Fruit Basket Upset! A Flying-ish Story

All events and individuals are fiction and none of this ever happened to anyone I might possibly know, living, dead, or in between.

It started out about as normal a day as you can have in an air ambulance company. Of Mercy Flight’s four King Air fixed wing aircraft, one was en route to Kansas City with an infant, one was in Omaha waiting for the pilot to pick the med crew up from the VA, and two remained parked in their hangars. The helicopter hunkered on its pad at headquarters, plugged in and ready to go. Dispatch issued the (disgustingly cheerful) morning test call, then settled back to chaos as usual. In addition to Mercy Flight, they also dispatched for one major hospital and the county EMS. Greg and Diane made notes as the Mercy Flight pilots on call checked in, then got coffee refills and continued work.

Pretty soon, Mercy Flight Two reported airborne, departing Omaha en route to its base at Grand Island. At nine thirty, amidst the ground ambulance traffic, a call came in to launch Mercy Flight Four, the helicopter, to pick up a patient in York and bring them to Capitol General. In other words, things flowed routinely, and Greg took the lull as a chance to unload the coffee and stretch his legs. Diane sent out two ground ambulances, took M.F. One’s report of leaving KC, and updated the status board of who was where. She also looked at the thermometer outside the window – ninety degrees already! Yuck.

The first hint of a disruption to the flow came when Four landed at Capitol General. “Dispatch, Mercy Flight Four.” Diane leaned into the microphone.

“Go ahead Four.”

“We seem to be having a small mechanical problem. Once we get back to base, I’m going to put the bird down until we can see exactly what’s up.”

“Understand you’ll be down until further notice after return.”

“That’s correct. “

“Ten four.” Diane rolled her chair over to the board and made the note. Then, when the helicopter radioed in while touching ground at headquarters, Greg paged the group to tell whoever needed to know that the plane would be down.

Soon, St. Jacob’s called Dispatch. “We need a pick up in Ogallala coming here. One patient.” Greg looked at the board. Two was closer, but Six needed to come in for some work. A quick check with St. Jacob’s confirmed that the patient was neither critical nor likely to become so. Greg paged Mercy Flight Six for the flight and the King Air launched twenty minutes later. They made the pick up without incident and landed at Capitol municipal in record time. Three hospital ambulances went out on assorted runs, then a county ambulance left for the daily trip to Omaha.

Diane looked up from a Chinese take-out menu. “What are the odds I can get lunch without any excitement?”

Greg mustered a weak half-grin. “Depends. Are you going to sit down or take out?” He always packed a brown bag, “to spare himself the stress.”

“Take out.”

“Fifty fifty.”

She placed a call and bolted.

By the time Diane got back, Greg had fielded two requests for the helicopter, and started wondering when Six would depart. They had a scheduled transfer back to Scott’s Bluff, and if Six could go, it would save someone a return trip. So he finished his sandwich and paged Mercy Flight’s crew to get their status. “Dispatch, this is Kelly with Six. We’re going to be down till we can get a pilot.”

Huh? Greg asked, “Ah, why?”

A resigned voice answered, “’Cause Mike’s got food poisoning. He wasn’t feeling good when we left, and we may have to take HIM to the hospital.”

“Oh.” Great. After some shuffling and fuss, Mercy Flight Two proved to be available. Diane thought for a moment. “Hey, didn’t Mitch on Two used to fly Six?”

“I think so,” Greg puzzled.

“Have Two bring him along, and we can get Six up in the air.”

“And how will Mitch get home?” Greg looked at the wall map and tried to sort out a way.

Diane shrugged and answered the phone. It was the Norfolk hospital calling with one definite and one possible patient, neither of whom could go to Sioux Falls. Dispatch called Mercy Flight Three for the first patient.

“One’s the only thing left, isn’t it?” Greg asked rhetorically.

Diane pointed at Two.

“Check with their Chief Pilot, but your idea may be the best to get this sorted out.” Greg allowed, grumping at pilots and the situation in general. Fortunately, Two was amenable to bringing a “rescue pilot” along as they came in with their own patient, so things started looking better.

Then the phone rang from Norfolk. They now had two traumas, plus the earlier patient! Diane paged Terry and the chief flight nurse to see if they could carry two. They could if they grabbed a third nurse, so she launched them. Then she paged Three to “come on with your patient. One will get the next two.” Fortunately, the weather, although hot, remained clear, allowing everyone to come and go easily. No diversions, and all the planes went where they were supposed to, for a change. Crisis of the moment solved, Diane slipped out to the restroom and soda machine while Greg sorted the mail and checked in a new shift on the ambulances.

Another call for fixed wing transport came in just as Two landed at the capitol. “Ah, let’s see,” Greg thought aloud. He paged Mitch, the spare pilot, but Six’s med crew had left to take Mike to the hospital. “Oh no! I need the plane now!”

Mitch called back. “Some of Four’s crew are trained on the fixed wing, aren’t they?”


“Just a sec.” Greg heard muffled voices in the background. “Two of you want to come on a flight?” “Heck yeah!” “You betcha! Let’s go.” “ Me me me!”

They could hear Mitch chuckling. “I’ve got a med crew. Where are we going and what’s the run number?”

“North Platte and I’ll page it out.”

Diane, returning from the pop run, looked at the board and blanched. “This is crazy!”

“Naw shit.”

Diane fielded a request for transport from Nebraska City and assigned it to Three, whose med crew were on their way back from the university hospital. At the same time, University’s dispatch also paged Three out, on a flight to Hastings! “Arrrgh! Will this never end!” Sure enough, Three’s pilot called in, asking which way to go. Greg sat hard into his seat. “If it’s not a trauma, first come, first serve. We’ll send One on the University trip when it gets back. They can grab whoever’s left of Four’s crew for a fast turn.”

Five minutes later, Mercy Flight’s chief pilot called in. “Can you page me what’s going on? Or should I get a score card?” Greg, no longer wondering why most dispatchers seemed to go gray at age twenty-five, started writing out everything from the board and his notes while Diane patched through reports and sent out a ground ambulance.

Greg typed the message, shaking his head at the mess. “Just so everyone’s on the same page. MF1 in Norfolk, MF2 plane in LNK with pilot. MF2 pilot on MF6 plane with MF4’s med crew and MF3 making Nebraska City flight.” And a partridge in a pear tree.

Fortunately for all involved, the phone went quiet. And to make life even better, Mitch called in to let dispatch know that his wife was actually visiting relatives near Six’s base, so he could get a ride home with her. Everyone still held collective breaths until five, when three of the planes had been sorted out, and the mechanics released Four back into service. Greg and Diane relaxed a hair and promptly shipped the ‘copter off to Wahoo.

Alan, one of the night shift dispatchers, breezed in around five fifteen, started carping, “You won’t believe what just happened to me . . .” and stopped short. Paper littered the desks, the plane board had four colors of marker crossing things out and adding things in, Diane held her head in her hands almost crying in relief and Greg looked like he’d stuck his thinning hair into a tornado. “Do I want to know?” The exhausted pair stared at him, glanced at each other, and started chuckling. The chuckle gave way to loud guffaws and belly laughs. At last Greg had to leave the room to settle down while Diane wiped tears from her eyes. “Gees, we needed that! No, we’ll tell you sometime later.”

Alan, being wise, just nodded and clocked in.

(C) Alma T. C. Boykin 2016 All Rights Reserved.