Simulated disaster helps Ill. doctors see victim, firefighter perspectives

Doctors hoped to gain insight into the time and equipment needed for the care and transport of patients

By Stephanie Gehring
The Chicago Sun-Times

ORLAND PARK, Ill. — Instead of a hallway leading into a high-tech emergency room, Dr. Daniel Bartgen found himself climbing through the rubble of a collapsed building last week to get to his patient.

Moments later, sounds of an electric saw buzzed from the other side of the wall as Bartgen performed an amputation in the field.

But the patient wasn't real. And the collapsed building was a set that had been built for simulated disasters at the Orland Fire Protection District's training center in Orland Park.

"It's an amazing experience," said Bartgen, 27, a resident of Chicago's Clearing neighborhood, who is in his second year of residency in emergency medicine at Christ Medical Center in Oak Lawn. "It's great to see what happens to patients before they come to the hospital."

Dr. Sean Motzny, medical director for emergency medical services at Christ Medical Center, said the 40 doctors who were on hand at the awareness seminar often expect patients to arrive at the emergency room from the scene of an emergency within minutes rather than the hours it sometimes takes.

Organizers hope the simulations improve the doctors "understanding of what takes place before patients are brought in."

"We hope by interacting with the fire department's paramedics, they can get an awareness of being in the field, of the time and equipment needed that goes into the care of the patient," Motzny said.

Battalion Chief Randy Reeder, who oversees the fire district's training, safety and emergency medical services, said there are times when a doctor is needed on scene. But he and Motzny stressed that last week's activities did not train them for such incidents.

"It opens their eyes," Reeder said, "and gives us some insight as well."

Lowered into a sewer, medical student Maggie Putman, 26, of Oak Lawn, had to insert a breathing tube into a "patient" while in that confined space.

"I had to assess the patient and see if he needed to be intubated," Putman said. "I've practiced on a dummy to intubate, but not in a tunnel in a sewer. That was a new experience."

A firefighter helped walk her through it, she said. "I would never be able to do this job," she said. "I give them credit."

Dr. Robert McDermott, 26, of Montana, said he definitely has a better understanding of what firefighters and paramedics are up against.

"We see what they go through," he said. "It makes our job look easy."

The doctors also searched for bodies in a smoke-filled building and assessed a patient in a collapsed tunnel.

The dark and smoke-filled building was too much for Dr. JoEllen Channon, a second-year resident. She said the experience gave her a new appreciation for firefighters and paramedics.

"I think you realize it takes a lot of guts to go in a place, go into the unknown. You don't know what's in front of you. You're literally knowingly putting your life at risk," she said.

"It's different from the ER, for sure."

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