A pilot’s unlikely reunion
Story and photos by MAF pilot Justin Honaker in Lesotho
As I circle overhead, I can see a mob of people following a group of men carrying a makeshift stretcher with my patient on it. The stretcher is really nothing more than a thin foam mattress on top of some crudely fashioned tree limbs with the bark still on them. We don’t get many Code 1 medical emergency flights from Matsile, being quite remote and having no full-time medical staff, but when we do, they tend to be fairly serious.
On the ground the airplane is quickly engulfed in a sea of people all offering their advice on how best to situate the patient. The stretcher bearers are drenched in sweat from the 30-minute-plus hike from the village. My patient is convulsing as they set her down next to the open cargo door of the Cessna 206.
Admittedly, we get so many medical emergencies they can start to feel a bit routine, sterile, and even impersonal. So far this one isn’t too far out of the ordinary. But as I’m organizing the transfer from crude stretcher to aircraft stretcher, an elderly woman’s eyes catch mine. She is smiling and her gentle gaze immediately pierces me to the core. I know exactly who she is, but I don’t have time to greet her properly, as I would like to.
The last time I saw her was several years ago in a scene much like this one, only I was loading her into the Cessna, post heart attack. I don’t even remember if she was conscious. So often we fly patients to the hospital and never hear what happens to them. This is extraordinary to meet one again, healthy as ever.
The moment doesn’t last but for a second. I’m busy loading the patient and preparing the aircraft for take-off. As I’m about to climb in the airplane, the elderly woman makes a point to catch my attention and make my year. She grabs my hand and says (in plain English!), “Do you remember me?” with the same gentle smile and knowing eyes. I can barely hold back my tears, “I know exactly who you are Mrs. Moloi.” She gives me a big smile and nods to the plane as if to say, “Now off you go, and get this one to the hospital too.”