Accidents happen. Even when traveling with babies…
Here’s our story of a medical emergency involving our 6 month old. Our commercial flight headed to Aruba, with hundreds of people on board, almost turned around shortly after takeoff.
Emergency medical services both back in Toronto and Aruba were put on standby.
An off-duty fire and rescue officer and US insured doctor we’re assessing our “little” screaming situation. They’re we relaying information through airplane staff to medical professionals on the ground via satellite phone…
We we’re waiting for news on whether or not the plane would have to turn around.
Poppy’s left index finger was mangled and bleeding. Her finger nail was completely ripped off. The furthest finger joint might be crushed.
Ok, as traumatic as that scene sounds, I want you to know that everything turned out alright (so don't worry). But it was pretty damn scary at the time.
Ok, so what happened!?
We had just taken off and Poppy was nursing (this is a good thing to do to help babies equalize their ears). It wasn't more than 10 minutes into the flight when we heard a screeeeetch coming from our little baby. Sarah went to sit her up to see what the matter was, but her hand was stuck behind the seat.
As I was sitting across the aisle, and just figuring out what was going on, I started to lean over to help when she got unstuck and sat up. Visually she seemed OK in that flash of 3 seconds as she sat up. So I turned and sat back again…
But then Sarah said with a quiver: “She's bleeding!”
I looked back and one of her fingers had been crushed and the fingernail ripped off. It was hanging by a few bloodied threads. Blood was now pouring out and the panic setting in.
What had happened and would she lose the tip of her finger at the tender age of 6 months old?
Poppy's screams filled the cabin.
I tried to figure out what happened.
While nursing, Poppy’s arms usually wander about on her mother’s body. But this time they strayed…
It seemed like her finger was wrapped up in one of the tray table supports on the side of Sarah’s seat just as the person behind lowered it.
Her finger was crushed and the damage done instantly.
I asked the person behind if they’d move their tray and they confirmed. So we’re nearly certain that’s what happened. Needless to say, the guy behind felt really bad (although, for what’s it’s worth, he never did apologize to us).
Tears streamed down Poppy’s and Sarah's faces.
I told Sarah to put pressure on it using the cotton baby cloth nearby. She couldn't as a matter of panic and handed me “pop tart”. She screamed as I held her left hand at shoulder level, blood coming out of her little finger.
Quickly we had air stuarts around us and and an announcement was made on the PA system. Staff asked for any medical professionals to come forward as “we have a medical emergency involving a baby”.
Fire rescue arrived first. Then a doctor.
Mike assessed the first finger joint and deemed it functional. It didn’t look like it had been crushed. Just the tip.
He also noted the fingernail was transverse, or perpendicular to normal. It seemed attached by some amount of flesh (which turned out to be not much. It fell off at our Airbnb six or seven hours later).
A few questions needed to be answered, and fast:
- Should the plane turn around and make an emergency landing back in Toronto?
- Could we give Poppy the kid-Tylenol we brought for her pain?
Mike's opinion was the we should turn around. He wasn’t sure about the condition of the finger joint. And if it was badly injured, getting medical treatment in Aruba might be more difficult (not to mention costly).
Westjet staff were relaying Mike and the doctor’s observations to on-call medical staff on the ground. They would decide if the plane would turn around, or not.
In the meantime, poor Poppy was screaming and writhing in pain. The bleeding has stopped, but it was soo hard to see. And especially hear your baby in so much pain. The five of us, Sarah and I in our aisle seats, Poppy on my lap, Mike blocking the aisle from the front of the plan, and the doctor blocking the aisle from the rear, we’re still waiting to hear back if we could give the Tylenol.
The verdict came back: Go ahead and administer it.
Sarah and the doctor discussed the dose we normally give for teething pain. I said we should double that dose and give it to her now. Instead, we went with a teething dose.
Sarah couldn't draw up the 1 ml of suspended pain relief because she was too panicked. Just then Mike asked about dressing the wound and distracted the doctor. No one was focused on pain relief.
So I interrupted and took the bottle of Tylenol from Sarah. I drew up 1 ml in the plastic syringe all the while Poppy was huffing and puffing in pain on my lap. She lapped up the sweet serum with delight (like she normally does). For that moment she was calm.
I’m not sure of the next couple sequence of events, but they happened.
Mike and the doctor seemed to be gone (probably to discuss the turnaround decision) when my seat mates asked if we should get ice or put the finger in cold water. They also said a number of times that: “We gotta' go back. We should turn the plane around RIGHT now.” all the while looking a bit flushed and staring at the crushed, throbbing, oozing baby finger I was holding up.
As well-intentioned as they were, I was annoyed. I gave them a simple reply: “We'll just let Mike decide. He's got 33 years of experience.”
I tried to hold back my tears for Sarah and Poppy. It was hard and I managed for awhile.
Mike and an air-stuart returned. They explained that given the injury and timeframe to Aruba (4 hours) the plane would not be turning around. We’d keep heading to Aruba.
The logistics of performing an emergency landing in Toronto (quite a busy airport) and the added cost associated with that, may have also been a factor. But I trusted the team’s judgement. We we're told that we'd have an ambulance waiting on the tarmac for us when we arrived, and that emergency medical service (EMS) personnel would continue the assessment then.
At this point (maybe 25 minutes later) Poppy's screams seemed subdued. But that didn’t last… We still had to dress the wound.
The doctor wrapped the finger individually, and then her entire hand using a roll of gauze. With the hand wrapped and Tylenol setting in, people seemed to disperse. It was just the three of us again (with Mimi and Papa still sitting next to Sarah).
Sarah nursed Poppy to try to calm her down. I held Poppy’s hand (so she wouldn’t bash it around).
Westjet came to tell us that they cleared a row in the back of the plane for us. It would give us some more privacy and let us sit together. So the three of us moved back. Papa and Mimi stayed in their row.
Soothing Poppy took a song and dance. Literally. itsy bitsy spider from momma did the trick (that's when my tears flooded out. The worst was over and it was so touching to see Poppy respond to momma's calming voice).
Exhausted from it all, and with the Tylenol finally kicking in, Poppy fell asleep in my arms. She rested for about an hour.
Meanwhile, mom and dad drank.
We're offered a much needed coffee (and side of baileys), which we gladly accepted since we hadn't slept in 24 hrs ( we were awake a normal day prior to our 9 pm flight, awake all night getting to Toronto through Edmonton and now it was 9 am the next day, Nov 14th).
After Poppy woke she was upset for the rest of the flight. So we decided to give her a second dose of Tylenol (in accordance with the directions, which turned out to be another 1 ml 4.5 hours later).
“Gian Carlo” was the EMS attendant who helped us off the plane. We were first off and bussed to the terminal. He took us to a public area just before customs where we'd remove Poppy's bandages (not ideal, but hey, it's Aruba I thought).
Getting the bandages off was hard. Sarah helped, but really didn't want to be involved. It was too hard for her to watch and be involved. But I insisted and weremoved Poppy's bandages as carefully as we could.
Everything looked OK. The nail was still hanging but the hematoma on the tip of her finger looked a bit better.
Gian Carlo's advice: “Go to the ocean. In our country, that's what we do.“
So after a little time discussing that (and getting interrupted to hand over our passports so they could expedite our processing, which was really frustrating to get organized all the while dealing with a screaming Poppy and listening to Gian Carlo's advice), we headed outta the airport. Momma and Poppy were hand in hand while I pushed the stroller.
Before bed, Sarah and I devised a sort of protective sleeve to go around Poppy’s hand. In that way we could leave her had open to the air but protect it from herself. The solution: tape a cut toilet paper roll over her hand.
And as I write this, it's the next morning and I’m sitting in our temporary kitchen. We've eaten and are just about to head to the beach to do what Gian Carlo recommended: “Go to the ocean”.
So, with that, we gotta go.
We hope you learned something about nursing on plane. And we hope it never happens to anyone else.
Share this article if you know someone who travels with their infant. You might save their fingernail.