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Coming And Going

China's National Aquatics Center will be the venue for swimming and diving events at the 2008 Olympic Games, to take place Aug. 8-24 in Beijing.
China's National Aquatics Center will be the venue for swimming and diving events at the 2008 Olympic Games, to take place Aug. 8-24 in Beijing. (By Greg Baker -- Associated Press)

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Sunday, March 2, 2008

UPRIGHT AND LOCKED

Emergency Care

The death of a 44-year-old woman on a flight from Haiti to New York last month and the subsequent accusation of malfunctioning equipment have spotlighted the issue of emergency medical care in the air.

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The FAA does not have recent statistics on how often medical emergencies occur in flight, but a study of British Airways passengers, printed in the British Medical Journal in 2000, found an average of one incident for every 11,000 passengers. The most common medical emergencies in the air: fainting or near-fainting (29 percent of cases), chest pain and cardiac problems (16 percent), asthma attacks and shortness of breath (10 percent) and allergic reactions (5 percent).

Since 1986, planes flying in the United States have been required to carry a medical kit. The FAA in 2004 ordered enhanced medical kits that contain dozens of items, including an automated defibrillator for shocking hearts, and drugs such as nitroglycerin, lidocaine and epinephrine. Even the older kits were " useful in more than 80 percent of emergencies and occasionally lifesaving," according to a year-long study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association. The study recommended only one addition: a bronchodilator, to improve air flow, since added to the kit requirements.

Crews are trained to use the equipment, but protocol also calls for them to seek medical experts on board. (Health professionals in the United States are protected from litigation in a good-Samaritan situation.) Planes are verbally linked to medical advisers on the ground; the pilot decides whether to divert the flight.

Some of the circumstances surrounding the recent death remain unclear. The New York medical examiner found that the passenger, Carine Desir of Brooklyn, had heart disease and diabetes and that those conditions caused her death, according to the Associated Press. Her cousin, who along with her brother was traveling with her, complained that a flight attendant on American Airlines had initially refused to give Desir oxygen, that the oxygen tanks subsequently brought didn't work and that the defibrillator also did not work.

Airline spokesman Tim Wagner says the woman said she was a diabetic and asked for oxygen. A flight attendant said she wasn't sure oxygen would help and stepped away to consult with another attendant, Wagner says, but oxygen was administered within three minutes of the request.

Seven medical experts on board responded to a request for help . Two doctors and a nurse worked with the patient for 45 minutes, including using a hand-pumped respirator, Wagner says. CoGo notes that oxygen tanks are passive mechanisms that merely enrich air and are effective only when a patient is breathing on her own. A respirator, which forces air into a patient's lungs, is needed if a patient stops breathing unaided.

An automated defibrillator does not help in a heart attack and delivers a shock in only one specific situation: sudden cardiac arrest, meaning the immediate cessation of the heart's electrical system. Victims are unconscious. "The description of the passenger's condition and other events do not add up to a sudden cardiac arrest event and could very well explain why the [defibrillator] did not deliver a shock," says Chris Chiames, director of the Sudden Cardiac Arrest Association.

GAMES PLAYING

Going for Your Gold

Reader Wei Zhang of Phoenix was searching for tickets to the Beijing Olympics when he spotted http://www.beijingticketing.com and alerted CoGo to things he considered suspicious , including the fact that the Web site lists a London phone number and a Phoenix address, and that it says in one place that the company is private and in another that it's a public company named XL&H Ltd., registered in Delaware.

The site is prominent, the first one to pop up on a Google search. But CoGo was unable to find Delaware registration for XL&H. Further searching shows that XL&H shares the Phoenix address with Xclusive Leisure & Hospitality Limited. That name, too, fails to come up in a search of companies registered in Delaware.

CoGo, using the e-mail address listed at the ticketing site, asked about the discrepancies, about how the company managed to get large numbers of hard-to-procure tickets and about how tickets are delivered. The only response: "Tickets can be picked up from our office in China ." Zhang later checked out the Phoenix office building listed as the company address. The building manager told him that though the company once had inquired about space, it " never rented space."

Cogo urges those considering buying tickets on the Internet to read the fine print. XL&H and the next two providers that come up on a Google search all state under "terms and conditions" that tickets might be hand-delivered just prior to the event. Ask yourself: Will I feel calm standing on a street corner in Beijing waiting for a stranger to deliver tickets just before an event?

CoSport, a New Jersey company, is the only official U.S. outlet for Olympic tickets. Individual event tickets are sold out, but costly packages are still available at http://www.cosport.com and through a Canada-based company at http://www.roadtrips.com. Individual tickets are available through ticket brokers at http://www.ticketliquidator.com and http://www.TicketCity.com.

Many Beijing hotels are sold out, and those with rooms have jacked up prices exponentially. Alternatives include rooms to rent at http://www.homestaybeijing2008.com and, if you're not particular, http://www.hostelworld.com and http://www.hostels.net.

TRAVEL TICKER

New York's Plaza Hotel, home of Eloise of children's book fame, was to reopen yesterday after a $400 million renovation. If spending $860 or more a night isn't in the cards, but you want to check the place out, try the new champagne bar in the lobby or the Rose Club, which serves signature cocktails. Details: http://www.theplaza.com.

BARGAIN OF THE WEEK

AirTran is holding a systemwide sale for travel through Nov. 5. For example, round-trip fare for nonstop service from BWI to Burlington, Vt., is $139 (including $21 taxes); fare on other airlines for connecting flights starts at $160. Travel Tuesday, Wednesday or Saturday for cheapest flight; Florida destinations have additional restrictions. Ten-day advance purchase required, and blackout dates apply. Book by Thursday, March 6 at www.airtran.com or, for $7.50 more, call 800-247-8726.

Reporting: Cindy Loose

Help feed CoGo. Send travel news, road reports and juicy tattles to cogo@washpost.com.


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