In the 1960’s & 70’s when I worked in hospitals and later spent a dozen years in the offices of three busy pediatricians, I don’t recall anyone talking about more than a stray, accidental gunshot wound. Occasionally an unfortunate child found a loaded gun at home to play with.
In Portland Oregon at the Medical School where I began my working career, the large complex comprised of med school, county hospital, children’s hospital, TB hospital, research center, and lock-up ward. It was a trauma hospital. But I worked as a Medical Record’s Technician. However, the entire hospital and almost all workers participated in triage drills about three times a year. Those of us not doctors, nurses, interns or residents (baby docs as they were called) were assigned to be victims. Attention was paid to excessive burns, limb injuries, head injuries, etc. The big concern as I recall was planning for an influx of patients if Mount Hood erupted. Or if some extensive group of cars collided in the fog, or to a lesser degree when the fleet landed for the yearly Rose Festival Parade a few times groups of sailors went crazy in bar fights causing cuts and bruises.
For our triage events we worker bees received tags that told us what injury we were to present, and we were schooled to answer initial questions as we honestly thought we would should we be a victim.
What I felt it taught all of us was to be calm in the face of an emergency. Luckily in all of the years I worked at the medical school, no huge trauma befell us.
Later, in Seattle Washington I worked as a medical transcriptionist at Swedish Hospital, also a trauma center. Our big looming concern was that we’d have to one day deal with a massive earthquake. As in Oregon a mountain could erupt. Like Oregon, our triage practices mostly centered on crushed heads or limbs. I remember once I was tagged as having a severe asthma attack. And since my youngest daughter suffered from asthma I was very familiar with symptoms. Another time I supposedly had heart problems and I was told to start out in a faint. So I was tagged as a woman much older than I was at the time, but the triage team had to assess things that might be wrong with me when I couldn’t speak. Again, I don’t think anyone I knew had to present with gunshot wounds. During my time there the hospital did intake a number of knife wounds in a two hour time-frame due to a big ruckus at a nearby juvenile detention center. Police transported a dozen boys to our hospital and another ten or so to another facility. In my years of working at either hospital, we never experienced a lockdown situation.
I began thinking back to my training and our triage sessions this month when first responders in Las Vegas spoke about the frequency of their joint triage practices to deal with huge numbers of gun violence victims. While we were taught how to use whatever was handy to stabilize a broken arm or leg our trainers glossed over where to place tourniquets to stop bleeding from the rare puncture wounds. Lacking cell phones, we had to send someone to the nearest phone booth to call for orthopedic doctors from other hospitals, etc. In cases of our earthquake drills our triage scenes were often chaotic.
I can’t even envision what a dark nightclub, theater, or park filled with people bleeding from gun wounds, some multiple would be like to quickly assess. Or to have your emergency room be forced to check in and evaluate more than a hundred victims in a short amount of time. Doctors and nurses had to be going through Herculean efforts just to decide which victims were in need of immediate surgery, who could wait, and the sheer numbers of surgery suites required for such a massive influx of injuries is unfathomable.
Even with my past experience I hate hearing of the uptick in these awful senseless shootings. And I’m sure we aren’t giving enough credit to first responders, lay helpers, and hospital staff who get hit with one of these tragedies.
I hope this doesn’t cause bad memories for anyone, but I really wanted to give a shout-out of admiration for all of the folks in countless cities who have dealt so efficiently with these traumatic events.