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How A Medical Emergency Onboard Became The Most Rewarding Opportunity For A Management Consultant

It is an unexpected nourishment for the soul – when a management consultant decided to serve co-passengers on board

Photo Credit : Shutterstock


There is something wrong with her. I can't quite say what. But I know it. She has been calling the stewardess a few times. She's needed help to go to the toilet, including help inside. And now she calls the stewardess again.
"What do you need now? Do you even have a fit-to-fly certificate?"

Aunty must be in her mid-fifties. Her pale feeble face is even more confused. She fishes out and shows some papers. They are obviously irrelevant. "Fit to fly? Two hours after having taken off from Singapore? We are now on the Andaman Sea!", I think to myself.

The stewardess' grumbling volume goes up. "Who's responsible if something happens?"

Aunty's breathing goes up. At this rate, these questions will ensure something will happen to her. Everyone's been looking passively. I have been focusing on my slides - typical management consultant preparation on the flight. But I can't anymore. I jump in.
"Can we not help her ma'am?" I ask.
"I have been sir", she retorts, trying to be a bit more respectful.

"She speaks Marathi. I don't fully understand. Yet I am helping her, including with her undergarments in the toilet! But I have others to serve too, you know!"
It is true. The service to the entire section has become slow. Few rows ahead, passengers have become shifty. I am at a loss. What can I say? I am just a management consultant.

The Creative Breakthrough
And then it strikes me!

"Ma'am, how about this? You attend to her, and I can attend to the passengers?… I can serve drinks!"

She looks puzzled.

"No, really I mean it. I do it all the time at parties!" I add. She gets it. I am not being farcical, sarcastic or judging her.

"Unfortunately sir I can't allow that."

"Okay let's do this. I will go sit next to her and figure what she needs. I can do some Marathi. If I cannot, then I will call you. Okay?"

I move next to her seat, 3 to 4 rows behind me.

"Kasa vaat ta ae tumhaala? Kaahi aushadhi aahet tumchaa kade?" How do you feel, do you have medicines, I ask.

Hidden Assets Unlocked
I am impressed with my Marathi. I am Sindhi and live in Singapore for 9 years. But I grew up in Mumbai watching Baatmya (News in Marathi), serials like Gotya & Paramveer, and occasionally even Aamchi maati Aamche Maansa, the agriculture show for farmers. Anything to avoid studies!

She feels a bit more relaxed. We page for a doctor. A dentist is on board. That's a million miles better than I or the stewardess. I translate. She is given some oxygen. She feels much better now.

We chat. I learn aunty was visiting her daughter in Singapore. She is a recent granny. Speaking about the grand child is more enlivening than even oxygen. Aunty had some fever a week ago. She recovered somewhat. She has diabetes and blood pressure (but which Indian doesn't?) Her daughter wanted to accompany her but the child is too young. And aunty's visa was expiring. So the journey was unavoidable. I think to myself "How quick I was in judging her and her family's actions!"
"Sagla bara hoil!" ?-?All will be well, I say.

I put on a Nana Patekar movie for her. She likes him. At some point, she dozes off. I adjust the blanket over her. With a light step, I move back to my seat. Slides don't look that important anymore. They never were. I had just been fretting. I know I am going to be just fine.

The rest of the journey is uneventful, thankfully.

Except, as lights dim out, the stewardess comes and thanks me profusely. I avoid the patented Bollywood dialogue from the 60s and 70s?-?"Yeh toh mera farz tha"?-?"It was only my duty". I must admit though, I do look forward to using that line if I get the opportunity to save a damsel-in-distress on a rainy night! Sadly, no such luck so far.

Very secretively, she hands me something. It's a wine bottle wrapped in a newspaper, pinched from the first class. I refuse. She insists. She says she heard others speaking Marathi. They were sitting closer to aunty. But none volunteered.

"Who helps these days?", she says. And I jump at the opportunity!

The Kindness Cross-sell!
I tell her I am an 'India Against Corruption' volunteer. I have met the nicest, the most helpful people by the hundreds, if not thousands, through the movement. If she feels any obligation to acknowledge my little act, then instead of wine, I ask for her vote. I don't want her to vote for any particular political party, but I get her to promise she'll research the candidates, and vote responsibly. She agrees. This feels good. I pat myself on the back for spontaneous thinking!

The plane lands in Mumbai. My luggage snakes in on the belt. The wheelchair staff assures care. Aunty advises I move on. Her younger daughter from Navi Mumbai will pick her up. We exchange numbers. I smile to myself. No one really calls, but a goodbye feels incomplete without exchanging numbers.

An Unexpected Call
I do receive a call ten days later. It's her daughter. Aunty is no more.

Turns out, a heart attack had been building up at the time when we were together. She had remained uneasy for a couple of days after landing and then gotten hospitalised. A couple of days later, she passed away.

In that week, she apparently spoke of her flight experience fondly several times. I am humbled.

We see deaths in movies and on TV. Many in our circle of friends and acquaintances have passed away. Very little moves us, especially these days. So why was I feeling a twitch? I had only known aunty for a few hours. I didn't even know her name. I still don't.

Perhaps because in those few hours she gave me an invaluable gift - through her, I got an opportunity to feel relevance, that my being, was momentarily relevant. It still flashes vividly in front of me - the colour coming back to her face as she spoke unhesitatingly in Marathi to me, the joy and laughter when she spoke of her new grandchild, and her confidence when she asked me to carry on at the luggage belt.

The Kindness Lottery - won through 'Listening'
While I may think I was being kind to her, I was the recipient of God's kindness, through her. This was my 'Kindness Lottery'.

I did nothing extraordinary. I simply chatted with someone feeling uncomfortable, listened to her, and she got comfort. Turns out, it was a departing soul's last few days.

And I think to myself - who am I not listening to, assuming they will be there forever; or that I am going to be here forever? Which of my slides, meetings and 'socialising' is simply my insecurity, that's taking me away from the real people around me? What bounties of mindful, connected and conscious living await me if I choose consciously!

This bounty was unlocked for me, the moment I got committed to being a player, not a spectator. It gave rise to creative ideas and the courage to do them - in this case, being okay to serve drinks to passengers. It brought to use my hidden assets - pulling on my Marathi from my growing up years!  For this, I thank aunty wherever she is, and God!

Disclaimer: The views expressed in the article above are those of the authors' and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of this publishing house. Unless otherwise noted, the author is writing in his/her personal capacity. They are not intended and should not be thought to represent official ideas, attitudes, or policies of any agency or institution.

Tags assigned to this article:
Medical Emergency healthcare wellness

Rajen Makhijani

The author is a Strategy Consultant, Leadership Coach, Screenwriter and TEDx speaker based in Delhi

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