Sometimes in a film, there will be a scene involving a random character that suddenly experiences a health issue in public, and people nearby will ask in a panic: "Is anybody here a doctor?" Usually, such situations occur in comedies, but they actually happen in real life as well; though they often aren't as funny. Here are some true-life stories of doctors who were enjoying their days off, then suddenly had to respond to the urgent call:
#1 My Supermom
My mom has had to respond twice on flights when someone was in distress. The first time was in the air and a guy was having a diabetic low. She monitored him until we landed. The second time was sitting on the tarmac when a guy had a stroke. They delayed the flight and took the dude off the plane.
She also said that after the first one, the airline sent her a thank you card and said please use these enclosed vouchers to get tickets to a destination of your choosing, but they forgot to include the vouchers. She said she thought it would be rude to write back and say hey, you forgot the vouchers.
#2 Diabetes On A Plane
I was across the aisle from a guy who had a diabetic low, although I didn't know it at the time. He was non-responsive and having little seizures. I thought he was a goner. When the volunteer doctor came over I helped him lay the guy down in the aisle and take his blood pressure.
This is really not that easy in an airplane aisle with a non-responsive man. So the flight attendant broke out the emergency medical kit. I was very impressed by the amount of advanced stuff in this bag. It seemed like they have a little of everything in that bag! So this doctor quickly (it almost seemed like he knew his way around one of the kits) found a little plastic tube and opened it up.
He told me it was glucose. All he did was rub a little on his lips and the guy started coming around. I was stunned. Pretty soon he just got back up in his seat and seemed in pretty good shape. Of course, they had a medical crew waiting to help him off at our destination.
#3 Emergency Medkits
I work in aviation. Those emergency medkits are the single most important piece of safety equipment on a plane. More important than the fireproofing, the crash-resistant seats, the lifejackets, etc. Even on a jet with a safety record so poor it was basically recalled (the 737 Max 8, with two mass fatality crashes in about 500,000 flights), you are considerably more likely to die from natural causes (aka a medical emergency) onboard than from a crash. The medkits are frequently serviced.
#4 Two Times Unlucky
My friend has had it happen twice to him. Both heart-related in restaurants. I was able to use a defibrillator to save one's life and the other unfortunately passed. Defibrillators don’t work if the heart is completely stopped. CPR is a long shot and didn’t work in this case. It's terrifying to me. I can't count how many times I've been in a hurry and just scarfed something down alone in the car. I could easily choke (and I've definitely had a few scares). Not that I want to die, but it's worse to think I might hurt someone else.
#5 Deadly Bingo
I would guess restaurants are the main place where people in a certain risk category frequent for a set duration of time outside of their homes. Hence, I’d anticipate most deaths occur in the home. Outside of that statistically, a place where these at-risk people are for the longest periods of time reside would be next. I’d anticipate bingo halls also have a high mortality rate.
#6 Grandma's Candy
My father who is a doctor 30 years ago was sent to work in southern Italy (although he already lived with my mother in the north) and a large part of the salary ended up in tickets to return by plane every weekend. The fact is that they do not give anything to eat except candies... needless to say, there's rarely the classic situation of the old woman who chokes on the candy and cannot breathe.
My dad was called and with a few heavy blows on the back, he managed to get the candy out of the poor old woman. A week went by and the day of the return flight arrives. The trolley with the candies passed promptly and out of nowhere, a girl sitting in front of my father who was trying to get one was blocked by her friend: "Don't take it, last week they told me that an old woman got choked up and to free her a doctor had to slap her really really hard on the back!"
#7 Good Advice
While we were on our descent, somebody lurched over in their chair and became unresponsive, tachycardic, and diaphoretic. The whole episode lasted for about two minutes. Then he vomited. I figured he had an arrhythmia. I recommended he not take his connecting flight to Cleveland, and instead go to the ER. EMS was waiting on the ground and helped him off the plane. I actually saw him again on my return flight home. He told me he was diagnosed with an arrhythmia and made an appointment to see a cardiologist in our home town.
#8 Losing Consciousness
This happened in an airplane Me, a 4th-year medical student, and my professor was on an airplane to go to a medical congress in our country. A man 50-ish years old lost consciousness. We got there before the cabin crew. We had to do CPR for 25 minutes until we landed at an airport for an emergency (we still had a 1.5 hour of way).
We also landed off with him to make sure he reached the hospital safely (it was a rural military airport). The airplane waited for us to return, took off 40 minutes later after we landed, and we got to our destination. In the return flight, we were upgraded to business class and taken from our hotel by a private chauffeur.
#9 The D-Problem
I'm currently a first-year resident studying internal medicine in Sweden. This happened last year, about a year after I graduated, so I was still relatively fresh out of med school. I was flying home from my vacation from the Mediterranean when they announced on the speaker system that they were looking for a health care professional. I stood up when they called out a second time, maybe 15 seconds later.
It was me and a bit older nurse who went up to the front rows where a middle-aged male was awake but unresponsive. As I didn't really have a lot of experience and was somewhat panicking (I kept the panic internally to myself, it's scary being "alone") I fell back to ATLS and eventually noticed that I had a D-problem: decreased strength in one of his arms and one-sided facial droop that was quite mild.
Long story short, I suspected a stroke but couldn't really do a whole lot. We were 30 minutes away from landing at the time of the initial call. The airplane seemed to land a bit faster than it usually does and as we went off the runway, there was an ambulance waiting off the taxi-way. When the ambulance staff boarded the plane, I gave a short report and that's basically it. I got a thank you from the relatives and the stewardesses. They asked me to write down my name and e-mail but I haven't heard anything since.
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#10 A Grave Reality
I used to work as a flight attendant. We just get the basic training, depending on the airline; a little more or less, so it was always a godsend to me when a health professional was on the flight. Even when nothing happened, I always appreciated when doctors made themselves know during boarding. Our airline even has a doctor onboard program where you enroll—doctors show up on the passenger list and earn some miles. As for stroke, my basic training taught me that there's not really much you can do onboard except for an immediate landing.
#11 Saving A Life
I’ve been a nurse in this situation. A girl dropped on the beach—she wasn’t breathing and barely a pulse. I dropped my surfboard, ran to her, and did solo CPR a few minutes until lifeguards arrived. Her friends were nearby and she woke up as we were moving her up to the street to get to the ambulance. I was in the right place at the right time, luckily.
#12 Almost Fired
My last Security Manager was a cop for nine years and in the Navy defended naval bases against Navy Seals... so when shots are fired, he doesn't really panic. One day, an employee had a massive heart attack in the middle of the parking lot. She was surrounded by folks in full panic just standing there. The thinking person asked, "DOES ANYONE KNOW CPR!?" They all shook their heads no.
Finally, word reached my boss and he ran out there, performed CPR, and got her breathing just as the paramedics arrived. Another minute or two without oxygen and she would have been a vegetable. My company hasn't cleared us to do CPR on folks (CPR certified or not), it's a liability. My boss almost got fired. Since she was close to death, they awarded him instead.
#13 No Longer Private
A girl I used to work with was staying at her then boyfriend's house and went downstairs for a drink in the middle of the night only to find her future father in law collapsed in the kitchen. She performed CPR and he regained consciousness eventually making a full recovery. From then on, that was their private joke. Whenever they were arguing about something she'd just pull out the old, "Yeah, well I saved your life that one time."
#14 A Well-Oiled Machine
I was flying out of my home airport during my intern year. I had just finished my cardiology rotation (intensive care). The flight attendant asked for a doctor because a passenger had severe chest pain. It turned out there was also my senior resident and my CCU attending on the same flight (unknown to me). All three of us had worked together for the past two months and signed off the CCU the day before. Like a well-oiled machine, we took care of the patient. He was stable thankfully. An ambulance was waiting for him when we landed. And I was very grateful to have both my senior resident and my attending at the time.
#15 Bystander Effect
I'm a flight attendant. There have been many times where I have been the person making the announcement asking for a doctor. I've had nurses, EMTs, and doctors volunteer. We're not trained on medical stuff as much as people think we are. So, to those of you that volunteer... THANK YOU!
One last piece of advice, because it has happened to me, do not be hesitant to volunteer. If we no longer need you, we will tell you. I've had a situation where people were hesitant to volunteer because they thought surely someone else would (bystander effect). Had it been something more serious, the time lost could have been the difference between life and death.
#16 Surviving Fate
My dad survived one of these in 2017—a Type 1A, eight-hour emergency open-heart surgery to save his life. In a coma for four days, ICU for over a week. The hospital had to call in an outside surgeon that day because all of theirs were in surgery. Dad's surgeon was actually on the highway driving to help his wife with a fundraising event for a local charity, and as it turns out, he was one of the top cardiovascular surgeons in our city.
When dad woke up, he didn't even remember getting out of bed the morning it happened (he banged on my door yelling for help, and I found him sitting in the hallway clammy and pale—he said it felt like an elephant was sitting on his chest). His tear was so severe, it affected his entire aorta, from the top of his aortic arch almost all the way down to his legs!
Two other surgeries to repair the damage to his thoracic and abdominal aorta, and he is good as new. I am eternally grateful to his medical team for saving his life.
#17 Thanks Dad
Not in the medical profession, but from my time in the military I knew basic life-saving techniques like CPR and what to do when someone is drowning. My story involved my son when he was six years old. We were in town for my father's funeral. That night at the hotel, the kids were in the pool. It was packed. He was swimming in the shallow end.
Next thing I knew, a girl was holding him saying: “I think he’s drowning.” I pulled him from the pool, asked if he could breathe, he shook his head no. I laid him down, rolled him to his side, and hit his back. He started throwing up lungfuls of water. Finally, he said he could breathe. My wife was freaking out and he was white as a ghost. He threw up probably 4-5 times.
The worst part was when I pulled him from the pool, my first thought was I’m going to watch him die. My wife said I reacted so fast that I had him out of the pool before she realized what was happening. I almost lost my composure when he looked at me and said “Thanks for saving me, dad.”
#18 Waiting For This
I have a doctorate but I'm not a medical doctor. But shortly after receiving my doctorate, I was on a trans-Atlantic flight and the flight attendant came around asking if anyone of us was a doctor. I (very) briefly considered answering jokingly, "Yes, but not that kind of doctor", but the man in front of me said he was, and as he was leaving with the attendant he said to his wife "I've been waiting for this my whole career!"
About 15 minutes later, he came back, slightly disgruntled. Turned out, a woman in first class was having a panic attack, and she ended up with three doctors around her all frustrated that they didn't get to do an emergency tracheotomy at 35,000 feet.
#19 A Twisted Fantasy
"This woman has trouble breathing. We need to perform an emergency Tracheotomy stat."
"But I'm feeling fine now. Really, there is no trouble at all."
"Don't you ruin this for me. Listen, I'm a doctor. I know what I'm doing. Now, does anyone have a sharp knife? A pen would also do the trick. I'm getting so excited."
#20 A Drastic Code-Switch
I was in the car with my mother who is a doctor when a bad wreck happened about a mile ahead of us on the road outside town. I didn't see the crash but all of a sudden we were pulling up to the aftermath, next to a gray-blue Subaru that had its entire front pushed in. The woman driving was still in her seat, sitting upright. I couldn't see her feet but she had bitten clean through her lower lip so that I could see her teeth and gums.
My mom got out of the car (maybe called 911? I can't remember) and rushed the driver. She put her hands through the windows and held the woman's head and neck completely still while telling her repeatedly that help was on the way. She kept telling her that she needed to stay calm and still.
It was the most drastic case of code-switching ever. My mom is a neurotic, scatterbrained nerd but as soon as she was out of the car she moved so fast and was so focused. I can't remember how long we waited there before help came and they used the jaws of life to open the car. I do remember very vividly how the firefighter had to move my mom's hands away from the driver for her because she couldn't unlock her hands and arms.
#21 The Surgeon General
Not a doctor but I was on a flight from DC to Chicago and got so sick I passed out upon landing. As I was coming to my senses, I was being aided by a man and heard another person shout, “Are you a doctor?” The man helping me replied, “I’m the surgeon general of the United States." This was Vivek Murthy and it happened around 2015. He was the kindest and humblest guy.
#22 Kidney Stones
Not a doctor, but the patient in this scenario. I was on a long flight (four hours) and developed excruciating pain and urge to go #1. I was holed up in a washroom for ~20 minutes when a flight attendant inquired if I was okay. I explained the problem and they got on the PA system inquiring about a doctor on the flight.
The doctor (correctly) suggested I was suffering from previously undiagnosed kidney stones. They passed a two-liter bottle of water into the washroom and suggested I drink as much as possible. While I didn’t “pass” the stones, the water flushed my kidneys enough to make the balance of the flight bearable. I sought medical attention upon arrival at my destination.
#23 Baseball Game Incident
Not a doctor, but my dad is. One time last year, he was at a game for our local baseball game, and one of the spectators went into cardiac arrest partway through the game. The whole game stopped, things went silent as he ran over and assessed the situation before starting compressions. He and the baseball team's doctor kept switching until an ambulance arrived, and I think he ended up being okay.
#24 Dr. Thor
Not a doctor, but I am CPR certified. I work at a gym and a guy passed out after coming out of the shower and people started shouting for someone to help him or find a doctor. Being a stupid teenager, I was too nervous to do CPR. I was scared if I made the situation worse or what if he didn’t need it? So, yeah I probably should’ve done more.
A few moments later an actual doctor came in. I remember he was naked and looked like Thor. The passed out guy woke up just as Dr. Thor came in though and wanted to leave, but Dr. Thor convinced him to sit down and rest a bit because something had happened to his blood pressure.
#25 CPR Is Better Than Nothing
I recently “re-upped” my CPR certification and the instructor was awesome and just wanted to help us get comfortable with the idea of having to do CPR. He said that everyone is scared of messing up and making it worse. But if you do all the checks, they’re not breathing, no pulse, then even really bad CPR is better than nothing. If someone is needing CPR, they’re basically already dead and you can’t kill someone who is dead.
#26 Nothing We Could Do
I used to work at a gym and had to get CPR certified. It’s been a few years so my certification has expired, but I had to use our AED on someone once. It was during my 6 a.m. shift, which I normally worked alone but my manager just happened to come in early that morning. It was terrifying.
Unfortunately, it didn’t make a difference; we found later that there really wasn’t anything that we could’ve done. Any other time we’ve ever needed an ambulance was for this one girl that would have a seizure every time she ran on the treadmill. You’d think that would keep her from running, but nope. We had to watch her like a hawk every time she came in because it just kept happening.
#27 Problem In The Aisle
My wife and I were waiting for a plane to take off, and they asked for a doc over the intercom. My wife got up and there was a guy laying in the aisle, already dead. She couldn’t do anything, had to sign some forms, they got the guy off the plane, and made an announcement that the guy “was in stable condition,” which is technically true for some definition of the word stable.
#28 Proud Of My Dad
This is the story of my dad who is a doctor. We were on a flight when suddenly a passenger (an old man) got a heart attack. The staff asked if any doctor was around so my dad showed up. He gave first aid wich didn‘t seem to help, so he used the defibrillator, also no luck. He injected adrenalin and started CPR again. Luckily, he managed to save his life. Proud to have such a great dad.
#29 A Fright Over The Atlantic
Not me but my brother was on a flight when a woman had taken too many sedatives (it was her first flight ever). She threw up and choked on it. The flight attendants asked if there was a doctor on the flight over the speakers and my brother went over there. He treated her and probably saved her life and had to talk to the pilot about whether it was safe to cross the Atlantic. My brother said yes and she was fine for the rest of the flight.
#30 It Could Have Been Worse
Transatlantic flight, many years ago. The stewardess comes to ask if I’m a medical doctor and if could I help. The walk up the plane was less than a minute, but through my mind went every scenario. A baby on the way? Acute coronary event? Stroke? I steeled myself.
I was taken to a man who looked okay. A little wheezy perhaps. I was told he had forgotten his inhaler. They had them on the plane but needed me to say he could have one. I said yes. My reward. A thank you and a free drink. It could have been worse.
#31 Right Place, Right Time
Not a doctor, but my husband had a seizure in the middle of a very busy shopping center parking lot. It was pretty extreme. A paramedic, a nurse, and nurse practitioner, all off duty, all stopped to help him until the ambulance got there. He came through it, and it was really scary as it was my first experience with a full-blown seizure during our seven years together. It would have been a whole lot worse if those human angels hadn't rushed in to save us.
#32 On The Red-Eye
I was on a red-eye flight from California to NY when a woman stood up and passed out in the middle of the aisle. People asked if there was a doctor on the plane. I had just earned my doctorate in psychology months earlier and was still riding that high. I almost stood up since I was caught up in the moment before reality set in that I would of be of no use besides my CPR basics... Ironically, the lady passed out from slamming Xanax because she was an anxious flyer. So, if she hadn't been woozy and semi-responsive I could have helped with her anxiety.
#33 Doctor... Of Education
I am a doctor of education, and I regularly fly from the USA to China. I’m a “doctor” on all my tickets and luggage tags. One time, there was an in-flight emergency when a passenger suffered a panic attack. One of the flight attendants cane to my seat and said: “Excuse me, doctor. Can you come with me and have a look at a passenger in first class?” I said I’m sorry, but I’m not that type of doctor!
#34 Forgetting The Lachman's
I worked in an ortho clinic for a while. I took a flight with one of them and they called for a doctor. The guy didn’t react. I looked at him and he said... "What am I going to do, a Lachman’s?” He’d been an orthopedic surgeon for so long all he knew how to do was bone and joint stuff. A Lachman’s test is to see if the knee ligaments are intact. And the guy was fine. After he had some water and did some pursed breathing he was able to calm down.
#35 The Four Doctors
Not me, but my brother is a doctor. On a flight back from a medical conference, they announced over the PA that if anyone was a doctor, they were needed upfront. The four doctors on the plane all went forward, and it was a toddler that was running a fever. None of the doctors was a pediatrician, but the four of them figured it was an inner ear problem from the flight along with teething. Some children’s Tylenol was found, and everything was fine. He’s also done the Heimlich on someone at a restaurant.
#36 Saving The Clown
My dad was an Emergency physician for 30 years. We were on vacation at one of those family resorts in the Bahamas. The evening entertainment was a circus-type show. At one point, a clown was supposed to ride a unicycle, then fall into the pool. Except, the clown fell the other way, cracking his head on the concrete around the pool. Thankfully, I was too young to realize what had happened, but dad jumped into action.
#37 Fresh Out Of Med School
My cousin was on a flight when they asked for one so she came forward. She'd just completed med school so was quite young and airline staff apparently looked a bit unconvinced and then asked to see her doctor ID. My dad who was a doctor was at a football game once and the guy in front of him went into cardiac arrest.
Dad did CPR on this old guy and he survived. I remember he wrote a letter saying "I am in hospital currently—alive and with broken ribs—I am told for both of these I have you to thank." As a thank you, the football club invited him to some fancy meal with guests of his choice and gave him special tickets for the football game.
#38 Community College Rocks!
Not a doctor but... Back in the day, I went on a community college field trip on a bus. An elderly fellow had a heart attack. A woman jumped up—she was an emergency room nurse. A guy jumped in to help her, he's a combat medic from Vietnam. Full-on double team CPR, complete with vomit, broken ribs, furious mouth to mouth... Kept the guy alive for 15 minutes until the ambulance arrives, he makes it. Heroic and dramatic as heck. Community college rocks!
#39 A Real Pro
I was at a play at The GCTC in Ottawa when someone in the front section had a seizure near the stage. When the Front of House Manager yelled: "Is there a doctor in the house?" A row of people stood up all at once. There was a group of doctors in town for a conference and picked that day to go to a show!
Lucky day for the man, he was given the best care until the ambulance arrived, including CPR. The whole place fell silent when he was taken away. The entire time, the actress in the one-woman show had frozen her pose, perched on an upsidedown bucket. She remained on her mark, and when the audience fell silent, she delivered her next line as nothing had happened. A real pro.
#40 Passed Out
I was recently on a plane when this happened. They announced it over the loudspeakers because a man was found to be unresponsive after we were delayed on the tarmac. It was really awkward for a bit because no one stood up to help—apparently no doctors on board. They just kept trying to wake the man, and he was just sitting there, out. They even reopened the sealed plane door, so we knew it was serious.
Luckily, since we were still on the tarmac from some 45-minute delay, they brought in an airline rep, then a medical team. Sort of unluckily, he became responsive as they wheeled him off in a wheelchair, and had apparently taken sleeping pills to help with his fear of flying. The poor guy passed out too soon because we didn't take off on time, and they wheeled him off because they had to at that point.
#41 Outside Of Work Hours
I’m a nurse. Just yesterday morning, I heard these women screaming in the hallway of my hotel, “We need help! Does anyone know CPR?!” I ran out of the door and told these women I was a nurse. They took me to the front lobby where they found a young woman who was seizing. She wasn’t breathing but she had a pulse at first. It started to get weaker then stopped altogether. I had to do four rounds of CPR before I felt a pulse again and it was right as the EMTs were walking in. I work in nursing homes and most people are DNRs. I’ve never had to do CPR on anybody. It’s crazy that was my first time and it was at a freaking hotel.
#42 Suspicions Confirmed
Recently, I was taking an international flight. The flight attendant asked if there was a doctor aboard. I was actually asleep, but somehow that woke me up. And I was like wait, you need a doctor? Turns out, a patient was experiencing some diffuse chest pain. I went to examine him and my inner alarm bells rang when I asked him some questions.
I had a very high suspicion that this guy was having an aortic dissection. I told the flight attendant, who passed on the information to the pilot. The pilot made an emergency landing at a different airport, met with an ambulance. I later called the hospital to find out what exactly it was and turns out I was right. If they had carried on, he might not have survived.
#43 Zombie Birthday
Not a doctor, but I was the person a doctor was called for. I fell over backward speaking on stage at an event. Everyone thought I just fainted but they checked my pulse and nada. There were two paramedics in the audience and they did CPR on me until the ambulance got there. I “woke up” in the hospital three days later with zero memory of the whole event. It happened eight years ago yesterday! It’s now affectionately referred to as my Zombie Birthday.
#44 Aisle Issues
I am not a doctor, but on my flight back from my 8th-grade field trip to Washington DC, I was sitting at the window. Another kid was sitting in the middle and the same with the aisle seat, and the kid in the middle seat's face became numb halfway through the two-hour flight. Luckily, this lady who was on board was a doctor and was able to figure out what's up. Because I was in the window seat, I had to hold the oxygen tank for him till we got back and make sure it didn't get too low. He ended up being fine but it was an experience.
#45 Unconscious On The Beach
Not quite a “is there a doctor” scenario, but during residency, my dad had to do like 50 autopsies. There was one point when he was surfing with another doctor buddy and some guy had hit his head and was unconscious on the beach. The FIRST thing my dad said was, “If he dies, can I do the autopsy?” They helped the guy and I’m pretty sure he lived, but saying, "If they die, can I do the autopsy?” has become a bit of a joke for anytime anyone is coughing or doing anything where, when taken to the extreme, they might die.
#46 The Church Incident
A few months ago, I was at church when an older man next to me collapsed. My husband immediately got out his phone and called 911, and I looked around for someone who remotely looked like a doctor. The priest, who was in the middle of his homily, did not seem to bat an eye. Nobody was really doing anything about it, so I checked his pulse and he was still breathing. The ambulance eventually arrived and I never saw him at the church again. I heard he was fine, though.
#47 Car Crash
Not a doctor, but an RT. I was like the fifth car that approached an accident where a truck was passing in a no-passing zone and hit a motorcycle head-on that had a husband and wife riding in it. The wife died at the scene, but she still had a pulse when I got there. The husband was alive and was life-flighted out after. I just had to keep the husband from trying to get up or look towards his dying wife until the paramedics got there. It's a different world when you have no equipment. Luckily, the paramedics were there very quickly.
#48 Aldi Happenings
Not a doctor but a nurse. Back when I was in nursing school, I was at Aldi with my kids when a woman by the exit collapsed and started seizing. I ran over and started doing my thing to keep her safe while yelling at the workers to call 911 and get the doors open for the ambulance. She ended up being okay and everything. My mother-in-law had been sort of supportive of my decision to leave IT and go to nursing school before that happened but after seeing me in action that day she has been one of my biggest supporters when it comes to being a nurse.
#49 Three Saviors
My grandparents were Jewish and went to temple on the high holidays. It was the typical setup where you stand for certain segments and sit back down for others. One of the times they were told to rise, grammy did, but grampy didn't. In a panic, she called out, "Is there a doctor in the house?" There were three within 15 feet of where he sat. Stereotypical, perhaps, but I'll take it. They performed CPR and saved his life.
#50 That's Embarrassing
I'm an MD and the patient was me. I was on a three-hour flight and I think my blood pressure dropped or my sugar was low in the middle of the flight. I told the flight attendant so she could bring me those bags that they give you in case you vomit. And when I was about to pass out I hear she yells, "Is there a doctor on board?" I was so embarrassed.