Tuesday, April 17, 2007

They are invisible. Even when in full view, they are faceless, nameless and quickly forgotten because others claim the spotlight. They train in the hope of never being used but when called to duty; they rise to the challenge and quickly retreat to the sidelines.

The carnage at Virginia Tech left too many dead, but also many that needed to be saved. The disaster activated an emergency medical response that allowed the victims to get the help they so desperately needed. The medical command center on the scene, the triage, the ambulance transport, the hospitals that awaited the injured, did not happen by accident. In a medical system where ERs have patients stacked in hallways and hospital beds are full, the ability of the Blacksburg, Roanoke and other communities to respond to the number of critical patients is a testament to their years of planning. The invisibles had risen to the occasion.

And who are they? First responders and paramedics have the grisly duty of caring for the wounded and injured without the benefit of having them undressed and prepped in clean hospital beds. They do their work on the side of the road or in stairwells. Without high tech testing, they stabilize and transport to hospitals. So no big deal, right? It happens all the time. People get hurt, ambulances come, take people away and they get care. But with the number of critically injured, especially with gunshot wounds, a couple of patients can overwhelm a system. But 28 victims, many critical, a true disaster.

The Roanoke Times reported that number of patients transported to 4 hospitals in 3 cities. 28 ambulances and crews. 28 resuscitations in the hospitals. 28 sets of doctors, nurses, lab and xray techs, potentially 28 operating room and ICU crews. And after the rush to care, these hundreds of invisible people who won’t have the time to sit and reflect, cry or get angry. The rest of the world didn’t stop getting sick or injured. There is another patient who has waited for the Tech carnage to subside. It’s now their turn to get the care they need.

The invisibles won’t likely get any face time on television either. The campus footage might show a row of ambulances ready to accept their victims but the focus will rightly be on those who died. In time, perhaps we’ll remember the survivors. But the invisibles will remain just that, fading into the background.

On the surface, disaster management and response teams seem to be a frivolous waste of county and state funds. Often they depend on the volunteer efforts of those who believe that it is an honor and duty to serve. And yet, in places around the country, they respond to diverse crises. Floods, train derailments, chemical spills and rogue shooters present unique challenges to the people you’ve never heard nor cared about. That is until your community actually needed them.

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