The medical staff at R Adams Cowley Shock Trauma Center in Baltimore are some of the best in the world. They handle multiple patients at any given notice and keep people from the brink of death.
It's what they signed up to do, but it can also be draining. And in Baltimore, a place where 22 people have been shot in just one weekend, the routine of violence can take its toll.
“They have the ability to cope but it's taxing on them,” said Karen Doyle, the senior vice-president of nursing and operations at R Adams Cowley Shock Trauma Center.
The staff treat more than 8,000 patients a year, 96 percent of whom survive their injuries. Shock Trauma is also the epicenter for trauma research and teaching.
“We're the only center of this type in the country. We have an entire training and simulation center, 10,000 square feet that is devoted to the training and education of critical care illness and trauma injury,” Doyle said.
While the staff are some of the most elite in the country, they're still not immune from the physical and emotional fatigue that comes with caring for their patients.
“We manage that through their scheduling process and their ability to work a certain amount of days and take a certain amount of days off. We use some stress reduction techniques. We might have pet therapy, we might have a harpist come through, we have a group of violinists play in the resuscitation unit,” Doyle said.
Methods that help with the strain but don't change the reality of violence in our City. Twenty-one percent of patients treated this fiscal year at Shock Trauma were victims of violence.
The staff provides what they can through care and treatment, but also focus on prevention through counseling victims, providing support, and promoting conflict resolution within the community.
“There’s a lot of evidence that if we can impact the patient at the time that they were injured in the violent crime and get them engaged in other activities, then the recidivism rate greatly reduces,” Doyle said.
One of their more effective programs has been the Trauma Survivors Network, an organization where victims of trauma are visited by people like William Thomas.
“I was introduced to the hospital through my own trauma. I was an innocent victim of a shooting at my school, Randallstown High School around 2004 that resulted in my paralysis. I was three weeks from graduating high school, a month away from starting my lifelong dream of playing football for my alma mater like my father did in the 60s,” Thomas said.
Thomas credits Shock Trauma for saving his life, but it was his own personal network of family and friends who helped him get through what came after.
“I really had no choice but to fight, knowing that many people were pulling for me, it would've been kind of disrespectful for me to quit on them if they didn't quit on me,” he said.
Now, through the Trauma Survivors Network he's there for others who may not have the support system he had.
“I'm almost on speed dial now, unfortunately,” Thomas said.
But fortunately for the people he counsels, he provides perspective others don't have.
“I know what I went through when I was here, I know how easy it is to retract from life, how easy it is to fall into depression, how easy it is to allow your trauma or current situation to get the best of you,” Thomas said.
And he, like others who have been through a life-changing event, will never forget the day of the trauma, May 7, 2004.
He's tried to change the significance of that day. This year was the 12th anniversary and he decided to spend it with some local kids he helps through his foundation.
“A lot of them haven't been outside of their immediate neighborhood or they haven't been to the next county over, in Anne Arundel or Prince Georges County, so what I decided was I was going to, in tandem with me trying to inspire them to be engineers, I was going to fund a field trip to the International Spy Museum in D.C.,” Thomas said.
An all-expenses paid field trip that included a souvenir for the kids and a new memory for Thomas to overshadow a day that had it not been for Shock Trauma he may not have survived.