Miles to Go Before I Sleep

AUTHOR: Katie Gray
DISCLAIMER: ER created the character of Dr. Elizabeth Corday… I'm just using her to write an entertaining script!!! The whole incident is BASED ON A TRUE STORY THAT HAPPENED TO MY NURSE MOM!
SUMMARY: Elizabeth Corday needs to provide assistance 30,000 feet in the air...

(In a London airport, a long line of people line up to board. Dr. Elizabeth Corday yawns and checks her watch. She is in a business suit and carries light luggage and a laptop case and a purse. Her soft red hair is up in a bun neatly, and there are dark bags under her green eyes. She has just attended a conference on spinal surgery, and is catching the red-eye out of London nonstop back home to Chicago.)

Boarder: Now everyone with the yellow boarding passes, please come forward straight away- that's numbers 30 through 60 - thank you.

(Corday steps forward, hands over her pass, and walks down the terminal and onto the plane. She finds a seat just in front of the wing on the aisle side. It looks like it's going to be a full flight. She is in first class. She settles down and takes out a medicine journal. The woman next to her pipes up, and has an accent of some sort)

Woman in adjacent seat: Hello…looks like it's going to be a full flight.
Corday: Yes…Good evening. Why is that? It's a quarter past one.
Woman: Another flight was laid over, I suppose. The fog, you know.
Corday: Yes.
Woman: What is it you do for a living? Are you a nurse?
Corday: No, I'm an ER surgeon.
Woman: Oh, wow, the ER! It's crazy in there, isn't it?
Corday: Yes, very trying at times.
Woman: Do you find any oddities?
Corday: Excuse me?
Woman: You know…strange cases?
Corday: Yes, daily. (smiles) what is it you do?
Woman: Well, I'm a nursing volunteer right now.
Corday: Oh really? Where are you from? Your accent is familiar.
Woman: Sydney.
Corday: What a long way! What are you doing in Chicago?
Woman: Visiting my sister - she lives in Chicago.
Corday: I see. And you're how old?
Woman: (smiles) I'm sixteen.
Corday: Terrific! Have a good time in Chicago, um,…
Woman: Debbie Winfield, you? (shakes her hand)
Corday: Elizabeth, Elizabeth Corday.

(A loud, rattling cough sounds several rows ahead from a man. A voice comes over the loudspeaker.)

Loudspeaker: Good evening, ladies and gentlemen, this is Rita Eldon, your head flight attendant tonight. Welcome to flight 448; nonstop from London to Chicago. We're expecting the flight to last five to six hours after we get under way, so once we are in the air we will be serving complimentary beverages before we let many of you rest. ::trails off::::
Corday: (yawns) Six hours….
Woman: That's nothing. Once I was stuck at the airport for two days.
Corday: My God! Why?
Woman: Some sort of bomb scare - threw the whole flight schedule [she says it like ssheshule] off.
Corday: I would go crazy. I'm not very patient.
Woman: Did you bring anything to keep occupied, then?
Corday: I've got paperwork from my cases back home in Chicago. Otherwise I plan to sleep. (grins)

(shot of plane lights lifting off into the night, Corday looks at her watch: 1:45 A.M.)


Stewardess: Would you like a beverage this evening, Miss?
Corday: (pulling away from typing on her laptop) Could I have a cocktail, please?
Stewardess: Certainly. (writing on paper) that will be seven pounds, please.
Corday: (hands over money, smiles faintly)
Stewardess: Straight away. (exits)
(The woman to the left of Elizabeth is sorting out huge pills on her tray table, and she asks for tomato juice from the Stewardess. She coughs nervously.)

Corday: Is something the matter?
Woman: No, I - I just hate flying.
Corday: oh, I see.
Woman: I'm moving to America and I'm scared stiff about it.
Corday: Oh, don't worry - it's wonderful here.
Woman: You live in Chicago?
Corday: Yes, I moved there five years ago.
Woman: Is the weather horrible?
Corday: Can be, but on the whole it's a great country.
Woman: Sometimes I don't believe America takes us seriously.
Corday: Really?
Woman: Well, yes, dear - you think they care about the Royal Family at all?
Corday: I suppose - I never thought about it.
Woman: (receives tomato juice, swallows each pill) Americans - are they all ridiculously overweight?
Corday: I wouldn't say so.
Woman: (shakes her head)

TIME LAPSE - (next shot shows Corday finishing her cocktail, most of the plane is asleep. She looks around for a moment and closes her laptop. She sets the traytable back up and leans back, quickly sinking into sleep.)

(She is awoken by a rapid coughing sound from the woman on her left. She opens her eyes to see the woman who had swallowed the pills coughing into her hand. Elizabeth reaches for a barf bag and hands it to her just in time. With each hurl, she cringes. The woman leans back when she's done and shuts her eyes. Elizabeth stands up and steps over her, then heads toward the lavatory. She cups her hands behind her head and sighs as she walks sideways down the aisle. She checks her watch - 3:30. Still four hours to go. She steps into a lavatory and the sign switches to OCCUPIED.

We see a man, who coughs twice, coming toward the adjoining lavatory and he enters. CUT TO: Corday washing her hands. As she unlocks the door she hears a thump from the adjacent lavatory. She steps out and knocks on the door of the lavatory. She speaks in a hushed whisper, for the passengers are sleeping)

Corday: Is everything all right?
(There are a few more crashing thumps on the door and the walls, and some passengers stir or awake from their sleep. Soon a gasping sound is heard and the sounds stop.)

Corday: Hello? Is everything all right?
Corday: (thrashing her hand upon the door and knocking) Hello? Please answer!
Corday: (thrusts her shoulder against the door and shouts) Is everything all right, sir or ma'am?
(the passengers are awake now, but Corday does not notice. A steward comes to her and pulls her away)
Steward: Ma'am, if I could ask you to sit back down I'd -
Corday: Can you open the door?
Steward: The door of the lavatory? Ma'am, people are entitled to their privacy.
Corday: No! I think something's happened in there. I heard thrashing noises and a gasp.
Steward: (knocks on door) Is there a problem? Hello? (lunges into door, breaking lock)
(The door is stuck, and there is a glimpse of a sleeve. The steward pulls open the door and a middle-aged man crashes to the floor. Corday squats down and checks his pulse, his breathing, while the stunned steward looks on)
Corday: (shouts) He's not breathing … No pulse. (lifts eyelids and checks them) This man's having a heart attack.
(by now many passengers are staring at the scene, leaning around their chairbacks and eavesdropping with bewilderment)
Steward: Uh, er, I, uh - should I find a doctor?
Corday: I am a doctor. (begins CPR) He needs oxygen. Get some, now!
Steward: (exits)
Corday: 1…2…3…4…5… (leans over, positions man's head, breathes into his mouth) 1…2…3…4…5…
(Steward returns with oxygen mask)
Steward: Where do I put it?
Corday: Put the strap behind his neck - make sure the cupped part is covering the entire mouth -
Passenger nearby: Don't you know that, anyway? You just gave a speech on safety and -
Steward: I do, I do…(lying, however he puts the mask on accurately) Now what?
Corday: (still performing CPR, hair becoming tousled) 1…2…3…4…5… I…revive…him…
Steward: Oh. Do you need anything?
Corday: Hold his head - that's right. (to a stewardess) Could you tell the pilot, about this, please?
Stewardess: (wide-eyed) What happened?
Corday: (breathes in, keeps doing CPR, says between pushes and breaths) This man…had…a heart attack…in the lavatory…
(Stewardess walks toward cockpit. CLOSE UP on man's pale face…CLOSE UP on Elizabeth, sweat beads are starting to form)


Corday: Come on, come on, damnit! (pushes harder)
(CLOSE UP on man's face…Suddenly, a burst of wet fog appears on the inside of the oxygen mask, and the man's eyes flutter open halfway.)
Corday: (notices, stops CPR, leans forward and places her hand on his head, and is checking his pulse) Sir, can you hear me?
(he nods and his eyes open more)
Corday: You've had a heart attack, sir. Can you breathe all right now?
Man: (nods)
Corday: All right, for a moment I'm going to take the mask off. (takes it off) What is your name? Can you whisper your name, please?
Man: (whispers) Strong.
Corday: Last name Strong?
Man: (nods)
Corday: Thank you. Now, what are you feeling right now? Do you feel nauseous?
Man: (nods, but in the middle of his nodding his eyes fall and his face freezes - he stops breathing)
Corday: Sir? (shakes him) Sir? (places mask back on and goes back to CPR. The steward looks at her. Corday speaks with difficulty, as she is pushing harder than she ever was before) Go on the intercom and see if anyone is here with the last name Strong, and tell them to come here…
(The steward races towards the front of the plane and knocks into a sleeping passenger's sleeping, cocked head in first class. As Corday continues, the nurse's assistant who had been sitting next her approaches)
Debbie: Elizabeth, what happened?
Corday: Heart attack…
Debbie: Oh my God! (races over and holds man's head) How long has it been?
Corday: He woke up a few minutes back…went out again…(Corday is pushing fiercely now, lunging all her weight into the man's chest, breathing loudly, face cringing, swinging back and forward on her arched toes, elbows straight as can be. The loudspeaker comes on)
Loudspeaker: (steward) I'm sorry to trouble everyone, but it is urgent that anyone with the last name Strong please come to the lavatories by the second emergency exit row. Thank you, and sorry to disturb you all.
(The steward thumps back and sees Debbie. He puts his arm around her shoulder, and Debbie gets a perplexed, disgusted look)
Steward: I'm sorry, Ma' am, but don't be frightened. He's in good hands.
Debbie: What are you talking about?
Corday: (smiles a bit, still pushing) She's helping me…doesn't know him…
Steward: (takes his arm away, goes beet red) I'm so sorry…
Debbie: It's quite all right. (giggles)
(A handful of people come to the area, scrambling over legs in the seat rows, some with hands over their mouths in shock, others cynical, others just confused.)
Strong #1: What's this all about?
(there are three flight attendants here now, two women and one man)
Steward: Do you know this man, sir?
Strong #1: (squints at man) I'm traveling alone.
Stewardess: (puts arm around man's shoulder) Then we're sorry to disturb you, sir, you may return to your seat.
Strong #1: I do not appreciate this at all. I was sleeping peacefully and all of a sudden you make me paranoid that I did something wrong of some sort - this is dispictable, I'll have you all for this!
Steward: (pushes Strong #1 slightly) I apologize personally, sir, but we have a bit of a crisis and we wanted to inform this man's family. (leads man, still jabbering, waking up some passengers, to his seat)
Woman with Last name Strong: (silently, she peers over with a trembling hand covering her mouth, she removes it and stares at Corday)
Corday: (looks up at her) He woke up, Miss, just ten minutes ago.
Stewardess: (to other Strongs) Thank you all, you may be seated now. (they exit, steward returns) How is he?
Corday: Not very good.
Debbie: (sarcastically, but seriously) What does it look like? He's not skipping through the tulip fields, that's for sure. (Mrs. Strong glares at her with fright and tears brim in her red eyes) I-I'm sorry, Miss, I didn't mean…I just…
Corday: Madam, is this your…
Mrs. Strong: (quivering) My husband, Ralph.
Corday: Does he usually have heart attacks?
Mrs. Strong: The doctors recently said he had problems with his heart…It never flared up like this - it was never serious. He's had irregular rhythms before but…(sighs, bites her lip) Not like this…
Corday: Does he smoke, Mrs. Strong?
Mrs. Strong: He's been trying to quit. (pulls back her husband's sleeve, kneeling down) See, a patch. He's been doing so well -
Corday: Mrs. Strong, did his doctor…(takes a breath, continues pushing) Did his doctor tell him to quit? I'm asking…because smoking complicates heart problems, if he's been smoking…for a long time…
Mrs. Strong: Well, he told me…(voice cracks) He told me he started when he was 16…he's 47 now, yes, the doctor told him not to…what are you saying? How come this happened?
Corday: (glances at him, then back at Mrs. Strong) Has he smoked after he heard this from your doctor?
Mrs. Strong: I caught him when he was lighting a cigarette - he's been so good, though, Miss, so good about it. He knows…the doctor told him that smoking could cause an attack…
Corday: (pauses, keeps pressing, looks at steward) Could I have you name, please?
Steward: Craig.
Corday: Craig, do you smell cigarette smoke in the lavatory?
(the steward doesn't hesitate. He goes inside and takes a whiff. )
Steward: No doubt, Doctor.
Corday: (nods, looks at Mrs. Strong, all the while still pressing hard) Mrs. Strong, your husband smoked a cigarette in the lavatory. That is what, I believe, caused his attack.
Mrs. Strong: What? He wouldn't do a thing like that!
Steward: There's a cigarette butt on the floor.
Mrs. Strong: But-but that's illegal!
Corday: Let's not think about that now. We need to save your husband. (leans forward, face turning red, pushes harder) he's been out too long.
Mrs. Strong: Damn him! I try so hard! (she lunges forward and hammers down on Mr. Strong's chest, not thinking)
(Suddenly, Mr. Strong's eyes open wide and he inhales and exhales deeply. Debbie holds Mrs. Strong, who is astonished, but glad. Corday ceases and pants. She swallows, wipes her nose, and leans over him.)
Corday: Mr. Strong, are you all right?
Mr. Strong: (nods slightly)
Corday: Now, Mr. Strong, I need to know the truth. It is important that you tell me if you were smoking before your heart attack came on - I'm not accusing you of anything - just nod if you were.
Mr. Strong: (cringes his eyes, swivels his head slightly right and left in frustration, then nods)
Mrs. Strong: (gasps) You bastard! (restrained by steward and Debbie)
Corday: (holds shoulder gently) Thank you. Now, you still feel nauseous?
Mr. Strong: (nods)
Corday: All right, hang in there. (looks at stewardess) Could you find a row of three seats in first class? Mr. Strong needs to get off the floor.
Stewardess: (nods and goes to first class. She glances around and heads to the right back rows, where one row of seats faces another, and wakes up the people sitting there) Excuse me, I'm so sorry, but there's a very sick man who needs to lie down across these rows. Could you move, please, to the flight attendant seats up front? We'd gladly assist you in any way.
Gentleman: (pauses, yawns, looks at wife, who looks disgusted) No, you cannot make us move in the middle of the flight!
Stewardess: But sir - this man's had a heart attack!
Woman: I'm sorry, but we paid our way into first class and we're not moving!
Stewardess: But the man needs to be comfortable - if not, he may not make it. He's been slipping in and out of -
Man: We've paid and settled ourselves here and don't want to sit in awful seats up front! Is that clear?
Debbie: (appeared out of nowhere) No, you stuck-up idiots! Get up or this guy's going to die! How would YOU like it if you stopped breathing in the lavatory, your heart started rupturing, your body failed, and you were ready to puke your lungs out? Wouldn't you want to get off this cardboard floor and lie down on cushions so you could live another day? Get your arse off the chairs! GET UP, NOW!
Stewardess: Miss, (to Debbie) Please leave and don't harass the passengers! (they exchange a glance, and Debbie realizes she's grateful. Debbie grins and walks back to Corday. The stewardess faces the group) I'm sorry, I should not have let that happen. Now, if you would please move, this man and his family would be ever so appreciative - (with eyes wide, heads down, and hurrying feet, the passengers in those seats spring up and the stewardess directs them towards their new seats. Debbie motions to Corday.)
Corday: All right, Craig, hold his legs, Debbie, his side, Helen [other stewardess] his right side, and I'll hold his head and shoulders. (they all position themselves) All right, 1, 2, 3, up! (they all get to their feet, holding the groaning man) Forward, that's right, keep him straight. Keep going…set him down, gently, gently…there we go…(the nearby are peering at the scene. The man is secure, and a stewardess hands Corday several blankets and pillows, which Corday arranges to make the man comfortable. Mrs. Strong sits on the ground beside his legs and rubs them softly. Corday sits next to her, near his head.)
Corday: Comfortable, Mr. Strong?
Mr. Strong: (still with oxygen mask, nods)
Corday: I'm going to stay here -- I'll be here if anything happens. You should get some rest. We've got (checks watch) 2 and half hours to go - the best thing you can do now is sleep. (yawns, leans on wall, extremely fatigued) It's five in the morning…
Debbie: You must be exhausted.
Corday: I'm all right…I've gone without sleep before (yawns again. Mr. Strong motions to her, struggling to remove his mask. Corday puts it aside so he can talk. His voice is scratchy and tired, raspy and strained)
Mr. Strong: Thank you, Doctor.
Mrs. Strong: Yes, God bless you - how could we ever repay you?
Corday: Don't worry - it's just my job. Call me Elizabeth.
Mr. Strong: (looks at Mrs. Strong) I'm sorry, sweetheart.
Mrs. Strong: It's all right. I'm glad you're still here.
Mr. Strong: Are Alice and Chelsea all right?
Mrs. Strong: Oh, yes, (stands) I forgot about them. Oh, they're probably sleeping, anyway. I'll stay here with you. Stewardess, will you check on my girls? They're in 26 and 27G, in Coach.
Stewardess: Sure. (smiles and walks away)
Corday: Mr. Strong, I'm going to put the mask back on. You'll be safer and more comfortable that way, all right?
Mr. Strong: (coughs) All right. Doctor, er, Elizabeth, I still feel like hell…like I'm going to throw up…
Corday: Just rest, don't worry…I've seen worse. (puts mask back on him, sighs, leans back, stands and sits in seat across from Mr. Strong, rests her eyes. Before she knows it, she's drifted off to sleep without meaning to)
(Corday is snapped awake. She is startled, and jumps. She mumbles something to herself then becomes oriented. A man is tapping on her shoulder. He has an expensive Italian suit on and is wearing a nervous smile.)
Man: Hi, I'm Doctor Wright, you did great out there.
Corday: Who?
Man: (shakes her hand) I went up to where you all were when I had to use the restroom - You were doing just great! It didn't seem like you needed any help!
Corday: Oh…I didn't know you were a doctor…thank you…(she nods off to sleep again) (what seems like moments later, she is awakened by the stewardess)
Stewardess: Doctor, the pilot wishes to speak with you. It's rather urgent…
Corday: All right. (she staggers up and walks in a complete daze towards the cockpit. The pilot stands up, while the co-pilot watches over the controls)
Pilot: We are all thankful to you for your heroism…Will the gentleman be all right for another hour or so? We're flying to Chicago, and there's a bit of wind and traffic…
Corday: He's stable for the moment, (wipes her eyes) so we're all right. He's resting - as long as we get him to a hospital as soon as we get to Chicago, there is no reason to hold up all the passengers.
Pilot: Terrific…Now, I'll radio for the paramedics to be ready when we arrive…Which hospital should he be taken to? I'm not familiar with Chicago…
Corday: I work at a hospital in the city, actually.
Pilot: (slight smile) That's convenient. Which one?
Corday: Take him to Cook County - its staff is extremely skilled.
Pilot: I trust you. Thank you for your time. (exits back to cockpit)
(Elizabeth massages her aching forehead and returns to the seat across from the man. She quickly checks his vitals and then slips furtively back into sleep)


(Again Elizabeth is awakened, this time by a stewardess)
Stewardess: Doctor Corday, we're making our final approach. We'll landing about 15 minutes.

(Elizabeth notices the shift in engine power, and she checks her watch: 7:30 a.m. She gazes out the window - she can see blue, warm, soothing skies and she spots a helicopter landing on County General's roof. A small mesh of doctors and nurses, as small as ants, seems to float towards the helicopter. Elizabeth watches this scene and feels at home. She smiles. Then she stretches and yawns, and then she checks on Mr. Strong. Mrs. Strong is sleeping on his leg, and the stewardess is just waking her up. Elizabeth checks the man's pulse, and notices sweat soaking onto his pale skin. Suddenly, she leans forward. His pulse is rapid. She takes the mask off and puts her hand to the man's mouth, then she hovers her ear to listen - no breaths. She makes one last attempt to find signs of stability, even though she knows the truth - she peels away the man's eyelids and sees the fixed pupils staring blankly back at her. She moves into action.)

Corday: I need help! (Mrs. Strong is standing now, with a look of sheer horror and puzzlement on her face. Elizabeth notices the doctor with the Italian suit walking back to his seat, only glancing over at her once. A few flight attendants come over and help her lower the man to the floor)
Craig: What's happened?
Corday: Hold his head - someone! (she begins CPR, placing the oxygen mask back on) He's crashing. I don't know how long it's been.
Craig: Someone tell the pilot! (shouts)
Corday: 1…2…3…4…5…Did anyone hear him stop breathing?
(passengers shake their heads)
Corday: Oh my God. 1…2…3…4…5…How much longer until we land?
Craig: Five.
Corday: All right - come on, Come on Mr. Strong! (CLOSE UP on Mr. Strong's face - blank) It's another one…Oh God…1….2….3….4….5….(frantically, she is moving to a rhythm. She suddenly hammers down on his chest like Mrs. Strong did, but to avail. She is pressing harder than ever now.)

(Mrs. Strong sits down and buckles her seat belt, staring at the scene with the utmost concern. Elizabeth is pressing hard - with adrenaline and strength, but the situation is staying. The flaps are elongated and the plane is declining in altitude. The flight attendants let Elizabeth stay in the middle of the aisle. The city is getting larger…Elizabeth does not notice at all. ANGLE FROM CORDAY'S EYES: sounds of her counting, her panting, seeing her hands press in, out, in, out, back, forward…The plane touches down with a loud thump, and Elizabeth's hand is pressed inward rapidly. Mr. Strong's eyes jolt open, and Elizabeth is relieved)

Corday: Mr. Strong! Is everything all right?
Mrs. Strong: (from her seat) Honey! I was so worried!
Corday: Can you hear me Mr. Strong? (he nods) We've landed. You'll be at County General Hospital here in Chicago very soon. Stay with me…(his eyes shut and his head goes limp. He isn't breathing again) Mr. Strong? Mr. Strong? Mr. Strong! Nod if you can hear me, Mr. Strong! Mr. Strong!!! Sir!!?? (she begins CPR again fiercely, the entire plane watching with complete fixation, while the plane is being taxied.) Damnit! 1…2…3…4…5…(her knuckles are white, muscles tense, face cringed, hair all over the place.) Come back, damnit!

(the plane stops. And it is completely quiet for a full 30 seconds. Then the doors swing open, but the pilot informs the passengers to please stay in their seats. Two paramedics come in and Elizabeth almost doesn't stop CPR, until they take the man away on a stretcher. She jumps up and watches as they cart him away down the terminal, the life of the man no longer in her hands. Mrs. Strong and her two girls follow fearfully, the girls crying as they cling to their mother's hands. She sighs and leans her head against her hand, then squints her eyes together. She sniffs and rubs her face. The entire plane is staring at her, and she becomes quite self-conscious. One passenger begins to clap, and soon the entire plane is applauding her, flight attendants, pilot and co-pilot and all. After this brief burst of spirit, they all stand and rush to find their belongings and get out of there in awful, congested lines.

The crew congratulates Corday and a flight attendant offers her a bottle of wine)
Flight attendant: For your bravery and quick-thinking - Doctor Corday - here's our best wine?
Corday: (she is too tired to be overly grateful, but she tries.) Wine…thank you very much. This will be the…best wine…(yawns) ever…(Everyone allows her to get her things and walk out to the terminal, where she hears the sound of ambulance sirens in the distance. She sits on a seat in the waiting area and leans her head back. She hangs her head in her hands again and rubs her eyes. Trying to keep from falling asleep, she takes out her cell phone and dials a number. It rings a couple times, then picks up. A cheerful hello is heard.)
Corday: Mark…(massages her temples, rubs her eyes) Mark…This is Lizzie. How are things? …All right…I had a long red eye flight and I'm too tired to drive home. When you're your shift start?…Could you please come pick me up? I'd appreciate it so much…I wouldn't even make it on the Loop…You're so wonderful, Mark…Thank you…I'll wait outside…It's a long story, I'll tell you in the car. Thanks again, bye. (she hangs up the phone and sits for a minute, not daring to rest her eyelids. With slow, painful movements, she gets up and walks away, looking forward to taking a hot bath, or, thinking more short term, sitting in Mark's warm car, telling her long story.)


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