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What I learned working for eleven years as an x-ray tech in a hospital ER. Our work station was about ten feet from the trauma rooms. As I stood there and waited for doctors’ orders, I watched the paramedics deliver injured patients and I thought about what I was seeing. During this time, my son grew from age ten to age twenty-one. Shortly after his birth, I began thinking about how to protect him from life’s slings and arrows. I slowly came to the conclusion that I could not protect him from life’s hazards without protecting others too. You must protect everyone or no one.
There in the ER, I was exposed to many of the hazards that life presents and I had the opportunity to ponder how we as a society can and should respond. I saw patients who had fallen from drunkenness, victims of motor vehicle accidents, bicyclists who had fallen or collided with a motor vehicle, fight victims, gang members shot or stabbed on most weekends, victims of heart attack or stroke, child victims of abuse, victims of assault, diabetics and others who did not take good care of their health, drug overdoses, drownings, and illnesses of all conceivable types.
I will examine some of these cases in the lines that follow and express my thoughts on possible solutions. I do not have a possible solution for all the problems listed above nor do I think that I necessarily have final and best solutions. I hope that what I saw and will describe will give you cause for thought and I encourage you to think about possible solutions.
I have x-rayed hundreds of bicyclists of all ages. When the accident was between a bicycle and a motor vehicle, never in twenty years did I ever have to x-ray the driver of the motor vehicle. In this sort of a collision, the bicyclist always loses. In most cases, the broken bones were not life threatening. However, injuries can be severe and require months of recovery post surgery.
How to make bicyclists more safety conscious? I would require that at age sixteen or eighteen that bicyclists must obtain a safety certificate similar to a driver’s license by passing a safety course. I would also require that every bicyclist maintain a minimum level of health insurance. The safety certificate program would emphasize the consequences of bicycle injuries and would require renewal every three or four years. Bicyclists riding without a safety certificate would receive tickets and pay fines.
In California, it is common for drunken drivers to enter freeways via an off ramp becoming wrong way drivers. This often leads to injury and death to innocents travelling in the correct lanes. I would stop this from happening by installing spikes that would impede cars moving onto freeways in the wrong direction. These devices would resemble those in parking lots and garages that prevent cars from entering using exit only lanes.
Almost every weekend, I had to x-ray someone with a stabbing or gunshot wound. I do not know which was the more serious injury, but a stab wound to the chest that might involve the lungs was treated more seriously in most cases. How to reduce those cases was a question that eluded an answer for years. I could not ask my son to wear a bullet proof vest at all times and it would not protect him from a club or a knife. Reducing access to knives, guns and clubs would not be a workable solution either. How to protect him from the random violence that exists in our society. Even the best of us could be a victim if we are in the wrong place at the wrong time.
I do not have inside information on the working of the minds of gang members. I have x-rayed many but not interviewed them. In Southern California, most gang members are members of minorities. I think that the attraction of gangs and the resultant violence can be reduced if each individual member of the minority community is made to feel welcome in our society. That means finding a place for them that includes a good job that pays enough to support a family in some comfort. If only dead-end jobs are available, some will drop out and turn to crime as a possible solution. There will be no quick and easy solution. Only time and much effort will start to turn the tide of inner city crime and gang violence.
Let us leave the ER for a moment and stroll down the hall and up one floor to the NICU, Neonatal Intensive Care Unit, where premature infants are cared for. I have x-rayed thousands of babies ranging from the nearly full term to infants with bodies smaller than my fist. Taking an x-ray is a brief encounter. During some of my x-ray years, I also worked part-time as a unit clerk in the same hospital. I floated from ward to ward, sometimes working on a busy surgical floor, sometimes in the adult ICU and sometimes in the NICU. The work in the NICU was so much easier than in other wards that it was almost an eight hour vacation. I answered the phone and opened the locked entrance to allow parents to visit their child. During the rest of the time, I could observe the nurses working and the patients.
Our NICU could accommodate 25 infants when it was full and that was a frequent occurrence. Almost all of the babies had Spanish surnames. How many had undocumented parents I had no way of knowing, but I suspected that many did. No matter, being born in the US, all were US citizens with the same rights as you and I. I strongly doubt that many or any of the parents could afford the care their child received or that they had sufficient health insurance either. Who paid? The hospital paid, employees paid with lower salaries, government paid, society paid, you and I paid directly and indirectly.
I had many hours to ponder the situation. The solution I propose is free pre-natal health care for any expectant mother who requests it. If the expectant mother is malnourished, this would also include free food. Some will protest. Why feed illegal immigrants or the poor? Because their children will be citizens. Our society needs healthy children who grow up to be healthy adults and can contribute in a positive manner. It is very costly to care for an infant in an NICU. Each nurse has only one or two patients. We should not punish children because of their parents’ poverty.
Let us now return to the ER for what I found most difficult to deal with as a parent. Whenever a child or young adult arrived following a trauma, I felt anxiety that it might be my child. When I learned that it was not my son, I felt relief but I could still understand what the parents must have been feeling. The most difficult case I ever did was an infant drowning. I had to x-ray the child while both weeping parents were in the room. The infant could not be revived.
My son attended the local university and lived on campus. Many students lived off campus and the most desirable apartments were right on the edge of bluffs overlooking the Pacific Ocean. We received significant numbers of young students on weekends who due to recklessness or intoxication had fallen from balconies 60 to 90 feet to the rocky bluffs that lined the coast at that point. Few fell to the sand or to the ocean which was more distant. It was heartbreaking to examine a young adult with spinal injuries that could paralyze for life. During orientation, I think that college freshmen should be required to attend a safety course that emphasizes the danger of falls from heights and/or bicycles.
I never had my son as a patient. The closest I ever came was one day he fell off his bike on the way to high school. He was rescued by a Good Samaritan and driven to school. I was at work and received a call from the school nurse. He was shaken up but largely injury free. It was an unusual day because my wife, a nurse, and I were working on the same ward at the same time. That almost never happened because we tried to work different shifts so that someone would be at home for my son. I was manning the phones when the call arrived. The call was for my wife and she could not come to the phone. I took the message about my son’s fall and passed it on to her. A sigh of relief from us both.
This is the longest post I have ever written and it is almost done. Thank you for reading so far and a final request. You may be wondering what all the above has to do with Barack. I think that Barack is the one individual on the national scene most likely to give us a safer world. I want a better, safer world for your child and mine. The election of 2012 will be as important as the election of 2008. For the sake of our children, please support Barack and his team with the same effort and enthusiasm as you gave before.
ER poem | Hospital poem