Starving for Fuel, Saving a Life

“The weather is still quite good here and I’d like to pick up the patient,” I relay my intensions to home base, nearly 60 miles away in much poorer weather. “Send fuel when the weather clears,” I add, not being thrilled at the thought of spending the night away from home, but willing if it means getting a critically ill patient to a hospital.

Lord, give me wisdom, I pray, advancing the throttle and heaving the Cessna 206 into the cool mountain air. I was making a difficult decision: conserve fuel and head home in the deteriorating weather, or press on to complete a critical medical emergency flight that would probably leave me stranded in the mountains with a fuel supply at a minimum.

We call them “Code 1” patients. They have extremely high priority and, if possible, must be attended to that day. Almost 90% of our flying is medically related and these flights are not uncommon.

On the ground near the patient’s home, a nurse fills me in on Palesa, 25. “She is in need of an urgent blood transfusion. Her hemoglobin has dropped critically low.” Palesa makes a quiet groan as she lifts herself into the middle passenger seat; her abnormally light color and silent determination both catch my attention. We are on our way in minutes, not wasting any precious time.

The hospital lies just 12 miles away and Palesa is scarcely in my care more than 15 minutes. Once on the ground again, she quietly slips out of the airplane and into the waiting ambulance and is gone, on her way to get the urgent care that she needs.

I turn and walk back to my fuel-starved 206, now with only 20 minutes above reserves––not near enough to return home. For the moment, I’m stranded. Powering up the aircraft radios, I hear a colleague has just broken through the weather and is on his way to meet me with some extra fuel. I breathe a sigh of relief. I’ll be home tonight after all.

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