I fitted a catheter over the Atlantic

Is there a doctor of medicine on board?' We were on a Boeing 767 on our way to a relaxing holiday in the Dominican Republic, and I looked round hoping someone else might respond. No one did so, with some reluctance, I got to my feet.

‘The patient was standing in the narrow galley. She was unable to pass urine. She was not pregnant and had been fine in the airport. It happened once before (not in the air) and a catheter had to be passed. She was on an antidepressant.

With some difficulty I examined her on the tip up chair and thought the bladder was half way up to the umbilicus. I needed to pass a catheter. Was this my moment when we would have to fashion one out of a pen and some sticky tape? Fortunately not. There was a catheter on board.

I was asked for my passport so that the captain could phone England and check I was a qualified doctor (though retired). Everyone was rather pleased when I was given clearance —  the alternative was to divert to the Bahamas.

I asked for the sick bay, but there was none, so I would have to do it in the galley. The woman lay down on the floor of the galley only feet away from passengers, behind a curtain while I knelt alongside, with dish and catheter at the ready. I washed my hands in the sink in the nearby toilet. We found some gloves, and with the steward (who had trained as a paramedic) holding a torch, I managed to pass the catheter. Success – about 800ml clear urine.

I removed the catheter, and she managed the rest of the flight. It was perhaps not as exciting as procedures using pen and coat hanger, but it was frightening enough. Still, it did mean my wife and I were able to enjoy the free bottle of champagne at our hotel when our holiday finally began. 

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