In-Flight Emergency

“Are there any doctors or nurses on board the aircraft?”

In the middle of a flight across the Atlantic, these were not the words I wanted to hear coming from the flight deck. From my seat in the cabin it was obvious some type of medical emergency was taking place; however, the seriousness of the emergency wasn’t realized until I heard those words. There was a crisis. Someone needed more help than family and flight attendants could provide. As medical professionals began to help the woman in crisis, I began to pray.

Crises happen more often than we’d like in life, including in life overseas. A teammate is diagnosed with cancer. A spouse dies unexpectedly. A child becomes critically ill. A co-worker is the victim of a violent crime. A friend is seriously injured in a car accident. All of the crises that occur in our passport countries have the potential to occur in our adopted countries as well.

How do we respond when a crisis hits our family, our team, our friends? Do we pray fervently (and when appropriate, ask others to pray with us) for those in need? Do we offer our services to help in whatever way we can? Unfortunately my first response in a crisis situation isn’t always to pray. Often I want to help solve the problem, to do something to make life better for those involved. Yet I know my first response should be like it was on the airplane that day – pray.

“We’re going to be making an emergency landing in Canada.”

As the flight continued to progress across the Atlantic, the captain spoke to us again. No one had anticipated a stop in Canada that day. We were all anticipating a flight straight from Europe to the United States. However, because of the seriousness of the situation, the plane would be landing in Canada in order for the woman in crisis to receive help. Suddenly the medical emergency impacted all of us on the plane. People began discussing the possibility of missing connecting flights and guessing when we would actually arrive at our intended destination. The emergency quickly became about the inconvenience of missed flights, instead of the life or death situation of a fellow passenger.

Sometimes crises mean our plans and the plans of others will need to change. After I survived a violent crime on the mission field, I watched as my teammates went into crisis mode. They set aside some of their regular tasks and responsibilities in order to take care of me, to answer phone calls, to communicate with others in our organization. All of our plans had changed. Instead of a staff meeting, I was at the hospital with two of my teammates. Instead of a wife picking her husband up at the airport, other teammates assumed that responsibility.

How flexible are we when a crisis occurs in our lives or the lives of those we care about? Are we willing to drop everything in order to help them? As a planner I’m constantly battling the frustrations with last-minute team meetings and unpredictable communication. However, I like to think that I would respond as well as my teammates did during a crisis. That I would do whatever was necessary in order to help those in need. That I would babysit, bring meals, buy groceries, or teach classes – all without complaining about being inconvenienced.

The longer our plane was on the ground in Canada, the more upset passengers became. I felt badly for the flight attendants because they were doing everything they could in order to deal with the emergency situation properly and keep the other passengers happy. After hearing one passenger complain quite loudly to one of the flight attendants, I stopped the next one who passed me and thanked her for how well the crew was handling the situation. The change in her countenance was immediate. The exhaustion, stress and frustration were immediately replaced with relief and calm.

Do we thank those on our team or in our organization for handling crises well? Dealing directly with a crisis situation is difficult and stressful. In my case, I was in a state of shock and unable to do much more than simply whatever my teammates told me to do. I will be forever thankful for teammates who came alongside to help and willingly entered my pain.

The responses of the other passengers to the medical emergency on the airplane that day reminded me that all of us respond to crises. It’s how we respond that is important. We can respond as some passengers did with little sympathy and a lot of aggravation. However, my desire is to be a teammate and friend who prays first, quickly changes her plans, and thanks others.

What is your natural response in times of crisis? How have you learned to deal with crises while living overseas?

Photo Credit : Gratisography


  1. Monica March 5, 2015

    This is a great post Laura, and I appreciate your emphasis on how we respond in the midst of crisis- whether we are the ones in the center of it or the ones on the periphery, stepping in to help with the situation.  I have been in both of those positions over the years, and I’ve found that being in the center of the crisis (especially health crises) is when I struggle the most, but as a team mate, or peripheral helper I seem to be more calm.  I’m not sure why?!  I’m a nurse and there have been plenty of times where I’ve swooped in to help arrange an evacuation, or assist a mother in unexpected labor, or explain a grandmother’s terminal diagnosis to a village family who doesn’t understand the situation.  But when I’ve been in the those situations- racing to get my son to the provincial hospital 7 hours away because his appendix is about to burst, suffering from malaria in East Africa, watching my 2 year old go into major surgery in Hong Kong- it has the affect of taking my breath away and turning me into a mess, not a composed, educated public health nurse!  Reflecting on my responses to various crises over the years, has caused me to ponder my deepest fears and insecurities.  Working through those fears (terminal illness, a child dying on the field, a break in, or what have you), and claiming His Victory over them, has helped me lay those fears down at the Cross, and draw close to the One who will be ever-present with me through life’s hardships and In-Flight Emergencies.  I know that trials will come, and I just pray that my responses will honor and help me cling closer Jesus.

  2. Malia March 5, 2015

    Thank you for this, Laura. Your airline emergency is a perfect scenario to remind me of how to react in crises as a friend or even just as an acquaintance. (I can definitely picture the relief on the flight attendant’s face when you reassured her of her worthwhile efforts. Even though kind words may seem trivial, they are so important!) To pray, to be flexible, to be grateful–these are the right responses. I’m glad to hear you had those responses around you when you faced your crisis.

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