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Where were you when Kennedy was shot

When John F Kennedy was elected, he was JFK. Later it was LBJ. No one else is really known by their initials. I was in a salvage shop and on the counter, was a stack of my hometown newspapers. Yellowed dog eared, there sat a stack of three on top. Stunned, I looked at each. The third one down carried the fateful headline that rocked my childhood. Yup! The woman at the counter was a kid. For her it was 9/11. We all have our moment. I had just gotten done with track practice. The ‘chief executive’ was dead. Denial. They didn’t say ‘President.” Maybe it was not so. It was one of the few times I ever saw my mother cry, as she watched the funeral on our Philco black and white TV. Years later, from a fellow neurosurgeon, I heard the tale of that day in Parkland Hospital ER. JFK was brought in by ambulance. It did not take the neurosurgeon more than a moment to glance over and pronounce him a “goner.” He related that he was next looking at a .45 pistol as the Secret Service told him divert his attention back and to attend the case “now.” It was only then he realized who the gunshot victim was. Gunshot injuries to the head never cease to make the ER staff breathlessly call you. But the secret is that the bullet settled the argument on the street. You arrive in the ER dead or alive. The role of neurosurgery is limited.

I will quickly recall a phone call I received at 3AM when I was chief resident at Bellevue. “We’re getting a gunshot to the head from Columbia.” my junior resident related. At 3AM it’s a rule. Make sure I am speaking in sentences before you give me information. Columbia? The South American country.

No! Columbia University – Neurological Institute of New York, the pre-eminent “Ivory Tower” uptown. Why? “…because they are not taking gunshots tonight.”

It turned out that my counterpart chief resident at Columbia was too lazy to get his ass out of bed in the middle of the night so he turned the case down and sloughed it off downtown.

Happy ending! The bullet was lodged under the scalp and had never penetrated the skull. My junior resident removed the bullet at the bedside in the ER slot and in an act of cheekiness sent the bullet fragment with our complements to Columbia. Our respective departmental chairmen had some choice words to share in the morning. Life goes on in the big city….

That reminds me of when the orthopedic surgery resident put a patient in traction by driving a Steinman pin through and through the skull….

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