Most escorts are certified nurses, paramedics or physicians who work for an air ambulance or emergency medical transport service, which an insurance company will hire to repatriate an injured or ailing client. Because of the unpredictable nature of the job, which can include flying commercial planes with a debilitated patient, they have at least three years’ experience in emergency medicine, intensive care and/or critical care transport, preferably by air. Like military medics, they must be prepared for unexpected jolts or surprises. “The patient might have to be taken off the flight and go back to the emergency room,” Smrcka said.
First and foremost, the escort is the traveler’s main caregiver throughout the journey. But he or she will also play additional roles, as travel agent, bodyguard, luggage porter, airplane companion/chatty seatmate and, if time permits, tourist — even if this entails just a quick trip to an art museum or a local restaurant.
We contacted several medical escorts for an insider’s peek into their Bond-in-nurse-whites world. Here are edited excerpts of our conversations:
President and CEO, Rescue Nurse International, Colorado
What are your responsibilities?
We’re responsible for bedside-to-bedside care of the patient. Once initial contact is made, we finalize each detail of the medical care throughout the transport: medication schedules, wound care, mobility challenges, dietary needs and everything in between. We’re 100 percent responsible for every aspect of the patient’s care from the moment they leave the hospital until we readmit them to a home hospital, rehab or personal residence.
Are most of the cases international or domestic, or a mix?
Seventy-five percent of our cases are international. I’ve traveled to 82 foreign countries and 50 U.S. states. I’ve traveled as far as India, China, Australia and Kenya, and have transported patients as close as my home town [in Colorado].
Can you provide an example of your work?
I landed in Chile and went straight to the hospital where my patient was recovering from cardiac arrest.The patient was scheduled for discharge the following evening. His wife and I decided to dine together that night. The conversation was lively and filled with laughter. On the flight home [to Virginia Beach], the patient and I chatted the entire time. We stayed in contact, and years later, I was invited to celebrate their 50th wedding anniversary at a dude ranch in Colorado.