When I travel, I try to remember a quotation often attributed to William Butler Yeats that there are no strangers, only friends you have not yet met.
I’m a retinal surgeon at University Hospitals Case Medical Center in Cleveland. When I travel in that capacity, I’m either speaking at a meeting or going someplace to help train other surgeons. I enjoy every place I go. I’m not needy when I travel. I don’t get jet-lagged. I try to just take things in stride.
But no doctor wants to hear, “Is there a doctor on board?”
I was on my way to Amsterdam as part of an international studies course. We were about four hours out of Newark, somewhere over the Atlantic. I heard a request for a doctor and it seemed I was the only physician on board. The crew took me to see a fellow passenger, an older Greek woman on oxygen who was short of breath. She recently had surgery and was at risk for deep vein thrombosis and a pulmonary embolism.
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This was a night flight. The lights were dimmed in the cabin and most passengers were sleeping. The woman’s husband was snoring next to her. The emergency kit had a defibrillator, blood pressure cuff, some Band-Aids, a syringe, a stethoscope and possibly some antihistamines. There was little I would be able to do if something happened, but I continually checked her blood pressure and pulse. It was not a good situation, but the woman was stable.
We continued on to Amsterdam, and this lovely woman patted my hand the entire time I stayed with her. When we landed, she was taken off the plane by emergency personnel. The crew gave me a bottle of red wine as a thank-you. I never even had a glass — the bottle was confiscated by customs.
I really like order. I also like civility.
I was in China years ago doing lectures and surgeries. I was at the airport in Xi’an and found out my flight was canceled, and I had to wait in a long, hideous line to rebook. I finally got to the front of the line and two young men dressed in black pants, carrying black briefcases, wearing black glasses and sporting some fake Rolexes cut in front of me. Everyone behind me was upset.
I know a reasonable amount of Mandarin, but I can’t read or write it, so I’m considered illiterate. One thing you don’t get taught when you learn a language is how to swear and argue. But I was absolutely furious at these two men, so I asked them in Mandarin, “What do you think you are doing?” They replied, “What do you think you are doing?” I again said, “What do you think you are doing?” They replied with the same phrase. So I changed tactics and asked, “Who do you think you are?” They replied, “Who do you think you are?” This form of arguing is fine for 5-year-olds, but it doesn’t work very well when you’re an adult.
But for some reason they backed off, and as they walked away they hurled an insult at me, saying I must be from Taiwan and I obviously didn’t understand how things were done.
I was really excited that in a foreign country, I somehow managed to put two rude young men in their place. But I was even more excited that my accent wasn’t as bad as I thought it was. These guys actually thought I was Taiwanese. I’m a Buckeye, born in Columbus, Ohio.
Q: How often do you fly for business?
A: Once or twice a month, domestic and international.
Q: What’s your least favorite airport?
A: Chennai International Airport in India. It may have improved, but when I was there many years ago, it was the height of inefficiency.
Q: Of all the places you’ve been in the world, what’s the best?
A: Nantucket, Mass., in the summer. It’s beautiful and I love the sea, the sailing and the fresh seafood.
Q: What’s your secret airport vice?
A: When I’m in Asia, it’s the noodle bars at the airport concession stands. I never knew there were so many different ways to have noodles.