14 August 2007

The Wrong Message

He was four years my senior, but had put much more stress on his bodily machinery...
A lifelong smoker and drinker, he definitely was a "work hard- play hard" kinda guy.

When I started flying EMS helicopters, Don was one of five other pilots already on board with our company. He had been a helicopter flight instructor for years. He was a civilian instructor at Mineral Wells, Texas in 1968 when I started Primary Instruction at the ARMY flight school there. We used to kid that Orville Wright had taught Don to hover.
He was, and is, what most would call a "Character"... just a fun guy to be around.

Most EMS Pilots work some sort of odd schedule-
Ours is a 12 hour shift for four days, then four full days off.
Don bought a farm three hour's drive from our EMS work, and during his four day break would go there and till, plant, fertilize, and harvest. When the sun went down and the work was done, it was PARTY TIME!

I was on duty, and it was a shock when the call came in: "One of your pilots is here. Come get him."
It was Don.
Partying at a local club, he had experienced severe chest pain. Don didn't think it was too serious. His wife threw a fit and insisted he immediately go to the Emergency Room for a checkup. His hometown hospital didn't have the equipment to run thorough tests, so we flew to bring him back to Bigtown for evaluation.

When the dust had settled, they found Don had not had a heart attack. But the extensive testing showed that he had previously had a silent cardiac "event" which had slightly damaged his heart. Released from the hospital, Don returned to work.

Three months passed, and time came for Don's flight physical.
Filling out the questionnaire on the medical form, Pilots are asked if they have had any medical problems or treatment since their last flight physical.
Don answered honestly, and thereby opened "Pandora's box."

It took about a week for the FAA medical folks at Oklahoma City to review his records and hoist the red flag. Don was grounded.

At age 55, he could have pursued getting his medical reinstated, but that would have taken a couple years and possibly a considerable outlay of money. While fighting to return to flight status, Don would still have had to find a temporary job. He decided it was more trouble than it was worth, and reluctantly quit flying EMS to pursue farming full time.

The other pilots, all of us, watched Don's case unfold and hoped for the best.
In the end, I'm afraid the lesson we learned from his experience is ironic:

If you experience symptoms of a heart attack or other medical problems-
Be stoic.
Say nuttin' to nobody!

No comments: