Flying with an angel

in Patient/Physician by

“Rest in peace Samantha. I will always remember you.”

3A. Window side. That was supposed to be my seat on the plane. Seeing a dad comforting a special kid on his lap on seat 3b and 3C  (near aisle), I volunteered to sit on the 3c so that the kid will not be bothered by aisle’s passers by. Her dad started a pleasant conversation with me that touched on many topics- our common medical(he is a retired med tech), his wife, who was originally  from my place and was a classmate of my elder sister, to Samantha’s condition.

Samantha has cardiomyopathy and demyelinating disease diagnosed 11 years ago. With muscular dystrophy and muscle wasting, Samantha couldn’t even control her head and is dependent on her parents and siblings for her basic necessities. She’s been on and off medical complications her parents already had a mini ICU in her room.

The day prior Samantha had difficulty breathing, prompting her dad to cut short their visit to his native place of Iloilo and boarded the earliest flight back home  to Davao. Samantha’s life and family support, including her doctor is in Davao too, hence the risk her dad took just to bring home Samantha. Her dad told me he knew all the risk of flying Samantha in that condition and that they are ready for any eventually given that Samantha went through so much. It just a matter of time.

That time was a little about over 30 minutes after I sat beside her. She was initially responsive to her dad’s assurances, nodding and giving out quaint sounds when her dad would comb her hair with his hand. She had quick, labored breathing,  her extremities cold and cyanosis setting in. This went on for some 20 minutes then she gasped for one big breath, never closing her eyes, staring on us both, quietly and without noise, stopped breathing.

I asked the stewardess for the planes on board medical oxygen after quickly introducing myself as a doctor. We immediately hooked the patient to oxygen via facemask but it was pretty obvious she wasn’t breathing.

I auscultated her chest and checked her pupils. No heart rate. Fixed, dilated pupils. Her eyes was still open as if staring on me.

“No heroics doc” Samantha’s dad told me. “Let’s not prolong Samantha’s agony.” I continued giving medical oxygen and asked for an ambulance on the ground ready anyway. Just in case. Or maybe.

9:56 AM on board flight 5J348.

I will not forget this day. I will not forget Samantha. I have seen dying people. I have a few who died on my watch. I can only hold their hands for reasons I couldn’t even fathom. Their name get engraved in my soul.

And so is Samantha’s.

Rest in peace, angel. We met for a very short moment. Thank you for choosing me to watch you on your last moments. Be our angel. Rest now.

(My condolences to the bereaved family)

Dr. Remo-tito Aguilar co-founded #HealthXPh. A board certified orthopedic surgeon, he is Chief of Clinics at General Santos Medical Center and Medical Specialist II Orthopedics at the Southern Philippines Medical Center in Davao City. Dr. Aguilar is a healthcare social media evangelist and writes his medical musings at The Cast & Curious (