When I read this incredibly moving blog by Kevin Sitka, MD, an emergency physician on duty at St. John’s Regional Medical Center in Joplin, MO when an EF-5 tornado struck the hospital on May 22 – I experienced a number of different emotions.

First, I was truly impressed with the writer and his ability to work in such chaos and continue to do what he knew best – take care of people.  Emergency Medicine physicians are trained to deal with anything and everything.  The truth is though; that most of us take for granted the safety and security of our hospital emergency department.  No matter what is happening in the world, patients come to us  – to safety – for care.  Victims of floods, hurricanes, violence and accidents come to us to be cared for.  We expect our hospitals to be safe and immune from the events of the world.

This writer experienced what no one ever expects.  The hospital was no longer a safe port in the storm, it was the site of a disaster and the physician was both experiencing the tragedy and trying to provide aid to others.  The magnitude of trying to deal with the destruction of the hospital, the safety of your friends and coworkers and managing critically ill patients put the writer’s skills to the ultimate test.  Clearly he was up to the task.  This blog made me remember to be thankful for something we take for granted every day: that our hospital will be there for us to care for our friends and family in their times of need.

Stephen M. Leffler, MD, an emergency medicine physician, is the chief medical officer at The University of Vermont Medical Center. 

EDITOR’S NOTE: Check out 45 Seconds: Memoirs of an ER Doctor from May 22, 2011 and share your thoughts and emotions with us after reading about Dr. Sitka’s incredible experience. 

We also want to assure readers that the UVM Medical Center actively participate in ongoing drills to help us be as prepared as possible for these unexpected events.  In fact, this Saturday, June 25, we will be participating in a community-wide mass casualty drill being coordinated by the Burlington International Airport.  In the scenario, our Emergency Department will be the primary receiving point for “patients” being transported via ambulance as a result of an airliner crash.  This event meets a Joint Commission requirement to conduct a yearly drill that involves an influx of patients, is linked with the community, and involves a scenario that escalates. 

Stephen M. Leffler, Professor at the Larner College of Medicine at UVM and former Medical Director of the Emergency Department, has been a practicing physician for 20 years.

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