Sullivan K. Smith, MD, FACEP
Past-President, Tennessee Chapter, American College of Emergency Physicians
Let me begin by explaining my absence from the second day of the TCEP meeting. As many of you are now probably aware, my hometown, Cookeville, was hit by an F 4 tornado on Monday night of the TCEP meeting. I went home in the middle of the night to help in a department that was in full disaster mode.
When I arrived in the ED, I saw a very stressful, completely overrun department with patients showing up one after the other by EMS, law enforcement, and private vehicles. There were parallel resuscitations underway, an alternate treatment area being spun up, families looking for loved ones, as the whole of the staff turned out to care for the patients. It was just as chaotic as you might imagine, but it was directed chaos. We had a plan for events like this, and by and large it worked. The ED team was as impressive as any that I have ever seen, anywhere, anytime in my 32-year career. In the end, we saw a total of 88 casualties from the tornado in addition to our thankfully slower than normal department night shift patient load. In the end, our community lost 19 people because of the tornado. There was only one death in the ED. Later in the week, one of our dearly beloved hospital staff members died from his injuries. All of the other deaths were in the field before help arrived. The patients we treated and those who died were known to us. It’s a small town. Tornadoes are terrible events.
Now we are in the midst of a pandemic of a novel virus that has completely disrupted our routines, our lives at home and at work. Stay at home. Wear gloves and masks if you must go out. Disrobe and wash/disinfect what you wear at work before you enter your home, or maybe quarantine yourself from your family. ED volumes are significantly down, staff have been furloughed or laid off, and resources like masks, gowns, and gloves are in short supply, if available at all. Like many of you, we have specific processes to care for COVID suspected or confirmed patients. The additional steps are significant but require attention to protect yourself and those around you. Who would have ever thought we would have to sterilize used disposable equipment like N 95 masks? Despite the risks of contracting this virus because of your job, or worse, bringing it home to a loved one, each of you saddles up and goes to work, no question about that. While many are amazed at our devotion to our patients and communities, I am not. Nope, it was no surprise at all. Emergency medicine physicians step up each and every time there is a need. From the 9/11 attacks, to the current pandemic, from the STEMI, the next tornado, or simply the patient who has nowhere else to go, you stand in the gap, do the right thing, and make really bad things better. It’s what you do, it’s what you have always done, it’s what you will always do.
So, let me close by saying — for what you have done in the past, for what you do today, and for what you will do in the future on a “regular shift” or when the next time a crisis arises — thank you. Thank you from the bottom of my heart. I am so honored to be a part of this college and to call you my friends and colleagues. I don’t know any other way to say it.