Baptist Health Paducah nurse Billi Ingram returned home this week from celebrating her husband's birthday with a "fantastic" vacation in France, and just wanted to sleep on the plane for the whole way back.
Naturally, it didn't go according to plan.
Ingram and her husband, Patrick Valiquette, spent six days enjoying Paris and Mont Saint-Michel before boarding their United Airlines flight to Chicago, in order to make the drive back to Paducah. But an unusual situation capped off the trip when a male passenger had a medical emergency early in the roughly nine-hour flight -- prompting a potential diversion to Iceland.
"I think we had been in the air for maybe an hour, and one of the flight attendants came over the intercom and asked if there were any medical professionals on board," she said. "They needed doctors and nurses -- whoever they could get."
She raised her arm and noticed the flight crew seemed a little frantic, but Ingram works on the cardiac telemetry unit and is used to intense situations. The plane emergency wasn't a first for Ingram either, as she had participated in a situation on an Ireland trip years ago that involved a woman hitting her head.
This time, the ill passenger turned out to be a man in a plane restroom.
"He did not look good at all," she said. "He was grey and sweating. He said that he had severe abdominal pain and about that time two doctors showed up -- one from Chicago and one from Iowa."
Ingram's husband is French-Canadian and she speaks French, but she doesn't know medical terminology in the language, creating a barrier with the passenger, who didn't speak English. Fortunately, one of the doctors acted as a translator and then a general surgeon from Michigan joined the group.
"I started an IV on him in the airplane bathroom, which was probably the smallest place I've ever been to start an IV on a person," she said.
The task is something she's done countless times, and got it on the first stick, but it was a "little daunting" doing that with three doctors watching over her shoulder, while crouched down in the plane restroom.
She said the group made use of a massive bag of medical supplies and equipment the airline made available, which included IV start supplies, IV fluids, medication, a stethoscope, blood pressure cuff and items for "Code Blue" situations.
"We finally got him some medication and got him comfortable enough to get him out of the bathroom and on the floor, and the general surgeon did a physical assessment on him and she said she thought it was his appendix," Ingram said.
The ill passenger was moved to business class, where Ingram sat next to him for the remainder of the flight -- hanging bags of fluids, giving pain medication and taking vital signs -- so the passenger could get to Chicago. The flight crew also moved Valiquette up to accompany her.
The flight eventually landed in Chicago where paramedics came to assist the passenger, but Ingram first gave him her contact information and asked if he could let her know what happened. She later received a text confirming that it had been his appendix and he underwent surgery to remove it.
"That surgeon, she was right," Ingram said. "It could've been 10 different things that was wrong with him, but she knew and she pinpointed it and then we were able to proceed with a plan of care for him, figure out what we could do to make this better and get us all home."
Ingram praised the flight crew's professionalism and those doctors on board the flight, explaining they left their seats several times to check on him afterward.
"They didn't just leave it at that," she said. "They were genuinely concerned and that makes me feel good knowing there's people like that out there still in this scary world that we live in."
She stayed humble about her role, explaining that it's something any of her colleagues would've done and she was glad to be there, while Valiquette describes his wife as a "very giving person."
He thinks the reaction to this in-flight emergency was great.
"Not only for the patient's health, but also for every passenger on that flight to see a lesson -- that in time of need, people can still come together and do a little good," he said.