As movie clichés go, it's right up there with Ronald Reagan's deathbed challenge to Knute Rockne to "win one for the Gipper." Someone falls ill in a theatre or a banquet hall; suddenly, the lights go up and the host asks if there's a doctor in the house.
This week on WCBA, we salute those white coats in shining armour who act as good Samaritans at everything from roadside accidents to transatlantic flights. The show airs this Saturday October 17 at 10 am (1030 in Newfoundland) and Monday October 19 at 1130 am (3:30 pm in Newfoundland).
In 2006, family doctor Henry Coopersmith was flying from his hometown of Montreal to Paris via Air Canada with his wife when he was awakened to assist a passenger in distress. He ended up being awakened three times in total for reasons he thought to be anything but emergent. Coopersmith took Air Canada to small claims court, where he won an unprecedented judgment of $1000 for providing assistance in what was determined by the judge to be a non-urgent situation. The matter is far from over; the airline has applied to the Quebec Superior Court for a judicial review.
I've been a Good Samaritan on many occasions during my career. I can remember tearing up the street when I heard the sound of a car crash. I had just finished a jog and was still in my shorts when the collision took place. I ended up staying by the side of one of the accident victims until an ambulance arrived. Another time, I saw an elderly woman collapse on the street.
One of my favourite TV characters of all time is the ultimate Good Samaritan. On the TV series Lost, Dr. Jack Shephard, a dedicated and very troubled neurosurgeon played by Matthew Fox, was one of 71 survivors of the crash of Oceanic Flight 815, which fell from the sky en route from Sydney, Australia to Los Angeles. From the moment the plane crashed in the 2-hour pilot, Shephard began providing emergency medical care to his fellow passengers. Later on in the series, he was even forced to remove a tumour from the back of the deliciously evil Benjamin Linus, played by actor Michael Emerson.
Clearly, once it became clear that the survivors of Oceanic 815 weren't going to be rescued anytime soon, Jack's Good Samaritan turn became his job. That he became the reluctant leader of the survivors is no surprise to me. Many MDs I know are attracted to power. Frankly, as a leader, Jack Shephard makes a fine physician!
When it's an emergency, I think people like me should offer help without reservation. Where Dr. Coopersmith and I draw the line is when there's a request for help in a clearly non-urgent situation. Don't get me wrong. If a flight attendant asked me to see a fellow passenger who was complaining of a rash, I'd probably say yes in a heartbeat.
But I think doctors, nurses, paramedics and other health professionals should have the right to say no to non-urgent requests for medical help without criticism or second-guessing. Most health professionals work hard. When they're on vacation, they should have the right to take off their stethoscopes and be off duty in every sense of the word.
Unless of course they end up on a deserted tropical island. Which makes me wonder...if you had a choice, which kind of health professional would you like to be deserted with?