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A plane crisis and its journalistic lessons

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By Amer Taleb

Forty thousand feet in the air, the man next to me collapsed.

He was elderly and walking slowly toward the airplane’s bathroom when he fell, crashing face-first into a seat-back tray across the aisle from me. The people around him panicked.

“Help!,” I yelled. The flight attendants rushed over and ordered me to the back of the plane.

My new seat, near the tail and sandwiched between a bathroom and trash disposal, was a fold-up that only flight attendants are supposed to sit in. From the small crowd that formed mid-plane, one of the flight attendants walked toward me.  

“Heart problems,” she said to the question I didn’t ask. “We’re lucky the woman near him is a cardiologist.”

Not only was a cardiologist sitting in front of him, but I also later found out that a nurse was aboard, too. After receiving aid, the gentleman appeared fine for the rest of the flight. It was remarkable. And with that dramatic start, my journey to D.C. had begun.

I arrived in the capital the next evening, and this internship started a few days after that. It’s been a hectic stretch, but I still think about the occurrence on the plane almost every day since it happened. I’m still trying to pin down all of the lessons I’m supposed to extract from it, the values anyone would expected to learn and apply.

The primary one is showing compassion for other people, like the cardiologist did for that man. As a journalist, I’m constantly looking for a great story, but being empathetic toward a source is not always the first concern I think of.

Moving forward, I think that’ll change. In fact, I’m certain it will.

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