The first time I flew first class on an airline was a memorable and painful experience. A former colleague was interested in having me join her group and flew me out in style to Atlanta, Georgia. What a pleasure it was to board the airplane first, ushered to my seat by an amiable flight attendant. As I waited to place my carry on bag in the overhead bin, it happened. A border strip of plastic came loose and whipped outward from the bin, slapping my left eyeball. Holding my bag in both hands, I had no way to protect myself. I collapsed in pain, tears streaming from my eyes.
“Oh my!” The flight attendant had witnessed the event and was horrified. “Are you okay? Should I call a doctor?”
Through the tears, I managed to open my left eye. Blurred images quickly came into focus. I did a quick visual acuity test on myself and noted no glaring deficiencies. “I think I’m okay.”
“Are you sure? We can get someone?”
“We have paramedics outside.”
I don’t usually disclose the fact that I am a physician, but this time I deemed it appropriate. “I appreciate the offer. I’m a physician and as far as I can determine, my eyesight is okay. But I will need to get it checked out, hopefully when we land in Atlanta.”
The attendant quickly nodded. “Oh yes. I will let our Atlanta office know and they will have a doctor waiting there.”
“Great!” I thought. I plunked down into my cushy leather seat, ice bag on my left eye. The flight attendant was ever more courteous, bringing me special drinks and checking on me every few minutes. Even the pilot and co-pilot came out to greet me. There was a half hour delay as maintenance personnel worked to repair the plastic border. Hopefully no more excitement, I thought, as the plane began to taxi down the runway.
“Oh no!” Another flight attendant rushed by me to the cockpit, her face twisted in obvious distress. In a few seconds, the announcement was made.
“We have a medical emergency on this plane. Are there any physicians or individuals with medical training who can assist? If so, please immediately identify yourself to one of the flight attendants!”
Although I am a physician, as a dermatopathologist, I do not have the adept clinical expertise of an emergency physician or surgeon to handle a medical emergency. In similar scenarios in the past, there are usually other physicians who are better trained to handle a medical crisis. Nonetheless, I had already divulged the fact that I was a physician and no one else was volunteering their services. I raised my hand. The flight attendant looked at me with a forlorn expression and said, “I’m sorry I have to ask you!”
I shook my head. “No apologies necessary. Take me to the patient.”
With the ice bag on my eye, I stumbled to the back of the plane where a woman was lying down, in obvious distress. She was having a panic attack because she had brought a bag full of jewelry that was in storage on the plane and she was afraid that someone might steal it. After assessing that she was not in immediate medical danger, I reassured her as the plane bumped along the tarmac returning to the terminal. Meanwhile I remained at her side, one hand holding the ice bag on my left eye and my other hand monitoring her pulse. Arriving at the terminal, paramedics were led in and whisked the woman off the plane.
My flight attendant thanked me once again as she changed my ice bag. “I am writing a book about my life as a flight attendant.”
I flashed a smile. “And I’m chapter one?”
“No question! “I’ll make sure the airline knows what you did for this passenger. I am sure they would like to thank you!”
“That would be nice. I am just happy I could help.” After these surreal episodes, I wish I could share a happy ending but when I arrived at the gate in Atlanta, there were no airline officials to meet me nor were there any medical personnel. By the time I inquired, the entire flight crew had disappeared. Miffed, I proceeded with the rest of the weekend, meeting with my generous host. Three days later, I was back in Los Angeles and I immediately saw an ophthalmologist who diagnosed a corneal abrasion. Several attempts to contact the airline were all met with a bewildered response or complete ignorance of the events. Days slipped into weeks and my frustration level exponentially grew. I am not sure what prompted me, but I found a contact number for the F.A.A.-the federal aviation administration. Unlike my attempts to communicate with the airlines, I was met with an extraordinarily helpful representative. She listened to my story and emphatically stated, “I will make sure the proper people find out about this. I will call you back in a few days!”
In spite of her courteousness, I truly did not expect any additional assistance but one week later, I received a call from the same F.A.A. official. “I spoke to the airline. They are extremely regretful of this entire incident and will make things right with you. They will contact you within a day. If they don’t, I want you to call me on my direct phone line.”
I was overwhelmed by the swift action the F.A.A. delivered, contrasting with the passive-aggressive pace of the airlines. Although grateful, I was a bit embarrassed by the attention. Investigating tragic plane crashes and near misses at airports, surely there were more important issues the F.A.A. needed to address? “You know, “ I sheepishly began, “I’m sorry I called you about an issue like this but I really didn’t know who else I could contact. I…”
Before I could finish, the F.A.A. official interrupted me, “Sir, you did the right thing. This is what we do!”
In a gush of pride, she exclaimed, “Sir, the F.A.A. is here for you!”
Oh my! If ever there was a perfect tagline!
You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, to spend it on your passions.
James 4:3 (ESV)
I turned to the F.A.A. when it appeared I had exhausted all my usual avenues for assistance. In hindsight, I should have first turned to them for they were the chief authority to which all aviation companies must comply. Regrettably, my spiritual life often follows a similar neglectful course. When a problem arises, I often try to solve it by using my own efforts instead of first offering the problem to God and asking Him to guide me.
I have asked many things of God from wrong selfish motives and I have also failed to ask Him when I truly needed Him. There is a danger to view God as a cosmic genie or bellhop, thinking He will fulfill all of our wishes and desires to our expectations and not His. But there is an equally insidious attitude of pushing God aside and thinking we can go it alone, only reaching out to Him as a last resort.
Thanks be to God that He is always here for us!
Love and trust the Lord; seek His will in your life.