General Fiction posted August 30, 2014

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Is anyone here a doctor?

by snodlander

"Is anyone here a doctor?" Has anything good ever followed that question? She walked down the aisle, her perfectly made-up face a picture of polite enquiry, repeating the question quietly so it didn't carry further than a few rows. Presumably she'd asked the question in first class, because if you were a doctor, why would you fly Economy? Now she was working her way through Club. What sort of medical emergency was it? What sort of patient? Would a Chief Exec or ancient rock star deign to be treated by some third-world doctor at the back of the plane?

"Is there a doctor here?" The smile remained fixed, reassuring. Just an inconsequential question, her face seemed to say. We're having a dispute over a Trivial Pursuit answer. Except her colleague was making her way down the parallel aisle asking the same question.

I raised my hand.

"Are you a doctor?" she asked. The voice was calm, but there was something about her eyes.

"Paramedic," I said. There are few perks to working for an international charity, but air miles was one of them. I'd racked up so many in the last couple of years I'd treated myself to an upgrade for this flight. Maybe if I helped the airline out now I'd get a few more courtesy miles out of them. It was my first Club class flight, and now I really didn't want it to be the last.

She paused, and I could see the internal debate raging behind that professional countenance. Whoever was arguing my corner appeared to win, because after a moment or two she nodded and said, "I wonder if I could ask you to go forward, sir. We have someone not feeling well towards the front of the plane."


I levered myself out the chair that was more luxurious than any bed I'd slept in over the last year and stepped into the aisle. She pointed towards the front of the plane.

"If you go all the way to the front, my colleague Tiffany is waiting. Tell her Sandra sent you."

As I made my way forward I heard her repeating her question to the remaining passengers. "Is there a doctor here?" Obviously I was good enough at a pinch, but what they actually wanted was a real doctor.

I parted the sacred curtains into that holy of holies, through first class and all the way to the front of the plane. Tiffany looked like she'd just come out of college.

"Hi," I said, flashing my 'here I am to save the day' smile. "Sandra sent me."

"You're a doctor?" She'd obviously not been on the same poker-face course her colleague had aced. It wasn't a question so much as a plea.

"Paramedic." When your leg is hanging off or your insides are hanging outside the distinction is an academic one. Most lay people don't know the difference. I hoped whatever diva was having a panic attack because the Chardonnay was too warm would think likewise.

"Through here." She turned and knocked on the door behind her, then keyed a combination into the lock. She pulled open the door and stepped aside for me. As I stepped inside she slammed the door closed so fast it hit me in the back.

The flight cabin was larger than I'd expected. True, you couldn't swing a cat, if that was your recreational activity of choice, but the distance between the door and the pilot seats was easily sufficient to stretch full length on the floor. Which was just as well, because a body was doing just that, albeit reluctantly. The uniform marked him out as a member of the crew. One of his colleagues knelt on the small of his back, hands on his shoulders, pinning him to the floor. The man looked up at me, his face streaked with tears.

"You a doctor?"

"I -- yeah, I'm a doctor." What the hell. It was what he wanted to hear. "Are you all right?"

The man looked down at the body underneath him. "We're mates, you know? I mean, really good friends. And he tried to -- he just - ." He held up a hand. Blood congealed from a wound at the base of his thumb. "He was just so vicious. He tried to kill me. Just like that. Bam. We had to cuff him. It's like a seizure or something. He was biting and scratching and everything. We had to cuff him. We had to."

"No, right. I can see that. You had to. Good job." I knelt down. As I did the prone crew member tried to bite at my knee. "What's his name?"


"Hello, Geoff. Can you hear me?"

He redoubled his efforts to bite me.

"Geoff. Hello? Can you speak to me?" His lack of response was answer enough.

"What is it? What's wrong with him?"

I looked up into the worried face of his colleague. Something in his expression suggested they were more than just mates.

"You're right," I said. "A seizure, probably. Are you the captain?"

He nodded at one of the men seated at the controls at the front of the flight deck.

"Good job. Just keep him still, yeah?"

I rose and stepped over to the captain. I leant close enough that I wouldn't have to speak loud enough for the others to hear.

"How long before we land?"

"Three hours, but we hit the coast in twenty minutes if we need to divert. What is it?"

"We need to do some tests, but first guess? Violence, biting, lack of response. It could be rabies."


"So landing as soon as possible would be favourite, in my opinion. Have an ambulance standing by."

"What about Tony?"

He glanced over his shoulder. I followed his gaze. The young man knelt over Geoff, holding him still.

"The incubation period is a couple of weeks, normally. He'll need treatment, but he'll be fine if he gets the inoculations, I should think."

The pilot nodded, thumbed a switch and started talking into his mic. A knock sounded at the door and Tiffany poked her head in. Her face was white and her eyes wide.

"There's another one." Her voice wavered on the edge of crying. "A passenger. We've managed to handcuff her, but she's screaming and thrashing around. We've emptied a row for her but the other passengers are getting panicky. Jules says to put a gag on her but I'm scared she'll choke if I do."

"No, best not to," I said. "We don't want anyone to get bitten. Let me finish up here and I'll come see to her."

After she left I turned to the captain. "Has he had any contact with the passengers?"

"Geoff? No. He's been on the flight deck since take off, except to visit the heads, and we don't need to mix with the passengers to do that. How infectious is it?"

"That's just the point. It's not. It's transferred by body fluids. You get it from being bitten normally. You can't get it by sharing a toilet seat or sneezing. Anyway, it takes a couple of weeks for the symptoms to show."

"So what is it then?"

I shook my head. It had to be rabies; the symptoms were all there. Coincidence? Was it remotely possible two random individuals would exhibit the symptoms within minutes of each other?

"We need to get on the ground and get them into hospital. There's nothing we can do here except isolate these two from the other passengers.

"Jesus!" Tony placed both hands over his head and rocked over the body of his friend.

"Hey, don't give up yet," I said. "Nothing's confirmed. It could be something else."

"Jesus, Jesus, Jesus!" He was shouting now, and the rocking became more violent.

"Hey, now." I placed a hand on his shoulder. He whirled round and sank his teeth in my hand. I caught an image of a face contorted in rage before I knocked him back and we fell to the ground as I tried to work my hand free, feeling the skin puncture even as I tried. Beyond the closed cabin door I heard a muffled scream. I punched Tony in the face, trying to force him to release me even though I knew it was too late.

The door flew open and Tiffany's terrified face appeared for an instance before she was dragged back by a snarling man with an inhuman expression on his face, and I knew then it was too late for any of us.

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