Shock Trauma Docs Grapple With Real-Life Medical Drama (Transcript) | WAMU 88.5 - American University Radio

Transcripts

Shock Trauma Docs Grapple With Real-Life Medical Drama

MS. REBECCA SHEIR

00:00:03
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

00:00:19
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

00:00:48
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

00:00:56
Right now I'm waiting for Trooper One to show up.

FENSTON

00:00:58
Trauma technician Tony Cristiani (sp?). Trooper One is one of Maryland's seven medivac helicopters.

CRISTIANI

00:01:03
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.

FENSTON

00:01:11
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

00:01:20
So he fell then passed out?

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #2

00:01:23
He fell, hit the ground, passed out.

MR. JOHN BLENKO

00:01:25
When things are going well, it's truly like an orchestrated ballet.

FENSTON

00:01:29
Anesthesiologist John Blenko has worked here for 22 years.

BLENKO

00:01:32
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.

FENSTON

00:01:40
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.

BLENKO

00:01:55
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.

FENSTON

00:02:02
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…

FENSTON

00:02:14
…and it doesn't stop.

DR. THOMAS SCALEA

00:02:57
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.

FENSTON

00:03:03
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.

SCALEA

00:03:13
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.

FENSTON

00:03:22
Patients keep coming in and Scalea makes the rounds with a gaggle of residents.

FENSTON

00:03:30
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

00:03:41
They're coming in, they're coming in, they're coming in. And you've got to be fast right along with them.

FENSTON

00:03:45
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

00:03:54
Your adrenaline's going all the time pretty much and you're almost like a racehorse waiting to go out the gate.

FENSTON

00:03:58
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.

PLUMMER

00:04:08
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.

FENSTON

00:04:17
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.

PLUMMER

00:04:26
We can't save everybody. And that's the worst part of this job. Totally the worst part of this job.

FENSTON

00:04:31
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.

SHEIR

00:04:54
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

00:05:07
Improv comedy is collaborative comedy made up completely on the spot, based on audience suggestions.

SHEIR

00:05:13
That and more in just a minute on "Metro Connection," here on WAMU 88.5.

ANNOUNCER

00:05:18
WAMU news coverage of labor and employment issues is made possible by your contributions and by Matthew Watson, in memory of Marjorie Watson. And support for WAMU 88.5's coverage of the environment comes from the Wallace Genetic Foundation, dedicated to the promotion of farmland preservation, the reduction of environmental toxins and the conservation of natural resources.
Transcripts of WAMU programs are available for personal use. Transcripts are provided "As Is" without warranties of any kind, either express or implied. WAMU does not warrant that the transcript is error-free. For all WAMU programs, the broadcast audio should be considered the authoritative version. Transcripts are owned by WAMU 88.5 American University Radio and are protected by laws in both the United States and International law. You may not sell or modify transcripts or reproduce, display, distribute, or otherwise use the transcript, in whole or in part, in any way for any public or commercial purpose without the express written permission of WAMU. All requests for uses beyond personal and noncommercial use should be referred to (202) 885-1200.