A Doctor Saved A Traveler's Life By Sucking Urine From His Blocked Bladder Mid-Flight

A Chinese surgeon is credited with saving a passenger's life after the elderly traveler suffered a medical emergency mid-flight. Dr. Zhang Hong sucked urine from the man's bladder.

As People magazine reports, China Southern Airlines Flight 399 was en route from Guangzhou to New York. With about six hours left until landing, an elderly passenger suffered a medical emergency. Specifically, the man, who was known to have an enlarged prostate, began sweating and showing a distended abdomen, possibly indicating a blockage in his urinary tract.

"He was going into shock and may have suffered a risk to his life if we didn't tend to him urgently," the surgeon said.

With the help of the crew and another doctor who happened to be on board the flight, Hong set up an impromptu operating room. Flight attendants put blankets on the floor in the back of the plane. The two doctors, using plastic tubing from an oxygen mask, straws from milk cartons, tape, and a syringe from the aircraft's medical kit, set up an ersatz catheter.

Unfortunately, the contraption was too small to drain the urine backing up in the man's urinary tract, and Dr. Hong was forced to resort to cruder means. Over the next 37 minutes, he sucked the urine out of the man's bladder and spit it out into an empty wine bottle.

a china southern airlines flight
Wikimedia Commons | Sergey Kustov

"When I saw that the man could hardly bear the pain any more, my only thought was how to get the urine out of his bladder," he said.

Dr. Hong sucked out about 800 mL of urine, or about 0.2 gallons.

"It was an emergency situation. I couldn't figure out another way," he said.

You can watch video of the dramatic lifesaving procedure on YouTube, but be warned: this video contains content that may be disturbing to some viewers.

The patient rested for the remainder of the flight, and was examined by a physician when the plane landed. His name and condition remain unclear, as of this writing.

Although in-flight medical emergencies make for compelling plot points in movies and TV shows, the fact of the matter is that they're not particularly rare, according to a meta-analysis by the Journal of the American Medical Association. About one in every 604 flights will experience an in-flight medical emergency (IME), according to the analysis. Considering that there are about 100,000 flights per day anywhere in the world, that means that such emergencies are, statistically anyway, a daily occurrence.