First class for free? Why thank you!

“Do we have a doctor of medicine on board? If you are a doctor of medicine, please make yourself known to any of the crew. Thank you.”
I vaguely registered the stewardess’s announcement as it rang through the cabin but before I could fully comprehend the extent of what said announcement meant, another painful stomach cramp struck me and I collapsed side-ways, clutching a hot water bottle to my stomach as though my life depended on it. I howled in pain and begged for the cramps to stop.


Falling ill on a long-haul flight some 30,000 kilometres above ground is not fun, people, let me tell you that. I never thought that I’d one day be the unlucky one to find out just how an airline handles a passenger falling sick while on a flight. Except that I was this unlucky and it wasn’t the first time either.
The first time I fell sick on an airplane was when I got an Asthma attack on a flight from Manchester back to Dublin in early 2006. That wasn’t fun, it really wasn’t fun. Especially because it was a Ryanair flight and the crew sucked because they didn’t know how to handle the situation – if you can’t tell a Hyperventilation attack from an Asthma attack, well that’s just poor performance especially when the patient even complains about being unable to breathe. Thankfully said Asthma attack kicked in shortly before take-off so the paramedics were still able to board the flight to take care of me after the cabin crew made such a complete cock-up of the entire situation. (Following that experience, I vowed I’d never again fall sick while flying some place. Up until my recent flight from Beijing to London Heathrow I was doing quite well with sticking to my resolution. After a flawless six year record it all went downhill three days ago…)
When you’re 30,000 kilometres above ground, getting a bunch of paramedics and relevant medical equipment on board is decidedly more difficult to accomplish. Nevertheless British Airways showed just how competent and experienced they are in dealing with such an unexpected situation and despite being horribly unwell, I still felt incredibly cared for. My condition had improved quite a bit upon our arrival in London so I was able to thank the crew and the pilot personally but they humbly turned down my thanks and assured me they’d just been doing their job. Nevertheless, I already contacted the airline to express my gratitude in writing and they assured me the crew of my flight would receive my thank you note. I sincerely hope they do because all of them were a truly fabulous bunch.

5.50 am. A hotel room somewhere in the heart of Beijing.
With my eyes still half closed I reached out for my phone and switched the disturbing alarm off before grudgingly heaving myself out of bed and into the shower to get ready. The day had finally arrived, my last morning in China. What I was most definitely not looking forward to was my impeding trip to the airport to board a plane to London, and then another one on to Dublin.

I am not a morning person. I’m everything but a morning person. I consider getting out of bed before 9am on any given day a crime, in fact sometimes I even consider it a crime to get out of bed before noon. Still, I mostly manage to deal with it somehow. Usually a large cup of coffee helps to combat the first bout of morning grumpiness or at least control it enough for me to be able to show my face in public without anyone having to fear that I’m going to bite their head off. Because let’s face it, it’s a bit unbecoming to be rude to perfect strangers…or people who actually care about you.
So yeah, I did manage to somehow get ready, have some breakfast, finish packing my suitcase and meet my driver in the hotel lobby at 7.50am. I left him to heave my suitcase and backpack into the car because, quite frankly, I didn’t care. After checking out of the hotel, I plonked myself on the backseat of the car, reminded the driver that I needed to go to Terminal 3 and then went right back to sleep without a care in the world. Even at 8am in the morning traffic in Beijing is anything but great so sleep was the only sensible thing I could do. Upon my arrival at the airport I was more concerned with talking to my boyfriend than checking my luggage in and making my way through immigration and the security check.
I arrived in the departure hall with heaps of time to spare and decided to treat myself to some warm tea and a small muffin before dragging myself to my departure gate. Throughout the whole time I was still rather more interested in chatting to my boyfriend although the conversation didn’t venture far beyond countless declarations of love, peppered with how much we already missed each other and more of the same nauseating stuff. Yes, we're that kind of couple!
Departure time rolled around and with one heavy sigh, I bid my boyfriend farewell, resolutely refused to cry and boarded the plane. I got comfy and while listening to the happy chatter all around me I tried not look too depressed. After all, I didn't want to scare everyone around me off completely. We left Beijing perfectly on time and much to my dismay I discovered that my in-flight entertainment wasn’t working. Even with the assistance of the stewardess the system wouldn’t budge so I grabbed my iPod and went to sleep until lunch was served.
An hour after my lunch, after another nap, I woke up feeling decidedly uncomfortable. I tried to walk it off but an airplane doesn’t exactly offer a lot of space to walk off painful stomach cramps so my options were rather limited. To be exact I could only really walk up and down the aisle between the rear bathrooms and my seat. When the pain didn’t subside, I went up to the kitchen area and asked for some camomile tea. While they made it they offered me a seat in first class so I could watch a movie or two seeing since my in-flight entertainment still wasn’t working. Nice, huh? Unfortunately I never got to said first class seat since my stomach cramps chose exactly that moment to get a lot worse. I ended up in the full-time care of two stewardesses who did their best to find out what was wrong and help me in any way possible.
They prepared me a hot water bottle in hope that it would ease the uncomfortable feeling in my stomach, alas it did not. In fact, sadly my condition only got even worse. Thankfully the airline staff was very quick to react and they asked whether there was a doctor on board to provide assistance. To their astonishment (and mine) six doctors were on board and one of them was even a doctor of internal medicine. You can't get more blessed than that, really.
Doctors who provide assistance to a patient on board a flight have no medical protection so I could just as well turn around and sue them for trying to help me which unfortunately occasionally happens. Thankfully British Airways take responsibility for that by having doctor’s on the ground on duty. Those give the required orders, while the doctor on board only supervises the correct execution e.g. when medication is given to a patient. I knew about the lack of medical protection doctors have to deal with when providing assistance while on board an airplane but I wasn’t aware of all the consequences they have to bear in mind when they offer up their help. Quite sad really. All they are trying to do is to help and some people still take advantage of that help in the end.
Once I was nicely drugged up and curled up on a first class seat – still clutching that hot water bottle – I had a bit of a chat with the doctor who offered to assist me and I really can only extend my gratitude to her for offering her help. She did a wonderful job and made sure I got some painkillers and other medication as soon as possible. She stayed with me in first class for the remainder of the flight and frequently informed the pilot about my condition so that he could make the necessary decisions - as if he didn't have enough on his plate already what with flying an airplane and all. Once we landed in London she spoke to the paramedics to give them all the information they needed and make it easier for me. Instead of asking me 10,000 questions they asked her 10,000 questions. That suited me just fine.
Since I can remember I have always wanted to meet the pilot of an airplane, I always thought it would be pretty cool to chat with him for a little while and three days ago my wish came true. Unfortunately the circumstances were rather pitiful but I still appreciate that he took a moment to leave the cockpit and come to check on me. I do understand that flying an airplane is a full-time job so thanks Mr Pilot; you’re a pretty cool dude. You even have a great sense of humour even if you didn't fly me back to Shanghai when I asked you too!
So, yeah, my return from China was everything but a silent affair. In fact, I just had to insist on being the centre of attention for a couple of hours, didn’t I?
Can you beat my story? Come on, I challenge you.