Doctor Saves Passenger’s Life Using Just Tape and a Straw

There was a medical emergency on board ten hours into China Southern’s Guangzhou – New York JFK flight on Tuesday.

An elderly passenger on board “had a swollen belly and had previously been diagnosed with an enlarged prostate” and a doctor who responded to the crew’s calls for assistance reports that he “was already showing signs of shock and they estimated that there was about a litre of urine trapped in his bladder.”

It was a life threatening situation. The man was in pain. He couldn’t go to the bathroom. Two surgeons who happened to be on board volunteered to help. They “rigged straws, a syringe needle and tubing from an oxygen mask” and taped it together. The straws came from catered milk boxes.

  • The surgeons tried to puncture the bladder in order to release the man’s urine.
  • Flight attendants “put blankets on the floor at the back of the aircraft and had the patient lie on his side” for the makeshift procedure.
  • The needle they had wasn’t big enough to be able to ease bladder pressure
  • So one of the doctors “then siphoned off the urine himself, drawing out most of the fluid over the next half an hour or so.” He sucked the urine out through a straw.

Credit: China Southern Airlines on WeChat

Credit: China Southern Airlines on WeChat

Following the procedure the man lied down for half an hour, and was good to go.

This isn’t the first real life MacGyver who had to respond to a medical emergency improvising with what’s around them. Another Chinese doctor had to save a passenger’s life using toothpicks and a spoon.

Hopefully the doctors on board this China Southern flight were rewarded – Lufthansa gives out frequent flyer miles, and American Airlines sends travel vouchers as a thank you.

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. Great story, and it really illustrates how serious doctors take their responsibilities. I assisted as a physician on a Lufthansa flight once, and all I got was a visit to the cockpit (which was AWESOME!). I never expect anything, but I do think it is ironic that I am always willing and able to provide my services when the time comes – but I doubt any airline will do that for me unless I pay up.

  2. Just wait until the passenger gets the bill. Thank god it wasn’t a bowel blockage.

    Seriously, airlines have first aid kits and other fairly sophisticated medical equipment onboard.
    It’s hard to believe none of it was useful here.

  3. I’m a doctor who was on a flight from SYD-HKG last year when a similar situation with an easier resolution arose. A man hadn’t been been able to urinate for 6 hours. CX had 2 catheters on board! I laid him on blankets by the galley, catheterized him and pulled off > 1 liter of urine (he was immediately grateful). To maintain his comfort, I taped the catheter tubing & bag to his leg and gave him my AA pajamas, figuring the PJ bottoms were looser fitting than his jeans, and more accommodative of the catheter. Worked like a charm. He was even able to proceed onto London with the catheter in place so he could consult with his London doctor. And I got a lovely note & gift (book) from him the next month.

  4. I was on a Cathay SFO-HKG flight and performed a quadruple bypass on a woman using the elongated toenails from my 10 cloned emotional support dogs as retractors, scalpel, and suturing device , a length of what I hope was spare hydraulic tubing , coupled with used “comfort plus” mint dental floss as surgical suture.
    And I’m a stock trader, not a doctor.
    They gave me a free week at a Holiday Inn Express Resort.

    Unfortunately, the woman’s trustee is suing me as she died from infection less than 10 days later. The estate is claiming it was the rib-eye pieces left on the floss.

    Does anyone know if Good Samaritan laws apply when flying over the Kiribati island?.

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