Jennifer Kay, AP, October 25, 2007
The trauma center’s radio crackles an alert: A 34-year-old woman injured in an auto wreck is being brought in by helicopter. Parts of her scalp have been torn back, exposing her skull. Broken bones may be sticking out through the skin of her left leg. Her injuries may help save the lives of U.S. soldiers in Iraq.
For two weeks, 28 Army medics, nurses, doctors and nurse anesthetists have been learning trauma medicine and teamwork under pressure at the Ryder Trauma Center at downtown Miami’s Jackson Memorial Hospital, a place that sees such carnage it often resembles a war zone.
Ryder is one of the busiest trauma centers in the nation, seeing an average of 11 trauma patients a day—about as many as the biggest military hospital in Iraq.
Jackson Memorial serves some of the city’s most crime-ridden sections, and patients arriving at the trauma center have been stabbed, injured in grisly auto accidents, wounded in shootouts with high-powered assault weapons, or hurt in falls and fights.
The Army sends 10 forward surgical teams a year through Ryder, which was selected six years ago because of the volume of bloodshed. It is the Army’s only trauma training center. The Air Force has similar programs in Baltimore, St. Louis and Cincinnati; the Navy’s trauma program is in Los Angeles.
Team members said their training in Miami primed them well to care for wounded soldiers and Iraqi civilians. In Miami, they saw similar injuries—head trauma, multiple gunshot wounds—and worked at a frenzied pace sometimes hindered by a language barrier.
“Coming down here before we got deployed and getting hands-on with real patients, doing IVs again with actual people instead of rubber plastic arms, it did wonders for my confidence,” said Bartl, a 27-year-old bartender and waiter.
At Ryder, the forward surgical teams spend most of the two weeks’ training in lectures and a lab with a fleshy, plastic “patient simulator.” On the last day, the teams are given command of the trauma center for a 24-hour shift.
This team’s live-action day turned out to be relatively quiet, with just a trickle of stabbing, motorcycle crash and car accident victims arriving. Just a week earlier, four police officers shot with high-powered assault weapons had been rushed to Ryder.
One died and two suffered easily treatable wounds, but one had her knee blown apart and required extensive treatment by Ryder’s nonmilitary staff.
“That one cop, she was shot by an AK-47,” said Spc. Joshua McCann, a 22-year-old medic and Kent State nursing student. “That’s exactly what we’re going to see over there.”