Acupressure at 30,000 feet!

Our flight from Europe to back home to Canada was supposed to last 7 hours. We were boarding a huge aircraft which would carry us across the Atlantic Ocean: two floors and almost 500 people on the board. Being a former surgeon, I always think about medical emergencies which can happen during a flight and wonder how well the airplane is equipped with medications and what the first aid kit looks like.

From my previous flights I learned not to trust the aircraft emergency kits. Therefore I carry some emergency drugs with me. Just in case… Analgetics, antibiotics and a little bit of other stuff just to be sure that we will make it through… Last year, after graduating from the acupuncture program, I added “ear seeds” to this emergency kit and a reference book of acupoints. Things are happening…


This time was not an exception. About a half way through the flight an air attendant called for a medical doctor to assist with an emergency. I waited a little to see if any active member of medical community would show up. NO. Everybody was quiet and slightly curious. A few minutes later the air attendant called again, this time asking for any medical professions to come forward. No questions that it was my time to get up.

Just few rows from us I found a man, who looked pale and was sweating profoundly. He was vomiting and complaining about stomach pain. He also said that during the last few hours he had fever and diarrhea. He had suggested that his condition was related to his travels and mentioned that a few people he communicated with had similar symptoms. His stomach was soft (obviously, not a surgical emergency!), pulse racing and his tongue was covered with a thick yellowish coating. After discussing the case with another doctor who had appeared soon we agreed that this is acute gastroenteritis. While the doctor went to search for medications, I started acupressure treatment on the man.

For nausea I chose P-6, the point most studied by westerners. Just after 2 minutes of stimulation, the man felt relief: his nausea subdued and his pain decreased, as well. After that I started to stimulate St-36. The man felt that the area I was pressing on was very sore but it was helping so he agreed to continue. After massaging it for 5-6 min I noticed that the color of his face improved and his sweat disappeared. He also confirmed that his stomach pain had decreased significantly and his nausea had disappeared completely. I checked his pulse: it also was normalized and did not race anymore. To solidify my treatment I grabbed earseeds from my bag and placed them on his earpoints: Shenmen and Stomach. 15 min later he felt well and when the doctor returned we were discussing if the man needs any additional treatment. Afterwards the doctor decided to inject a medication to keep his condition under control. 

The rest of the trip everything was quiet. Our patient fell asleep and the air attendant reported me about his condition few times . Overall the staff was impressed with the quick results I got just from massaging and pressing the points on the man’s body. They give me a present from their airline and confirmed that I was an acupuncturist. Next time they will call for an acupuncturist too, when facing a medical emergency!

Alina Tousseeva