A flight to remember
On November 19, 2019, the passengers on board of China Southern Airlines Flight 399 bound for New York’s JFK airport had no clue they were about to witness a medical spectacle mid-flight.
It was 1:55 AM and the cabin crews of the flight were walking around and checking on the passengers to make sure they were safe and comfortable for the long-haul, 15-hour flight from Guangzhou, Southeast China to New York’s JFK airport. The plane was mid-air and still six hours away from its destination when a cabin crew was alerted of an elderly man’s urgent situation.
When the cabin crew got to the elderly man, he was already breaking into a cold sweat. The man was suffering from great discomfort and could not sit still. He then complained that he couldn’t urinate. The cabin crew hurriedly called every passenger to attention, announced the situation, and hoped there was a medical practitioner on board who was willing to help out a passenger in dire need.
A volunteer puts his hand up
Hearing the announcement, a man came up to the crew and volunteered to take a look at the passenger in need. But was he qualified to help?
The man was Dr. Zhang Hong—head of vascular surgery at Jinan University’s First Affiliated Hospital. He wasted no time after getting the family’s consent and proceeded to examine the elderly man. After examining the patient, he found out the reason why he was breaking into a furious sweat.
As it turns out, the elderly man’s bladder was bloated and had around 1000ml of urine stuck. You may be asking yourself now, “Why didn’t he just pee?” It’s because the man was also having trouble relieving himself and that posted an emergency. If the urine was not released immediately, his bladder could blow up and lead to more serious damages. The doctor didn’t have his medical tools with him so he had to think on his feet.
Help from another doctor
The man’s urine needed to be pumped out of his bladder, so Dr. Zhang needed a device that could help him. Luckily, another doctor who was willing to help was on board—Dr. Xiao Zhanxiang of Hainan Central Hospital.
Xiao made use of the different materials available on the plane to create a device that could help the man urinate. He was successful in creating the device out of scratch, but unfortunately, it failed.
After the failed first attempt, the doctors decided to create another one. This time, they created a DIY catheter. They made use of the only materials at hand—a plastic straw from a milk carton, some tape, a syringe from the plane’s first aid kit, and a plastic tube. When the device was ready, the doctor inserted the catheter into the patient’s bladder to extract his urine, but he soon found out that the tube was too thin so the plan did not work…yet again. They were running out of time, Dr. Zhang had to make a decision…quick.
No second thoughts
Without hesitation, Dr. Zhang decided to suck out urine straight from the man’s bladder himself. He asked for the cabin crews’ assistance and proceeded to suck out the urine using his own mouth and the tube. He did this not giving one single care that he was risking infection.
An incredible 37 minutes
The doctor sucked the urine from the man’s bladder using the tube and spit it out into empty wine bottles provided by the crew. He did this repeatedly for probably the longest and most nerve-racking 37 minutes of everyone’s life on that plane. After 37 minutes, the doctor was able to suck out around 800ml of urine and take a clearer look at the patient’s condition.
The patient’s family reported that the man was suffering from prostate enlargement which may have been the cause of his troubles from urinating. Without the doctor’s and the cabin crews’ help, his bladder would have really exploded.
A hero is born
Dr. Zhang received immense gratefulness and praise from the passengers of the plane and especially from the elderly man and his family. He literally saved his bladder and his life with his voluntary work. After the incident, Dr. Zhang said, “There was no other way. I didn’t think too much about it.” “Saving lives is a doctor’s instinct.”
The procedure was caught on camera by one of the passengers onboard the plane.
Upon uploading, it caught thousands of views and got the media’s attention—shedding light into this wonderful act of service and heroism, proving that there is still hope in humanity and heroes are born in the most unexpected times.