A Calcutta schoolteacher is preparing to sue an international airline for a mid-air medical scare after stapler pins in the rasmalai served on board for dessert got stuck in her food pipe, making her bleed and throw up repeatedly.
Ratnam Sen, husband Indradeep and daughters Anushka, 10, and Priyanka, 13, were on a Calcutta-Dubai Emirates flight on May 16 en route to New York for a holiday when the incident occurred, leaving her ill, scared and helpless.
Indradeep remembers “feeling metal” the moment he put a finger down his wife’s throat to find out what was choking her. “It turned out to be a stapler pin,” the businessman said.
Ratnam was in agony and throwing up every few minutes even after the pin was taken out, so the cabin crew made an announcement seeking out doctors among the passengers. Dermatologist and t2 columnist Sachin Varma, who was on board EK 573, volunteered to examine the schoolteacher and found her “with an aberration in her mouth and blood-stained saliva”.
“She had difficulty swallowing. After examining her, I brought out some more stapler pins from deep inside her throat. I was told that there were some pins in the food she had swallowed,” Varma recalled.
The Sens, who live in a house on Ekdalia Road, had considered cancelling their holiday when Ratnam continued to feel pain in her throat but decided to proceed to New York from Dubai because returning home would entail waiting longer for a flight.
“In Dubai, medical attendants measured my blood pressure and blood sugar while I was still on board. They also examined my throat with a torch,” Ratnam said.
The remaining pins stuck in the schoolteacher’s food pipe were extracted by doctors at a hospital in the US. The family later filed a complaint with Emirates, which allegedly hasn’t acted on it except seeking Ratnam’s medical bills, doctor’s report and other documents for “a review”.
When Metro contacted a senior Emirates representative last week, she sought a couple of days to respond. Till late on Thursday, there was no communication from the airline regarding the complaint about deficiency of service and negligence leading to a trauma for a passenger and her family.
The family of four were travelling economy class on Emirates with a stopover in Dubai to catch a connecting flight to New York. According to Indradeep, the return tickets for four cost around Rs 3.7 lakh.
The Sens’ long-awaited overseas holiday took an unexpected turn the moment Ratnam felt a stab at her throat with her first helping of rasmalai, a dessert comprising small cheesecakes swimming in a thickened milk gravy.
“Dinner had been served around an hour after take-off. I was seated in the row in front of my wife and daughters and I heard Ratnam call out to me and say that something was stuck in her throat and she was choking,” Indradeep recalled.
He turned around to find his wife breathless and immediately got up to help her to the washroom, where she started vomiting. “I had been busy feeding my daughters and didn’t really pay attention to the rasmalai I was having as dessert. The pain started soon after I had had the gravy,” Ratnam said.
What made the Sens’ trauma worse was the airline’s alleged failure to ensure that Ratnam received special assistance for the rest of the journey, including the stopover in Dubai.
“I was dehydrated and feeling very weak, not to speak of the pain in my throat. But no Emirates official offered to assist me till the departure terminal at Dubai, from where we were to catch the connecting flight to New York,” she said.
In New York, Ratnam visited the White Plains Hospital Centre’s emergency department, where doctors put her on drip. “Pain (in) left neck and in mouth. Visible staple noted…lodged in around tooth lower mouth, left side,” the hospital’s report states.
Doctors say Ratnam’s condition could have turned life threatening had some of the stapler pins not been extracted immediately. “Sharp objects like pins can cause perforation in the oesophagus or stomach,” said critical care expert Subrata Maitra. “There is no supportive care for such a condition. One has to wait for an investigation, locate the foreign body and retrieve it. However, in an emergency situation, a physical examination can be carried out and if pins are in the throat then those can be taken out physically.”
Although the Sens made it to New York, they couldn’t enjoy their holiday. “I felt unwell throughout the trip. There was a pain in my throat and my voice had become hoarse. We couldn’t enjoy ourselves,” Ratnam said.
Indradeep has since written several emails to Emirates, the last of which elicited a response a week ago.
“… we empathise with your concerns and the events you have described. First, may I please request you to provide us with relevant copies of the medical bills/receipts, and a detailed report from your wife’s doctor…. However, there is no guarantee that any reimbursement will be made,” Adriana Torres of the airline’s customer affairs department said in the mail that landed in his inbox on June 30.
The airline had sought 30 days for an internal probe but have yet to share the findings with the Sens. “We will move court seeking compensation,” Indradeep said.