty minutes from now, at 7:01 am, which means  9 minutes ahead of our schedule. I wish you a pleasant stay or return. Thank you for flying Thai and wish to see you again.

– Attention all passengers, this your flight manager. The announcement of our Captain Swravhaiut means this ends our inflight service. Please fasten your seat belt, put your seat back upright and close the table of the seat in front of you. We will soon collect the audio headsets and the blankets. Please pay attention to the video we will show on the main screen about the Australian Immigration Regulations. Please note that according to the Australian Regulations it is strictly forbidden to bring in any food, I repeat ANY, inclusive small snacks you may have with you…. Contraire to customary in Thai flights we do not have permission to distribute the mini orchids bouquet to our female passengers due to those regulations, fresh or dry flowers are not allowed unless you declare them which will be quarantined. In the name of the Crew I represent we thank you for flying Thai and we wish to see you again soon.

Now it was time to  prepare everything in the messy floor around the door. All blankets dispersed on the floor, towels, bottles, cans of drinks, magazines and so needed to be picked up and tided up the place. Meanwhile with all those passengers announcements the girl definitively waked up, looked left and right with gazed eyes as if wondering where she was. The doctor kneeled down again.

– How do you feel? What is your name by the way? 

– Emma. Emma Johnson…

– I’m happy you know your name without hesitation. This is a very good sign, indeed. You know that your family name derives from old hebrew and means gift of God? You have been blessed, you are a lucky person Emma, but don’t push your luckiness farther. From this experience you need to take your life seriously in your hands because God is busy with so many others He won’t come in your rescue a second time. You know what I am talking about, right Emma?

– Yes, doctor…

– Doctor Cohen. He said. I requested the Captain to call the Airport Emergency services to take you directly to hospital upon landing.

Please doctor Cohen, no need, I feel fine…

– It is my responsibility Emma. Fear nothing. Take instead this opportunity to confront the reality, the unreal world you seem to live in. That is not going to last, it will damage your body, your brain more exactly, at a point of no return. For your own sake don’t do that, don’t run away from a better reality, a reality of a healthier daily life. Life is beautiful if you want to see it beautiful. I helped you during this flight with the tools and the knowledge I possess. Imagine you could do the same to someone else in whatever field you choose. How does it sounds in your hearth? Think about Emma. 

– Thank you doctor for what you have done to me. Thank you for your warm words.

Tears long thread were pouring down from her eyes corner as the doctor spoke softly closed to her face in a way that only me and his girlfriend could hear. He wanted that way, keep low profile, he was not looking for credits, medals or medias attention. He did what ethically he supposed to do, he said so, he wanted to sleep well by doing something he swore in his vow during his graduation ceremony.  With the help of the three, doctor, nurse and air hostess, Emma was moved to be seated in 31B while doctor and nurse sat at 31A and 31C respectively to morally support and help Emma during landing. Before the aircraft reached the end of the tarmac runway a PA signal was beeped again.

Attention all passengers, this is your Captain speaking. We have now landed but I would like to ask you to remain seated until further notice. We have had an emergency situation with one of our passengers and some procedures need to be taken before we are allowed to disembark. Thank you for your cooperation. Please stay seated. Thank you.

Before we could disembark we had to wait a few long minutes for the Emergency team and a police officer enter the aircraft, examined Emma, hear details from the doctor about what was done and what she had taken, listen the flight manager about the incident’s inflight report details and get the usual signatures of the Captain for the respective procedures and authorisations.

From the window of the Business Class place I sat during landing I could see the ambulance. It was raining and the window slight blurred but I could distinguished the NSW Ambulance Service written along the white van above the red and white checkered stripe designed all along and around the ambulance. Though covered by an umbrella to protect her face, I saw the medical staff carrying Emma stretched in the emergency board, a tiny and now even more frail girl waving her hands to the aircraft disembarking door, perhaps to her rescuers I could not see from my place. As I assisted all along Emma’s dramatic moment of survival I felt part of the feelings flying around and also shyly waved my hand, knowing she could not see it, to wish Emma good luck and raised my hopes she could get out of that punishment she was going through with heavy drugs. It is a downgraded and humiliated world they live. During my army time experience I came across, as rescuer, with heroin addicts in Lisbon. I saw them and talked to them in that fantasy moments they live. It is absorbingly how they can fly in that humiliated condition. I will come back soon or later with a post about a close encounter experience I had with a group of young people damped in heavy drugs.

I knew later that both Doctor Cohen and his girlfriend have received from Thai Airways a Recognition Diploma for outstanding services during flights.

//jb.26january2015