Palpable stress

Today, the plane arrived with oxygen and we boarded around 4pm. Maua was very weak and required significant assistance, but the airline staff was helpful. We got the oxygen started and took-off.

The initial part of the journey to Addis Ababa, Ethiopia was uneventful. However, when we disembarked the plane and had no oxygen, Maua started to breathe more heavily, her oxygen saturations dropped to 74% and she became very lethargic. She could not hold her head up or open her eyes for more than 5 seconds without falling back to sleep.

I rushed her to a VIP lounge in the airport and we settled in a back corner. I did a full exam, got her in a comfortable position and gave her medicine. I nervously stood over her, watching her labored breathing. I was hoping she would spontaneously improve.

Unfortunately, after a few minutes she showed no signs of getting better. I hurriedly approached a manager of the lounge and asked him to help me find oxygen. He seemed a bit lost and said “I will try”.

Twenty minutes went by, the manager was nowhere to be seen and no oxygen arrived. Maua was becoming more sick and I was concerned she was going to die in the lounge.

I approached our waiter. In a tense, hurried voice, I said “I need oxygen now” and handed him a $100 bill. He immediately understood the urgency of the situation and scurried away.

Less than 5 minutes later, I saw him sprinting toward me down the airport corridor with a green cylinder of oxygen. He came through!

I quickly hooked Maua up to the tank and her saturations immediately rose to 95%. I could now regain my composure and take a deep breath.

When I stood up to put away my stethoscope, I looked around the room and was greeted with a mass of wide, petrified eyes. All of the well-to-do patrons in the lounge were staring at us, seemingly horrified.

Over the next three hours, I monitored Maua closely and her energy level slightly improved. I continually reiterated to her that she must try to appear healthy in order to stay on the plane. If the flight crew realized how sick she was, they would not allow her to travel.

When we heard the call for the flight, we got two porters to help her on the plane. I pulled them aside, handed them a small wad of cash and said “you must do everything in your power to ensure that the plane takes-off with her aboard. Do not let her come off that plane.”

As Maua was wheeled away, she woke-up and looked back at me. Our eyes locked for many seconds and I could sense her trepidation of being alone for the last hour of the journey.

As she approached the plane, I had a flood of emotions; relief that she had survived my portion of the trip, skepticism that she would be denied entry to the aircraft and intense fear that she would not survive the flight without monitoring.

I paced quickly in the terminal and, at one point, my emotions got the best of me so I walked to a corner, put my head against the wall and collected my thoughts.

Forty-five minutes later, the two porters appeared, raised their hands and shouted “She just took off!”

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