Tuesday, August 9, 2011

What are the Odds

My first rotation of second year is coming to an end (the picture is all my fellow second year residents). It’s supposed to be the best rotation, at least in terms of hours, and I have been really taking advantage of my little bit of extra time off. I have greatly enjoyed the breast surgery service. I love that it’s a multidisciplinary setting- we get together once a week- the breast surgeon, the plastic surgeon, the oncologist, the pathologist, the radiologist, the social worker, and discuss the plan of care of each patient individually. I enjoyed the fact that a patient came to you with a disease- a cancer nonetheless- and you could actually cure some of them of it, so they could go on to live many more years. It was nice going to clinic and seeing these patients who were years out from cancer, still cancer-free, with new children, new grandchildren, living full and rich lives. I will miss this service.

Over the weekend, I was out with a friend on Friday night and he asked me if I wanted to go sky diving Sunday. He said he bought it off Groupon and had a two for one deal. Without hesitating, I said, “definitely!” I had been sky diving before in Switzerland, when I was studying abroad in college, and loved it. It’s an incredible adrenalin rush and quite a bonding experience with the friends with whom you jump (years later, I still reminisce about that fateful day from time to time with my fellow jumpers from oh so many years ago). Of course, I did tease him about the safety of getting a two for one sky dive deal and the legitimacy of the company, but I was reassured the company was safe. I made a note to myself the name of the company and thought I better google that before I go, just to be sure.

On Sunday morning, KH picked me up and we headed out to Warrenton, VA. It had originally called for rain, but it was a beautiful day when we got there. There were lots of people out to jump. Even though I had not been contemplating much about what I was about to do, I started to get more excited (and nervous) as I heard the shrieks of people as they landed on the ground and looked up and was reminded of just how high up that plane is when you jump. We waited around for about an hour, then the final group of people before it was our turn got geared up to go. Meanwhile, I noticed a single-engine plane soaring close by pretty low to the tree line. It was one of those planes that lands on water- I kept watching it because it seemed out of place. I didn’t think that there was any body of water around. It kept soaring just over the tree line then started to make a U-turn back towards us. Suddenly, it made a steep nose-dive down towards the ground. The first thing I thought was,” Oh there must be a body of water over there. But that’s weird, those planes don’t do tricks?” It wasn’t until I saw the burst of flames that I realized, that was not intentional.

“Oh my god!” I said.

KH, who saw me staring over him, had turned around to look, “Did that just happen? That just happened.”

“That just happened.” I said.

“Someone call 911!” KH yelled and we started racing over there. Everyone else just seemed to be standing there dumbfounded. I had no idea what we were going to do when we got there but judging from the fact all the employees were hippies with dread locks, I figured we were probably the most well-equipped people there for the situation.

We raced towards the plane, which was about 800yards away. While I was running, I kept thinking to myself, “ok remember ABCs-( first things to check in a trauma)- airway, breathing, circulation.” Then I thought, “ok fire, how are we going to put these burning people out.” I remembered this is why I wanted to go into medicine. Moments like this. I never want to be the person who stands there helplessly in that kind of a situation. I want to be able to do something, to help these people, if at all possible.

When we got to the plane, it was in flames. The front half of the plane was already a skeleton and there were no bodies in there that we could see. I thought maybe they bailed at the last minute, they landed in some heavy grass somewhere. Maybe we should get a search party together. It’s amazing how optimistic the mind is- against all rationale or realistic odds. When I saw the plane going down, I kept thinking of excuses as to why the plane’s trajectory was completely reasonable. Then, when I saw the skeleton of the plane and no bodies, I immediately held on to the idea whoever was in that plane was alive somewhere.

When we didn’t see anyone in or near the plane, we quickly backed away, in case the fuel tank wasn’t hit yet, or there was oxygen in the plane or anything else that could cause it to further explode.

By this point, the rest of the workers had made it to us and the police and fire trucks and ambulances were beginning to arrive. We quietly walked back, there wasn’t much more for us to do at that point. The real rescue team was there now, and from the looks of the plane, it was in the hands of God, anyway.

When we got back to the jump site, KH asked, “So, you still want to go skydiving?”

“Totally,” I said. (Ah, the importance of comic relief to ease the tension). “No! Are you out of your mind?!”

“Ha, ok good, I just didn’t want to be the one to chicken out first… We’ll reschedule.”

I didn’t get my adrenalin rush from diving that day, but I certainly got one. I looked up the crash. They ended up finding the bodies of the pilot and a passenger. They have not released the identities. It’s once again a reminder of the transience and fragility of life that I see so often in the hospital- one second you’re out for a weekend flight and the next is a tragic accident. It again reminded me that your life or the life of someone you love can be completely changed or taken away entirely, in an instant.


  1. Thought provoking story!
    Thx Alex! I am liking the swanky surgeon! :)


  2. That's a crazy story! Have you found anything else out? Missing you! If you want an update on our life:

  3. If I was you, I definitely would have gone skydiving the same day using math as your assurance. I mean, the probability of any plane crashing in your presence whether you´re on it or not, is very unlikely. But the odds of 2 planes crashing on the same day in the same spot are astronomical.

    The odds of me getting a chicken sandwich in the next 15 minutes is very likely.

  4. Love your blog! it's a nice way to keep in touch about the adventures in surgery! Shreveport is no DC but I'm glad I'm out! Power through surgery needs friendlier people like u!