i flew to orlando out of LGA this past weekend.
when we first took off, i heard a woman coughing violently. as a sickly child myself, always one with the sniffles, runny nose, sneezes, coughing, allergies, overactive imagination, excessive paranoia etc., i didn’t think much of it. after we were airborne and the flight attendants rushed to the woman, 3 rows behind me, then i and the rest of the plane wondered what was up.
the attendant came on the loud speaker to ask if there was a doctor on board. we all craned our necks pretending to be concerned for the elderly woman’s health, but our real concern was whether it was serious enough that we’d have to make an emergency landing. that would have put a dent in our schedules; how inconvenient for us if she happened to die on this flight.
when the attendant asked if there was a doctor on board, i heard my father’s voice for the past 24 years telling me that i should have been a doctor. and when that question was poised to the 80 or so of us, i believed his words. for that brief second, i felt the prestige and weight of that question. had i done just a few things differently in my life, maybe i could have stood up at that moment and in a deep, haughty voice risen from the hollow barrel of my 32A chest, i could have answered, yes. i am a doctor. and whose life shall i be saving today?
i was so caught up in the moment that i half rose out of my seat. i quickly sat back down and asked myself what i would have done had i followed through with my actions and stood up? when the entire plane turned to me, what would i say? would i have gone into detail about how my parents birthed me for the sole reason of being the parents of a doctor? that at age 7, my dad gave me an embarrassingly accurate illustrated pamphlet of the naked human body and told me to just ignore that area and that area and that and that but to go ahead and commit to memory everything else?
would i go on to tell the wide-eyed passengers that i entered college pre-med only to come home a year later with the sentiments that i had chosen a more noble path in life: the liberal arts! and that though i was not a doctor and could no more diagnose this woman’s ailment than identify a gonad (it was included in the that area of the pamphlet), that if they needed a thorough and well-written piece on how the woman’s cough made me feel then i was their woman! or should they need me to knit a fashionable and functional tourniquet, i’m theirs?
in the end, i quietly sat in my middle seat jammed between two old people in swishy jogging pants and mickey mouse sweatshirts and allowed the thoughts of what could have been escape through my ears. i stuffed my wavering confidence under the seat in front of me, my anxieties about the future in the overhead compartment above me, and told myself i made the right decisions in life. that there’s merit and prestige in what i do. that my craft takes skill.
after a glass of water and a few moments with a breathing mask, the woman was fine and the rest of the flight was quiet. the nose of the plane dipped onto the runway of orlando international two hours later and everyone went their separate ways, on time for their next trip.