Working for an aeromedical transport team wasn’t always a goal of mine. It wasn’t something I’ve always wanted since I was little (although there is a picture of my 3-year-old self wearing a medic’s helmet and grinning broadly in a helicopter in a photo album somewhere). It wasn’t part of the reason I got into EMS. But my fascination and desire to earn my wings grew steadily over my short medical career.
The first time I ever saw a flight crew, they were coming to pick up our patient in the hospital. My preceptor tried not to smile when he saw the awestruck look on my face. They were calm, and collected. They walked with a swagger into our ER. They asked these questions with big, fancy words. And, okay, I’ll admit it, they looked so cool in those swanky flight suits. As they loaded up and prepared to head back to the helicopter, a nurse asked one of our paramedics if he could help carry some equipment back to the bird. He agreed, before handing a bag to me. He knew how badly I wanted to watch a helicopter take off, and that I’d never seen one before. I carried the bag with pride out to the helipad, and watched with total awe as they took off. When I got back to the ambulance, my preceptor chuckled at my obvious excitement. I told him I wanted to be just like them. Always supportive, he told me that one day I could be.
To this day, watching helicopters take off and land through my classroom’s window is a great tangible reminder as to why my butt is growing numb in those awful plastic seats. I can do this. I will do whatever it takes, and I will get there. It won’t matter how many all-nighters I pull, how many tears I shed, or how frustrated I get. I will get there, some day.
Just imagine my elation when my old preceptor handed me a ride-along application packet for a aeromedical critical care transport service. When I was accepted, I marked the date down on my calendar. It gave me something to look forward to, amongst the boring clinicals, personal problems, and seemingly impossible countdown until graduation. Soon, I would finally get to spend a few hours living the life I wanted so badly.
That day has come and past. The experience was a mixed bag.
I loved the crew I was with. Everyone was so friendly. There was such a camaraderie, and it was everything I could have hoped for. It just made me want to be a flight nurse or medic that much more. I was practically shaking with excitement went the helicopter was pulled out of the hangar. Everything inside me lit up with happiness as we lifted off.
The flight made me feel a little funny. I wasn’t exactly nauseous or dizzy. I just felt that familiar general strangeness I get whenever I fly in airplanes. It’s not uneasiness or sickness. Just this very subtle difference. When we landed, we piled into the back of an ambulance. It wasn’t anything like the ambulances back home, but it was oddly comforting to me nonetheless. I was standing in the ER, maybe a full three minutes after we’d landed, when it hit. I was overwhelmingly nauseous and dizzy. I leaned up against the wall, and tried to pay attention to what was going on. (I wasn’t allowed to engage in patient care–even to help lift–anyway, so I wasn’t missed terribly.) Now I started shaking with nerves. What was I going to do? Here I am, feeling absolutely awful, and I still have two more flights ahead of me? There’s no way…
Oddly, when we got back into the helicopter, I felt fine. The patient was hardly labor-intensive, to put it lightly. But the nausea and dizziness just evaporated. The flight was flawless. Again, maybe three minutes after we’d landed, I felt that disorientation, dizziness, and nausea creep back into my body. Nobody else seemed to notice, but then again, I wasn’t needed or asked to do anything. I continued to feel crummy for the flight back to the hangar. Although I started to feel better back at the hangar, my stomach didn’t fully recover for an hour or so afterwards.
There were so many things I loved about my opportunity to fly. But, it’s all dampened by this huge overwhelming fear: what if I can’t do this? What if I’m extremely prone to being airsick? This isn’t something that can be fixed with better grades, more studying, more experience, or more certifications. This is something I can’t control. To be stripped of this dream terrifies me. It has completely flipped everything around. It’s made me question and worry about so much. I hate to have this goal, this dream, this desire that has fueled so much, be completely snuffed out. All because of one glitch in my stupid body.
I’ve talked it over with a few people who have flown. Most have told me not to worry about it. I had literally scarfed down an entire Tupperware container of ravioli in three minutes before the mission because I could practically feel my blood sugar dropping. (I hadn’t eaten all day because I was so excited…don’t do that.) I had slept three hours the night before, worked the entire day before, and slept another three hours the night before that. It’s safe to say I was pretty sleep starved and running off of pure adrenaline, excitement, and caffeine. I’d also never flown in a helicopter like that.
I’ve been told that practically everyone feels airsick at some point in their flight career. That I’m willing to accept and take as it comes. My fear is that airsickness is my baseline, but I won’t really have any way of knowing right now. Is it possible that my sickness (which oddly only happened after I landed) was mostly due to the fatigue, overly full belly, and inexperience? If it turns out to be a more regular thing, is this something you can “train” yourself out of? Would frequently spending time in a small plane help accustom me to being in the air? Could medications be effective?
I’m so desperate for any answers that will tell me that my dream doesn’t have to disappear. I just want a glimmer of hope or good news that says I don’t have to give up and throw everything away. That is perhaps the most devastating part.