Thursday 24 April 2014


I don't claim to be anyone's hero.  My children may disagree with me, as may a few of my patients.  But to me a hero isn't someone who merely helps someone else, it's someone who goes above and beyond the call of duty to help his fellow man.  For my primary job (as a father), I provide for my kids and keep them safe, happy, and healthy, but that doesn't make me a hero - it's simply my job.  And in my side job as a trauma surgeon (yes that's my side job), saving lives is my profession (though babysitting drunk people is also often a large part of it).  Again, that doesn't make me a hero, it just makes me just good at what I do.  That's not modesty (or arrogance, depending on how you look at it), just honesty.  

In my line of work, I don't get to see many heroes.   I'm usually on the arse end of the deal, getting the halfwit who robbed a bank, stole a police car, and then crashed it into a tree, rather than the gallant cop who is injured trying to foil the bank heist single-handedly.

So do you want to know what a real hero is?  Just wait.  I'll ask again later, and you'll find out soon enough, so keep reading. 

Though I may make it seem like shootings happen 10 times a day where I live, they are actually relatively rare, and double shootings are even rarer.  After my triple shooting recently, I suppose the Call Gods figured I hadn't had enough and needed even more practice.  My pager went off several times in rapid succession, informing me of a motor vehicle crash and two gunshot victims all arriving in 10 minutes.  As I entered the trauma bay, my assistants were already setting up instrument trays to insert chest tubes "To ward off the evil spirits", they said.

Ha.  The Call Gods are not so easily thwarted. 

The car accident victim got there first, and he seemed relatively uninjured.  As I was doing my initial assessment, the first gunshot victim arrived.  He was 18 years old with a huge tattoo across his upper chest and a single gunshot wound in his left lower abdomen.  I saw the tattoo and my Inner Pessimist immediately said "Great . . . more gang violence."  I pushed on his belly and in return got a grunt and a soft "Ow."  Though he was clearly trying to act tough, his abdomen was hard as a board, a sure sign of peritonitis (aka "You need surgery 10 minutes ago").  I called the operating room and told them we were coming 10 minutes ago.  Before telling him that there was a good chance he could die despite my best efforts, I asked him his name.  "Marcus" he groaned (not his real name).

As I finished talking to him, the second gunshot victim arrived, a hysterical 37-year old woman with two gunshot wounds on her back.  Since she had no other pain anywhere else, it seemed to be just an in-and-out from one side of her back to the other.  I ordered a CT scan to confirm and headed to the operating theatre.  I was in such a rush I hadn't even gotten her name, nor the name of the car accident victim. 

The young man had holes in his colon and small intestine, both of which I repaired.  Yes, I left the bullet in.  I closed him up and went back upstairs to check on my other two patients.  The car accident victim was fine, and the CT scan confirmed a simple flesh wound for the other gunshot victim.  Since I had a few minutes, my Inner Pessimist decided to ask her what had happened.  "Probably some gang- and/or drug-related violence," it told me silently.

My Inner Pessimist is an asshole.  And it was dead wrong.

Through her tears she explained that she had been arguing with her husband about money (what else?).  They had several bills past due, but not enough money to pay them all.  As they argued about which to pay and which to put off, the arguing escalated to screaming, so she decided to take a break and finish putting away his laundry that she had just finished.  She turned around and picked up a pile of his underwear, and he apparently assumed she was going to throw it all out the window (because that would be any sane, logical person's assumption, right?  Right?).  Her back was turned so she didn't see him grab his gun from the bedside drawer.  Just before she heard him fire it, her son, who had been trying to keep the situation calm the whole time, pushed her out of the way.  She heard the boy scream and turned around just in time to see him fall to the floor.  A second later she heard a second gunshot, but he was rattled and his aim was off.  Instead of penetrating her chest as he intended, the bullet harmlessly went through the soft tissue of her back, and she felt the searing pain as it exited.   

All at once everything came together in my mind.  I paused, silently cursing my Inner Pessimist.  "What's your son's name?" I slowly asked, though I suspected that I knew the answer already.

"Marcus", she replied, her eyes tearing up again.  "I don't even know where he is," she sobbed.

I felt like an ass for my insulting assumption about Marcus, and for my equally insulting assumption about her.  I glanced at her name tag and immediately felt even worse when I remembered that large tattoo across Marcus' chest - it was his mother's name.

I explained to her that she was miraculously lucky not to have been seriously injured, and that Marcus had saved her life.  "He was brought here as well, and he was seriously wounded," I said.  With her tears freely flowing, I told her very carefully that I had just finished his surgery, it was successful, and I expected him to make a full recovery.  "You're also incredibly fortunate to have a son who loves you enough to sacrifice himself to save you," I said.

She smiled through her sobs.  "I know."

Now I'll ask again: Want to know what a real hero is?  



  1. Wow, just wow. I hope Marcus' Mother leaves her stupid abusive husband and starts a new life with her hero son! Having the occasional fight in a relationship is normal, but that escalating so quickly is not. I wonder how often she and her son got beaten befor the hubby snapped and shot them.
    Also, congrats on saving a good persons life. I bet those are the most rewarding saves.

  2. That brought a tear to my eye. Thanks doc :)

  3. she taught him good - wow is all I have to say

  4. You are human. I'd have made exactly the same assumption.

    To me (former RN), heroes in our line of work are the EMT/paramedics out in the field. Once a patient gets to the hospital, it's an organized yet chaotic ballet. We know what/who is in the room with us, we trust our co-workers to do their jobs, and we have what we need to best treat that patient pretty much on hand.

    Those out in the field are dealing with chaos, potentially unstable people as patients and bystanders, and not necessarily having what they need to treat the patient.

  5. Props to Marcus - but your perception is a bit off. you meet real heroes every day. we're the ones who deliver these people to you - hopefully in time for you to give them another chance.

    1. Ken - as I said in the first paragraph, I don't consider someone doing his job a hero. To me, a hero is someone like Marcus who does what few others in his situation would do.

  6. Doc, if you were to, say, somehow wind up in a bank robbery where someone was shot and/or stabbed, do you think you would/could help that person?

    1. I'm sure I would. Bank robbers are saints compared to some of the scum-of-the-earth I've taken care of.

    2. Who would you say has been the worst kind of scum you've stitched up? Besides drunk drivers, of course.

  7. From all the tattooed people in the world, nice and not, thanks for seeing that we're not all drive by gang members. My mum and dad tattoos are on my arm, but they are very very important to me. I hope my reflexes would be as fast as Marcus's if they needs protected. Absolute hero. And you are heroic for choosing your job :)


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