Plane should not have left the ground

BMJ 1995; 311 doi: https://doi.org/10.1136/bmj.311.7018.1507d (Published 02 December 1995) Cite this as: BMJ 1995;311:1507
  1. Paul D Buisseret, Consultant in pulmonary medicine and critical care
  1. 18 Briarwood Circle, North Easton, MA 02356, USA

    EDITOR,--I initially read about W Angus Wallace's adventure—in performing an operation on board an aeroplane flying from Hong Kong to London—in the British press and thought it a ripping yarn. When I read his own account of it I was aghast.1

    When the patient was first drawn to Wallace's attention the aircraft was still on the ground in Hong Kong; this detail was not made clear in the newspaper accounts. Wallace was called to examine a woman who had been involved in a vehicle accident on her way to the airport. The accident was sufficiently violent to have fractured a long bone. Despite having “attended an advanced trauma and life support course” he failed to examine the patient properly—on his own admission he did not carry out a full primary survey of the patient at the outset. Nor did he insist that the patient be transferred from the plane for a proper evaluation, which would have been simple and taken only a few minutes.

    Admittedly, the “Heath Robinson” chest tube drainage that he performed during the flight was ingenious, but what if she had had a ruptured liver or spleen? His Sellotape and coat hanger would not have helped then. Surely the best way of managing an in flight emergency is to avoid it if at all possible.


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