Nursing Voices

Monday, February 25, 2008

Wanted: Nurses for American Airlines

Meet Nurse Sarah Bennett. She proves the old adage, “Once a nurse, always a nurse.” Nurse Bennett was tired of being just another pretty face at the office, so she became an airline stewardess. Here is her story:

“OFFICE DRESSING.” That, Sarah thought wryly, was exactly what she had been as a nurse to the handsome and successful Dr. Ralph Caldwell Porter. Looking wand-slim and elegant in her white nylon uniform, her heaviest duty had been to stand by serenely while Ralph administered to the imaginary needs of some fawning, simpering female. She needed a new perspective on her life, and time to think about Ralph. She had to decide whether she could marry a man she loved—but didn’t respect.

Now, as a newly appointed stewardess of the Alaska Passenger and Freight Airlines, she faced her biggest challenge as a nurse and as a woman. And what, Sarah thought desperately to herself was she going to do? The plane had crashed, and the passengers were all depending on her. Her passengers were dangerously ill, and the pilot was dangerously attractive.

Decisions, decisions. It sounds like Nurse Bennett has her hands full, but she’s a nurse, so you know everyone is in good hands.

Did you know that a long time ago, when commercial air travel was new, nurses served as stewardesses? These pictures are from a book in my collection. The transition from bedside nursing to serving tea and coffee was all about marketing. The airlines hired nurses to help the American public get over their fear of flying. After all, if air flight was safe enough for nurses, it was safe enough for everyone. And who else was better qualified to care for passengers just in case something went wrong?

Maybe American Airlines should revisit the idea of hiring nurses to serve as stewardesses on their flights. They are in deep trouble after a passenger died while begging for help. The 44-year-old woman was in respiratory distress, and her stewardess kept blowing her off. Then two doctors and two nurses on the flight stepped in and tried to save the woman’s life. They attempted giving the woman oxygen, but the two oxygen tanks on the plane were empty. Then the defibrillator that the plane was carrying didn’t work. American Airlines slogan is, “There is Something Special in the Air.” Maybe that something special should be a nurse.

Coffee, tea, defibrillator paddles?


Blogger Jean-Luc Picard said...

A plane crash, and Nurse Bennett is thinking of how attractive the pilot is?

2:46 PM  
Blogger Lynn said...

First, let me say, I read your blog daily. Your writing is elegant, plain, and just damn good. I have seriously been thinking about a new direction in my nursing career, and Airline Heroine sounds great! Now, if they hire based on skills, I am a shoo in. But if they base their hiring on age and weight, well, I am out of luck.

4:01 PM  
Blogger Evil HR Lady said...

I like the headline "relative complains." Yeah, I think I'd complain if I was that poor woman's relative.


5:18 PM  
Blogger Nurse K said...

I had a friend who went to LPN school so she could be a flight attendant. I think a lot of stewardesses are LPNs, but maybe I'm wrong...

7:22 PM  
Blogger marachne said...

My mom became a nurse (back in the 30's) so that she could be a stewardess. That never happened, but she did become an air evacuation nurse during WWII, stationed in Cairo and New Delhi. Talk about a way to see the world!

8:47 PM  
Blogger Mage And George said...

I read about that death and was shocked. How terribly frightening.

Tell Lynn, the rules have changed. They don't pay much any more, weight restrictions have changed as have age restrictions.

Thanks for this book, now you have me looking for nurse romances instead of sci-fi or mysteries.

2:26 PM  
Blogger Smalltown RN said...

I didn't know that...see you learn something new is that why sometimes at work I feel like a stewardess instead of a nurse?

12:59 AM  
Blogger ArkieRN said...

Let me play Devil's Advocate.

First thought is that a stewardess has not got the training to recognize or treat respiratory distress. They are required to have been trained in basic CPR and AED usage.

They are also given training to recognize the components of the emergency medical kit so that they can assist in finding them for use by "responding qualified medical providers". (FAA's web site)

Yes, having empty oxygen bottles was wrong. According to the FAA's site..."Under long-standing regulation an airplane may not be operated unless it is equipped with required emergency equipment". Which includes O2.

However, it wasn't negligent. In order to be negligent, the lack must have contributed to cause direct harm to the claimant.

This woman died as a result of her cardiac problem. Lack of supplemental oxygen did not cause her death. If she HAD had O2, it likely wouldn't have delayed her death.

Also, the report that the AED malfunctioned was given by a non-medical relative of the woman. Think about it. If an AED is applied and reads asystole (or some other non shock-able rhythm) it will (correctly) not fire.
To a lay person whose knowledge comes from TV and movies where every coding pt is shocked (and saved) it would appear to not be working.

Lastly, according to the article, the woman had a history of cardiac problems. According to their site, "American encourages all passengers to consult with their doctors about DVT and other personal health issues prior to travel." I wonder if she did?

Airplanes can't assume responsibility for the health and well being of anyone who travels on them. Can you imagine how high costs would be if they had to carry a fully equipped and staffed ED on board?

Passengers take their risks. If their health is such that being unable to access health-care for the length of the flight, they should use an alternate form of transportation.

The airline obviously could have done better but did not cause her death. Nor does it appear likely that anything could have prevented it as it was nearly an hour before the airplane could land. We all know that only the tiniest percent of cardiac codes on land are successful in bring back the patient. She basically had no chance once she coded in air.

Whoa, that comment way waayyyy longer than I thought it would be. Sorry, I just dislike how it appeared that the airline was getting blamed for this.

9:26 AM  
Blogger Mother Jones RN said...

Hey, Arikern.....

I'm not blaming the airline for the woman's death. I figure when you're number is up, it's up. But, do you really believe that anyone is dumb enough not to know when someone can't breath and needs help? And personally, I'd like to know that the defibrillator on the plane is going to work if I ever need it. And let's not forget the oxygen tanks. They were empty. It makes me wonder what other maintenance is being overlooked. Apparently the airline wasn't following their own policies, and that's what's going to kill them in court. I wish them luck finding sympathetic jury members. No one likes having lost luggage, and being bumped from flights.

10:52 AM  
Blogger RehabNurse said...


I did not realize this until I was in my BLS refresher course this week and one of my RN cohorts mentioned this when this topic came up. Great post and photos!

I always love it when they ask for a doc on the plane. When I was on my honeymoon, a lady passed out four rows up when we were really close to our destination.

Thankfully, we had a radiologist on our flight, and the lady was just dehydrated and exhausted from flying around the world in about 36hours.

9:08 AM  

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