In the moment

I had just fallen asleep when I felt the tap on my shoulder. “Excuse me,” my seat-mate whispered. “Now my husband needs to go to the bathroom.”

I was annoyed. I was seated in the aisle next to a woman in the middle seat and her hubby in the window seat. She had gotten up about 20 minutes earlier to use the restroom and I wondered why they couldn’t have coordinated bathroom breaks.

I got up, grabbed my book and stepped into the aisle. I had a goal to finish my Nicholas Sparks novel before landing and my short-lived nap had cost me time I was trying to make up.

The gentleman returned to his seat and his wife got up to let him in. All of a sudden, I saw the wife jump up and lean fully over the person in the seat in front of her. I noticed coffee spilled on one of the trays in that aisle and the flight attendant came up with some napkins. There was a little girl seated in the window seat and you could see the fear in her tear-filled eyes. She was leaning into the woman next to her (who I still couldn’t see), but she was staring right at me so I looked at her and mouthed, “It’s okay.” I honestly didn’t know what was happening but it was the only thing I could think to do.

Then, almost immediately, an announcement came over the intercom system. “If you are a trained medical professional, please press your call button.” Moments later two nurses showed up. They started a triage of the patient and a short interview with a gentleman who had identified himself as her husband. His wife’s blood sugar had dropped significantly and she had started seizing. I finally caught a glimpse of her face.

In these moments, I always stop and pray. “God, what would you have me do right now?” He brought my attention to the woman’s shirt that was covered in orange juice and sugar water which the nurses were desperately trying to get her to swallow. I was wearing my favorite sweater and I felt a prompting to give it up as a bib of sorts, knowing I wouldn’t get it back. I removed it without hesitation and handed it to the teenagers who were sitting directly in front of the patient. “Girls,” I said, “I need you to put this on her chest.” One of them got up and bent over her seat and placed it on her. While she was doing that, I asked the girl next to her to start talking to the little girl who was full-on crying at this point. “Tell her it’s going to be okay. Hold her hand. Comfort her.” She sprung into action and connected with that sweet little girl until the flight attendants removed the girl from her seat and took her to the galley to sit with her sister. “You guys did great,” I told them. “Thank you for jumping in.”

It turns out my seat-mate (Jen) was a nurse and her husband had been an EMT 15 years ago. I teared up as I thought about my selfishness of being inconvenienced when asked to get up. I recognized the timeliness of Jen being able to notice what was going on in the row in front of us.

Jen and her husband, along with the two other nurses, worked for nearly an hour to try to stabilize this dear woman but she was showing very little improvement. Jen’s husband held the woman’s head in place the entire time–I knew he had to be so exhausted because she was unable to hold it up on her own. The nurses even tried to start an IV to no avail. It was no surprise to any of us when the captain announced we would be making an emergency landing at DFW.

My seat had been taken by the woman’s husband so I slipped into his seat in the row behind mine. I quickly discovered that I was sitting next to the woman’s step-son. I got to know him a bit…he was a sophomore in high school and shared about his parents’ divorce and their blended family. There were four of their children on the plane, scattered in different seats, so he (the oldest) started playing telephone to let the others know that they would be getting off the plane when it landed. I kept talking to him until we touched down and let him know that I had been praying for his family and would continue to do so. It turns out they live in Parker which is right next to where I live. I wish I would have gotten his number so I could have checked in to make sure his step-mom was okay. Medical personnel quickly boarded the plane and removed the woman and within a few moments, the family was gone. One funny part of the story is that we had packed up the family’s belongings, including a pair of shoes which evidently belonged to Jen. Jen went running down the aisle yelling, “Wait, those are my shoes!” which caused laughter throughout the plane. Shortly after, the passengers erupted in applause for the medical volunteers and flight attendants who truly were heroes on that flight.

While we were on the ground, I went up to assess the now vacant aisle and it was a serious mess. There were spills everywhere with various liquids splattered all over the seats. The floor was covered in paper towels, rubber gloves and used medical packaging. I went back and asked the flight attendants for a trash bag and they told me I didn’t have to clean up the mess. “It’s the least I can do,” I responded back. “We all have to do our part in a crisis like this.” They handed me a bag and a pair of gloves and I started cleaning. Another passenger joined me and my friend wiped down the seats with disinfectant wipes.

As I knelt down to pick up trash, I choked up as I remembered my mental state at the end of my marriage exactly nine years earlier. My self-esteem was shot and I truly believed my only talent was folding laundry. It hit me that we all have something to give…the flight attendants and nurses tapped into their training and expertise to come to the aid of this woman who was in dire need of help, and her husband jumped in to assist with blood sugar readings, etc. I’m a property manager and although every once in awhile I have a glamorous day hosting a high-profile guest or having the privilege of interacting with a family that is having the vacation of a lifetime, most of my days are quite ordinary. Many days I am collecting little pieces of trash around one of my houses or trying to solve a maintenance problem. I don’t necessarily have the skills to save someone’s life, but I know how to clean up after the heroes have done their jobs.

I sat down in my seat to read the final pages of my book as the plane took off for Denver. I thought about the healing that God has done in my life over the last several years. Just a few years ago I wouldn’t have jumped in to help at all because I would have felt like I had nothing to offer; I would have been overwhelmed by my insecurities and short-comings.

I’ve been pausing more lately, asking the Holy Spirit to guide my steps in the moment. There is such a peace that comes with that. This incident on the plane over spring break also made me think about the big picture and that if we all do our (sometimes small) parts, big things can happen. “For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ. If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honored, all rejoice together” (I Cor. 12:12, 26).

The head flight attendant stopped by my seat as we started our descent into Denver to offer me United miles as a thank you for jumping in. At first I told her that wasn’t necessary, that I really didn’t do much. But she was persistent and after she walked away, I contemplated the idea that there is no weight on the scale of doing what’s right. It’s so important to pause to ask, “God, what would you have me do in this moment?” Because big stories are made up of little moments, and those little moments matter so much.

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If you know someone who could benefit from this post, please share. God carved out a path of intense healing for me and I would like to share it with as many people who need or want to hear. 

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