Killer inflight headache sparks panic and flight safety and health questions

Posted on:
6 Dec 2016
Issues, News
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A killer headache aboard Flight JE174 from Cape Town to Johannesburg had me thinking about life after death, altitude induced pain and inflight first aid regulations. For about two hours, I was convinced that the frontal crushing headache would leave my soul behind in the heavens. I was dying.

The Mango flight of Tuesday the 22nd of November 2016 took off in Cape Town around 19h15. The frontal pulling headache struck as soon as Flight JE174 reached cruising altitude. It was like some force was attempting grab the grey matter out of my skull while I was looking. I could have screamed my mom’s name for help but then I’m a father of two myself.

And so I summoned crew attention about 10 minutes after take-off. It would seem the crew took forever to respond to my alarm. When the one Mango lady responded, she proved useless to my plight.

“Do you have pain killers for me? I’m dying from a terrible headache,” I fired as soon as the Mango lady appeared with a “how can I help you sir”.

She seemed to have misheard me or was onto some other diagnostic mission, judging by her initial response to my request. She mumbled something like: “Are you feeling feverish sir? Do you feel like you are getting flue.”

I think she was onto some Ebola detecting mission while the headache was killing me.

I was quick to fire back: “No. I’ve got a killer headache. I need pain-killers.”

I was stunned by her response: “We don’t have pain-killers sir.” I’m not certain but I might have followed up with a: HOW COME. Can’t you get me pain killers from someone else in the plane.”

And the Mango lady mumbled something like: “I’m not allowed. I don’t think she has (I think she was referring to her senior colleague who appeared like a Stewardess)”.

She could see my shock and pain and so she followed up with something along the lines of: “I do have pain-killers in my bag for personal use but I’m not allowed to give you my personal pain killers.”

Her unhelpfulness seemed to be worsening my headache. And so, I let her go by turning my back on her.

She disappeared and came back about five minutes later to hand me something which at first looked like a pills sachet. I was distraught to discover that this was some promotional material, some Gautrain promotional material I think. I threw it away.

The headache continued to pound me at every millisecond without fail. About 5 to 10 minutes passed before the Mango lady reappeared with a drinking plastic container with two pills inside and a 500ml steel water bottle. I jumped to accept them and without much thinking I had ingested them pills.

It would seem these pills, I don’t know what type because I didn’t look, made no difference. The headache pounded for more than an hour. It disappeared as soon as Flight JE174 was descending onto the OR Tambo International Airport in Johannesburg.

My senses were slowly returning as I was disembarking. And then lots of questions came to my mind.

Was my headache related to altitude?

Is it legal for a commercial flight to run without pain killers (first aid for argument sake)?

If they can serve pain killers, should I not be made to know the exact type/name, I’m served?

What do relevant authorities make of this experience: SAA, Office of Health Standard Compliance, South Affrican Civil Aviation Authority, the Department of Transport.

And here is my immediate concern. I’m set to take a 10 hour flight in the near future. I’m concerned, that head will come back. I will die if I were to encounter that pain consistently across the Mediterranean Sea.

Please help?

Sibonelo Radebe

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