Memorial Healthcare System Nurses Saved My Life in Flight

May 08, 2023

ICU nurses and respiratory therapist on Dubai vacation in desert

I recently went on an incredible and memorable vacation to the United Arab Emirates. It was a lot of fun...until those moments I almost died on the return flight home.

There were eight of us with connections to Memorial Regional Hospital on the trip, plus my husband, Pedro, and mother, Aleida. I’m a respiratory therapist, but the other seven – Ofelia Mercado, Yanick Jacob, Edita Beerman, Susan Piligan, Jan Go, Tina Rosa, and Bernadette Flores – are all current or former intensive care unit (ICU) nurses.

ICU nurses in Dubai at hotel lobby

The ten of us were excited to go to Dubai and Abu Dhabi earlier this year and we packed a lot of the local experiences into our time there. I even had a cappuccino sprinkled with 24k gold at the Burj Al Arab Hotel!

The trouble began on the flight back to Miami. While I fell asleep soon after takeoff, I woke up feeling drowsy, weak, and nauseated. I thought I might throw up but wasn’t even able to open the bag they provide for those situations. I remember asking my husband to open it but passed out right after that. When I came to, I remember everyone calling my name. At one point I heard one of my friends say, “does she have a pulse?” and I knew that something was seriously wrong. I felt I had wet myself, was weak, drowsy, and could barely talk. At that point, we were at 32,000 feet, off the coast of Africa, and just passing the Azores.

Things progressed quickly from there. I had an oxygen mask on, a pulse oximeter, and someone was checking my blood pressure. I heard Susan say very assertively, “we need to check her sugar!” I heard Yannick say, “her pressure is 52 over something.” Someone asked if she was sure, and Jan responded, “yes, she’s right. I see it.”

They stabilized me and got me off the oxygen. But, several hours later, I had another seizure. I woke to the same voices. When I asked where we were and was told ‘only halfway across the Atlantic Ocean,’ my thought was that I might code and die right there on the plane.

The nurses quickly got a line started, checked my sugar, and stabilized me again. I saw Yanick jump over a seat to start the IV and thought I might have imagined it. I heard Edita say, “a size 7.5 should do.” You never want to hear that. I later learned they were preparing to intubate me in case I got worse.

My friends were my voice when I couldn’t use my own, even getting approval from a physician on land to use the “doctor’s bag” that was on the plane. In a confusing, chaotic, and life-threatening situation, all of them managed to keep their cool, make the correct decisions, and exhibit the professionalism ICU nurses are known for.

The flight was ultimately diverted to Bermuda, where I spent three days under observation and getting treatment. My husband stayed with me, but my mother continued on the flight to Miami. These women were so kind they even escorted her back to Coral Springs.

My mother speaks limited English and has mild dementia. She later told me, “I didn’t understand what they were saying, but those women were fighting for you!”

The women that saved my life, my dear friends, deserve recognition for what they did. As caring humans, as nurses, as Memorial nurses . . . they were at their best when I was experiencing the worst. In moments of terror and confusion, they put all their critical thinking and expertise together to save a life, something they traditionally do in much more optimal settings.

The staff on Emirates Airlines also deserves kudos. They were professional, kind, and accommodating. Clear about what they could do and what was available, fast getting supplies, calm, and composed. They got the nurses what they needed and repeatedly reassured me I would be OK.

I am grateful for everyone that helped me and know I wouldn’t be sharing this story if not for my life-saving friends, who not only cared for me in my darkest moments, but also had the training as Memorial Healthcare System clinicians to know what needed doing.

Yenny Rodriguez

Yenny Rodríguez, BSRT, RRT-ACCS, is a respiratory therapist and clinical ladder co-chair at Memorial Regional Hospital. She has some ongoing health issues but recently celebrated 25 years of marriage with Pedro and their three children.