MS. REBECCA SHEIR
If you've watched any television over the past, I don't know, several decades, you've no doubt come across the ubiquitous medical drama.
MS. REBECCA SHEIR
The doctors on these shows often seem to spend their days and their nights winging it through crisis after crisis. And actually, that's not too far from what happens in real life at the University of Maryland's Shock Trauma Center in Baltimore. The Center sees more than 8,000 severely injured patients each year. And when it opened its doors more than 50 years ago, it was pretty much the first of its kind. Nowadays, it's thought to be among the best trauma centers in the nation. Jacob Fenston brings us this look behind the scenes.
MR. JACOB FENSTON
It's a beautiful Friday afternoon, and the sun is shining on the roof of the Shock Trauma Center in downtown Baltimore.
MR. TONI CRISTIANI
Right now I'm waiting for Trooper One to show up.
Trauma technician Tony Cristiani (sp?). Trooper One is one of Maryland's seven medivac helicopters.
It's a fall coming in, yeah, from over on the Eastern Shore. A guy was on a ladder and he fell off the ladder about 6 feet.
Cristiani rushes out as Trooper One touches down. Seconds later the patient is in the trauma unit downstairs, where about a dozen staff members in pink scrubs swarm around him.
UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1
So he fell then passed out?
UNIDENTIFIED MAN #2
He fell, hit the ground, passed out.
MR. JOHN BLENKO
When things are going well, it's truly like an orchestrated ballet.
Anesthesiologist John Blenko has worked here for 22 years.
Everyone knows what everyone else is doing. They know where they are, they know what's just happened, they know what's coming next. There's no repetition, nothing's missed.
Every patient who rolls through the elevator doors here comes in with grave injuries. So the decisions that doctors and nurses make in an instant can easily mean life or death. But there's not really time to get hung up on that when another patient is already on the way.
Usually Friday afternoon around 4:00 o'clock, 4:30, it's like somebody flipped a switch and things get busy, and they get real busy real fast.
Especially when the weather is nice. People hit the road in cars and motorcycles or they're out on the hit the streets causing trouble. This particular afternoon, things do get very busy. The phone starts ringing…
…and it doesn't stop.
DR. THOMAS SCALEA
You know, we've just admitted 15 people. It's kind of busy. It's not the busiest we've ever been, but it's kind of busy.
Dr. Thomas Scalea is the physician-in-chief in charge of the Shock Trauma Center. Here, he says, doctors don't have the luxury of time to order a bunch of tests, then sit back and think.
We have to make decisions sometimes based not on the greatest information, so you go with a lot of clinical feel, a lot of gut sense.
Patients keep coming in and Scalea makes the rounds with a gaggle of residents.
Meanwhile, as the beds here fill up, staff swiftly shuffle patients to other floors to make room in the trauma unit. Right behind them, Elise Mitchell (sp?) is among the women in blue scrubs cleaning up for the next patient.
MS. ELISE MITCHELL
They're coming in, they're coming in, they're coming in. And you've got to be fast right along with them.
Everyone here seems to thrive on this fast pace. Dr. Scalea compares it favorably to a rollercoaster. Nurse Ellen Plummer has another analogy.
MS. ELLEN PLUMMER
Your adrenaline's going all the time pretty much and you're almost like a racehorse waiting to go out the gate.
She says it's something you get used to, 12-hour shifts with constant adrenaline. But for patients, whatever event brought them here was unexpected and often life changing.
These patients and the families, they don't wake up today knowing that they're going to get in a car crash and they're going to get injured. And they have no preparation for that.
That's the bad part of the job, she says, having to break the news to a family or finding a child's note to Santa in the pocket of a woman who just died after a car crash.
We can't save everybody. And that's the worst part of this job. Totally the worst part of this job.
Even though they can't save everyone, the doctors and nurses at Shock Trauma do save most. Of the dozens of patients who arrive here in ambulances or helicopters each day, 96 percent survive their injuries. I'm Jacob Fenston.
Time for a break, but when we get back, a singer-songwriter who's all about riffing on the autoharp and theremin. And the man who's taught hundreds and hundreds of Washingtonians to be hilarious on the fly.
MR. SHAWN WESTFALL
Improv comedy is collaborative comedy made up completely on the spot, based on audience suggestions.
That and more in just a minute on "Metro Connection," here on WAMU 88.5.
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