October 26, 2015

My Fateful Ninety Minutes in Albuquerque

This weekend, I had the pleasure of speaking and teaching at the Heart of America Christian Writers’ Conference. It’s one of my favorite things to do. But as it turned out, that wasn’t the highlight of my weekend.

During my stay in Kansas City, I watched the Royals win the big game. In the so-called City of Fountains, all of the water in said fountains was dyed blue. But that wasn’t the highlight of my weekend, either.

About an hour into my three-hour flight home on Southwest Airlines flight 3064, I heard a slight commotion a couple of rows behind me. The flight attendants seemed to be paying special attention to something or someone there. But it was none of my business, and I had a manuscript to edit. Nose back to the grindstone.

A short time later, I heard an announcement from the captain: “Do we have any medical personnel on boar--?” Before the sound of the D, the man next to me (who was snoring a nanosecond before) sprang to his feet and into service. But it was none of my business, and I resolved to stay out of it. Nose back to the grindstone.

More commotion.

The flight attendants called someone on the phone, fielded a thousand questions from passengers (such busybodies!), and carried supplies to the…whatever it was. They pulled out some type of special communications device, plugged it in to a port inside the overhead baggage compartment, and consulted quietly with some official person somewhere.

OK, now it’s getting harder to ignore.

Seeing as all passengers are supposed to stay seated at all times, a woman came over to sit next to me. She had just been displaced by my (medical professional?) neighbor, and now took his seat. Certainly she must possess some juicy intel. I could stand the mystery no more.

“Hi, I’m Steve.”

“Hey, I’m Julia. How are—”


Turns out, a fellow passenger was feeling increasingly uncomfortable. First she had a sore throat, then she gasped for air, then felt chest pains. Julia was the one who reported the situation to the flight crew, who took quick action. As it happened, the afflicted was a lady pastor traveling to a revival meeting with two friends.

More commotion.

Another announcement: “This is your captain speaking. Due to a medical emergency, we will have to divert to Albuquerque. We apologize for this inconvenience, and we will get you on your way to Los Angeles as quickly as we can.”

More…yeah, that.

I’m not a terribly experienced traveler, but I can swear that I’ve never seen any airplane land so quickly. We descended (it seems) faster than normal, got cleared for landing ahead of others who should have gone first, and rushed to a gate without yielding to any other traffic on the tarmac. The jetway extended, and the door was opened so fast that I could hear a depressurizing swoosh. A fire engine and ambulance stood ready, and four paramedics rushed in.

Our “medical pro” (he turned out to be a nurse) reported to the paramedics: With a quick preliminary diagnosis, the patient probably had a heart attack; he administered a dose of nitroglycerin (provided by the airline; who knew?) which brought immediate relief. Being a diabetic himself, Nurse Jack broke out his glucose meter and used it on the patient: a whopping 320! The medics spoke kindly to Lady Pastor, calmed her, lifted her into a wheelchair, and rolled her away.

Apparently a few legalities had to be settled before we could take off again. Jack, and the captain, signed a couple of official forms. Since we had time to kill, a truck came up to resupply the plane with food and drink. For a moment, it crossed my mind to get off the plane. This was my mother’s hometown, and I hadn’t been there for many years. But I hesitated five seconds too long, and they closed the cabin door.

Still more delays. I chatted with the flight attendants, who found themselves in the unaccustomed position of having nothing to do; surely they had vast experience dealing with sick passengers. Nope. It was the first time for all of them. But they handled the situation with the utmost of professionalism, poise, and discretion.

Ah, but it's not over yet.

The passenger on my right, in the window seat, chatted away on her phone speaking French. I wasn’t sure that she knew English, so I didn’t try to make conversation. But (apparently) her boredom grew along with the continued delays. “So, business or pleasure?”

“Huh? Oh, hi, I went to Kansas City to speak for a writers’ conference. Taught a couple of classes.”

“Ah, you’re a writer?”

“Well, I’m mostly a literary agent these days.”

“Oh, really?

Yes, Marie has a book that she wants to get published. It’s about human trafficking out of India. Wasn’t sure that I wanted to handle her book, but I didn’t want to be rude.

“Well, here’s my card. Send me an email and tell me more.”

“Can I have one, too?” I turned around. That was Julia.

“I’m writing a memoir. Really, I’ve led a fascinating life.”

“Uh, sure. Here.”

A very untypical day in the life of a (soon-to-be) famous literary gatekeeper. All hail the KC Royals, Southwest Airlines, and ABQFD.



  1. Stories are all around us. Interesting read. Thanks!

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