In the torrent of the relentless 24/7 news cycle, let’s not allow a new normal to prevail. We can’t forget that just days ago, a madman opened fire on a church in a small town south of San Antonio, Texas, killing at least 26 and wounding 20 or so. It was the worst mass shooting in the Lone Star State’s history, and it added to a horrific and growing toll for recent such gun-related outbreaks.
These incidents not only devastate the communities in which they occur. They also put giant strains of doctors, nurses, emergency medical technicians, and hospitals. All respond in ways that deserve a major salute, as well as empathy, compassion, and shared grief for the victims, their families, and those who seek to save and protect lives in chaotic situations.
The killing in Sutherland, Texas, posed its own unique stresses, with medical experts heaping praise on EMTs and first-responders for their heroic work at the scene, and then speeding those in need to care at hospitals at least 35 miles away.
The victims flooded into Connally Memorial Medical Center and Brooke Army Medical Center in nearby San Antonio, where University Hospital bore the brunt of the emergency care. And University, an academic medical center, teaching hospital, and Level 1 trauma center (shown in photo), was staffed in an unexpected but fortunate way.
That’s because the institution was undergoing a periodic credential review by a visitors’ team from the American College of Surgeons. The seven trauma surgeons from the ACS leaped into action, joining University staff to help treat patients in 14 operating rooms.
The doctors and nurses recalled the horrible casualties, with those with military experience saying victims had suffered wounds not seen except on battlefields. As a Level 1 trauma center—a designation indicating it can handle some of the direst emergencies—University is not a stranger to grim situations.
But the New Yorker captures the distance and horror that even medical professionals must maintain and experience, interviewing a University anesthesiologist about his time of tragic treatments.
In my practice, I see the major harms that patients can suffer while seeking medical services, and, yes, I also appreciate and am grateful that so many dedicated doctors, nurses, first-responders, and hospitals can rise to awful occasion, and provide remarkable medical care.
We’re approaching a time of thanks and a season of what should be awe about greater things and purpose. It might be appropriate for all of us to consider now just how far medicine has advanced, and how much so many caregivers change and save lives.
We also must recognize the distances we must go. This has been a terrible year for calamities, natural and man-caused. It is appalling and unacceptable that patients and medical systems in Puerto Rico, the US Virgin Isles, Florida, and Texas are still struggling to recover from storms and flooding. President Trump should stop congratulating himself and his Administration for their early responses to these disasters, and come to grips with the reality that recovery efforts need to be deep, thoughtful, and sustained.
Meantime, it’s shameful that hundreds of victims of a mass shooting in Las Vegas must battle not only to regain their health but also with staggering medical bills. To those who continue to question why health insurance matters so much—yes, including under the Affordable Care Act, aka Obamacare—the mass shootings offer a terrible reminder that all of us are inches and moments away from medical catastrophes beyond our control, and for which we may need long, costly support.
Thoughtful Americans, of course, can also renew their vociferous support for Congress to lift its bizarre ban on evidence-based research to avert gun violence. Columnist Nicholas Kristoff and the New York Times have put together a fine presentation to make the case why this kind of study is long past due and so necessary. It also might provide even more data as to why and how the nation should crack down on too-available military assault weapons such as the AR-15, the rifles that have proved deadly in rampages in the Texas church, a Las Vegas outdoor concert, and the Sandy Hook elementary school in Newton, Conn.