Scott Fenton's recent flight from Rochester to Jacksonville was looking up. "I was bumped up to first class," he tells us. "That never happens." (Yeah, we know.) Shortly after take-off, however, Fenton, a registered nurse and clinical informatics specialist at Mayo Clinic's Florida campus, heard a flight attendant ask if there were any medical professionals on board. A passenger was having a medical emergency and needed help.
Fenton got up from his seat, scanned the plane, and —after seeing that no one else was responding – made his way to the back of the plane. "When I got there, the flight attendant looked at me and the first thing she asked was, 'Are you a medical professional?'" he says. Fenton answered in the affirmative, and the flight attendant asked to see his credentials.
Fenton immediately went into "nurse mode" and assessed the man's condition. "He was slumped over, eyes rolled back, not responding," he says. While the flight attendants "were a bit frantic," Fenton, a former Emergency Department nurse, was in his element. "Initially, I was looking for breathing and cardiac response — heart rate and things like that," he says. "I was also trying to determine whether I needed to pull him down onto the floor and start chest compressions."
The flight attendants also asked Fenton if he thought the plane needed to make an emergency landing. Perhaps envisioning the "miracle on the Hudson" from a few years back, Fenton tells us he said, "'Well, you can land at an airport,' because I didn't know what they meant by 'emergency landing.'"
The pilot turned the plane around and started flying back to Rochester, where the weather had worsened. "Ground control wouldn't allow us to land," Fenton says. "So then we were just circling in the air above Rochester." Thankfully Fenton's patient had started to show signs of improvement after being given oxygen. "I just kept talking to him and holding his hand," says Fenton. After learning the man is a minister, Fenton also prayed for him. "I could feel him squeeze my hand tighter whenever I did that," he says.
Once the weather cleared enough for the plane to land safely, an emergency medical team boarded and took the man and his mother (who was seated next to him) to Mayo Clinic Hospital's Saint Marys Campus for evaluation. "His mother apologized to everyone on the plane," Fenton says. Fenton, however, didn't need an apology. "His care needs were the only thing I was worried about," he says. "I just did what I needed to do to help."
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