If Only You Could See This

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The other day, I went into the intensive care unit where our most acutely ill COVID-19 patients are being cared for.

The unit is full, busy, well-staffed. Life-saving personal protective equipment (PPE in the trade) is stacked at regular intervals along the hallway so it can be easily and quickly accessed and donned by staff as needed. The rooms have sliding glass doors and the unit is built on a gentle curve, so all the patients are visible from the nurses’ station.

All the patients are being helped to breathe by one device or another. Drugs, liquids and calories are being pumped into them via long tubes from devices outside their rooms – a distance that allows the nurses to attend to the machines without having to enter the patient rooms themselves, which would require the donning of more PPE, in very short supply.

The unit hallway is filled with beeping, blinking machines and the computers that monitor them. Like a sci-fi movie from the 1960s, it’s the very image of cutting-edge modern medical technology.

The nursing staff is busy, one sliding aside her facemask to get a quick gulp of coffee, another for bite of lunch in between direct patient care and impromptu unit meetings. Someone described pandemic response as a marathon but in this unit, it’s being run more like a series of sprints.

I expected all that.

What I didn’t expect was the feeling I had of being in a sacred space, filled with heroes. And I mean heroes in the literal, classical sense: people who know they’re exposing themselves to increased effort and risk but do it anyway, to serve their patients and the broader community outside these walls.

Most people will never see inside a place like this. They would have a heightened appreciation for the human beings who work there if only they could.

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Yes, Again

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People have told me I’ve said enough about guns and the pain they cause in our country, that I have made my point and I should move on to more pleasant and useful matters. The truth is, I have written about gun violence so many times over the last several years because it’s an issue I feel passionately about, it is one that has touched me personally, and one that continues to touch me professionally. You can read some of my prior pieces here, here, here,  here and here. 

Turns out, there is no ‘enough’ with guns. There is no measured rationality. It is an emotional thing for Americans. Here, the gun is more than a gun. It is more even than a phallic symbol, as Dr. Freud might have observed. The gun is our nationally-worshiped idol, as historian Garry Wills suggested here.

The adolescent revolutionary wet-dream fantasies of the  ΜΟΛΩΝ ΛΑΒΕ crowd, the Oath Keepers, white supremacist militias and other wannabe Rambos keep feeding our national obsession and growing our civilian national arsenal.

Responding last week to increasingly urgent calls for the meaningful reform of gun regulation by the healthcare community, itself in response to yet another mass shooting, the National Rifle Association (NRA), just the latest in a long line of organizations which make their livelihoods from the misery of others, a diabolically effective lobbying organization for arms manufacturers, told emergency and trauma doctors: “Someone should tell self-important anti-gun doctors to stay in their lane.” [emphasis added]

“Do you have any idea how many bullets I pull out of corpses weekly? This isn’t just my lane. It’s my f— highway.”
– Dr. Judy Melinek, San Francisco forensic pathologist

Doctors, many of whom have very deep experience with the business end of the whole gun-worship thing, were having none of it. Thousands took to social media (with the hashtag #ThisIsMyLane) to post their experiences and photos of their masks, gowns, shoes and floors, blood-splashed from victims of gun violence.

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Here’s what I’ve personally seen in the past year:

  • The victims of mass shootings at a UPS delivery facility, YouTube headquarters, a high school and a local barber shop;
  • Countless shooting victims of lower-profile incidents;
  • Their blood, everywhere;
  • Their frightened, angry and grieving families;
  • Our doctors telling brand new widows that our staff did all we could but that their spouses died anyway;
  • Those widows, along with their children and extended family members screaming with anguish;
  • Our nurses desperately looking to colleagues for emotional support after too many hours of too much death;
  • A 13 year-old kid, who was sitting next to his dad when he was shot, shaking with fear and anxiety, refusing to leave his dad’s side even when he needed to go into the CT scanner;
  • A high school student sitting by himself in our emergency department, having just heard that his classmate and friend had been shot dead, saying over and over through sobs, “What am I going to tell my sister? What am I going to tell my sister?”
  • Our social workers trying to help families, insane with grief, through the first hours after a loved one has died.

And as we Americans purchase ever more guns, call for ever more people to be armed, supposedly for self-protection, arrange ever more gun-friendly playdates with neighboring militias, as mercenary spokespeople like Ann Coulter and Dana Loesch continue to purposefully inflame their audiences, the bloodthirsty maw that is this country looks for its next victims.

Stop writing about guns? Fat chance.

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