Medical Emergency at 38,000 Feet

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I am posting the blog today from Paris where we are here working. (Yes, I have a great job and yes, Paris is a beautiful city!) I have posted some still pictures that we took yesterday... and in looking at the pictures as I sent them, it occurred to me that it looks like we are here on vacation. While I love Paris and the city is one that is great to see on a vacation... yesterday sure did not feel like we were on vacation, rather I just kept snapping pics for you as we moved about the city working.

Click here to check out my photo essay

Our trip here is a fast one — very fast. We are jamming much work into few hours. We flew all Tuesday night to Paris, arriving with no sleep yesterday morning. We went from the airport to the hotel and, before going to my room, immediately into the car to begin work on no sleep.

Ordinarily I can sleep a few hours on an overnight flight, but our flight was a bit unusual.

We took off from Dulles and about two hours into the flight the flight attendants started packing up everything — no more food, etc. It seemed odd. It was evident that something was going on. I watched as the pilot kept leaving the cockpit and going to the rear of the plane. Pilots don't usually keep leaving the cockpit. The plane was a large one — a 777 — so it was not possible to see exactly what was going on and what the pilot was doing. I only knew something was not ordinary.

As the pilot passed me one time I said, "What's going on?" He said, "We have a medical emergency and will have to land." I asked, "Where?" I knew we were over the Atlantic and there are not exactly a lot of landing options over the Atlantic.

The pilot said that we might have to turn around and go to Newfoundland. Thinking Newfoundland was a distance back and assuming time was a big issue for the sick passenger, I asked about Iceland. He said, "The weather is too bad there." Greenland? "Also bad weather." The pilot was obviously concerned and was trying to figure out the options and then would have to pick the best one. The pilot then told me that there was some Spanish island that United was considering having us land at, but that it had insufficient medical care — so that was likely to be nixed. He also said Shannon airport in Ireland was a possibility, but that was hours away.

For quite some time, there was much indecision about what could and should be done. You could almost feel the urgency on the plane. Needless to say, none of us could sleep. I am sure everyone wanted the right thing to do be done for the passenger, but we all knew we were at 38,000 feet with no landing strips on the Atlantic. The plane felt quite busy with attendants going up and down the aisle trying to attend to all the passengers and simultaneously get ready for an unplanned landing in some country.

We were lucky in that there was a doctor on board. The doctor and the pilot were making frequent calls — so the pilot relayed to me as he made his frequent trips to the back of the plane — to a doctor for United who was in Chicago. The pilot recognized me and stopped every trip up and down the aisle to tell me what was going on. I certainly was not prying... and I certainly did not want to distract him from both a sick passenger and a plane with a few hundred on it. He just seemed to want to stop and explain the situation to someone... and I was that someone. It was obvious to me that he was paying close attention to his responsibilities. He gave me the impression that he is a very competent pilot — nonetheless, this is not exactly the most relaxing situation for a plane full of 200-plus people.

By the way, the sick passenger was a 17-year-old French girl. The pilot told me that she was having seizures.

As it turned out, we did not make a special landing any place, but proceeded to Paris. It was hard to sleep after all the "activity" and of course passengers were worried about the young girl who was having trouble. I am sure we all wondered if the right decision was being made when it was decided to go on to Paris. It turned out to be the right decision, but no one knew for sure as the flight proceeded.

When we landed, the emergency medical people boarded before we got off the plane. I was told the 17 year old was OK. I felt badly for her — it was a rough night. I think she was traveling with a group of French students.

So, while the pictures posted look like we are on vacation, the truth is we are working and working on zero sleep. We hit the pavement running, did a bunch of interviews and will do more today.

If all goes as planned, we are back in USA on Friday (yes, a very short trip to France) and in Iowa on Sunday on another story.

Incidentally, while I was working on the streets of Paris yesterday, I received an e-mail from Jeanne Pirro. She guest hosted for us on Tuesday night while I flew here to Paris. I glanced down at my watch as her e-mail came into my BlackBerry and e-mailed her back, "What are you doing up so early?" It was about 5 a.m. ET and I knew that she could not have gotten home until after midnight having guest hosted our show Tuesday night. She replied that she was doing a guest hit on "The Today Show" and had to be up early. I felt sorry that she was no doubt sleep-deprived, but quickly reminded myself that her three or four hours beat my zero hours!

And yes, sleep or no sleep, this is a great job.

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