Today marks the 6 month anniversary of the Tucson massacre when the actions of a madman on January 8, 2011 scarred our nation in many ways. It is amazing how one individual could directly impact the lives of so many and at the same time effect our political discourse in such a vile and malignant way. The days following the tragedy should have been filled with somber mourning and peaceful reflection, but instead were marked by vicious attacks and counterattacks by those who seem to have hatred as a guiding political principle. Even the President’s call for civility was not heeded by those hell-bent on making outrageous accusations. This was a sad time for America.
On the other hand, as a surgeon I watched the events unfold on television and I was struck by how efficiently the emergency medical system responded to this major disaster. This was not some pre-rehearsed disaster drill, this was the real thing! On just another lazy Saturday morning I’m certain the emergency department at the University of Arizona Medical Center was in the process of seeing a few minor injuries, a couple of children with fever, and perhaps an elderly gentleman with chest pain. Suddenly, they were in the middle of what must have felt like a war zone. Helicopters and ambulances were arriving one after the other with critically injured patients, including Congresswoman Gabriel Giffords. To describe such a scene as chaotic would be an understatement.
It’s truly remarkable how a civilian hospital and the personnel who work there were capable of shifting gears, becoming a major disaster management center in just a matter of minutes as 10 separate gunshot victims arrived at the University Medical Center, and all but one of them survived. The lone exception was nine-year-old Christina Green who had been shot in the chest. Regrettably, nothing could be done to reverse the mortal wound she suffered. The others were quickly and expertly transported into operating rooms where life-saving care was administered. Now, six months later, Gabrielle Giffords continues to undergo rehabilitation therapy, with her survival and recovery nothing short of miraculous.
Over the last three and a half decades I’ve spent countless hours in hospital emergency departments caring for a variety of sick and injured patients, including victims of trauma, and I can assure you that the split-second actions of the trauma team in Tucson did not occur by accident. Similar teams across the nation regularly train for such events and stand ready to deal with them whenever and wherever they occur. So, if there is one thing positive to come out of the tragedy in Tucson, it is the realization that physicians, nurses and various support personnel stand ready and are capable of dealing with even the most horrific acts of human violence or natural disaster. The results may not always be perfect, in fact sometimes an injury or illness is simply irreversible, but with God’s help the tireless efforts of dedicated individuals can, and often do, produce phenomenal results.
One final point: Over the last several years during national discussions regarding healthcare in the United States, advocates for change have consistently used various statistics to suggest that we have poorer quality care at a higher price than elsewhere in the world. Personally I reject that notion and would point directly to the events of January 8, 2011, in Tucson, Arizona as proof of the exceptional standards of American medicine.