Have you been to the ER recently? Hopefully not. But we can all rest assured that in the event of a serious injury we will receive the best medical care . . . and fast! All it takes is a call to 911. High-tech ERs staffed with specialists, air ambulances that whisk us to major medical centers . . . even intensive care units for our injured pets are ready! This issue takes a look at the science and technology, and the dedicated people – professional and volunteer – that save lives. Maybe someday you will be one of them. Stay safe and enjoy the issue. Elizabeth Lindstrom, ODYSSEY Senior Editor
The Real ER
It’s 6 a.m. on a cool spring morning in Baltimore, MD. Birds are singing loudly as they always do at this hour, before the city fully comes back to life for another day. Dr. Thomas Scalea isn’t thinking about spring, however, or about the emerging day. He is thinking about life, though.
Scalea has his hands deep inside a patient’s chest, and he is about to remove a bullet. by Laurie Ann Toupin
Rescue! EMTs on the Job
Four emergency helicopters clatter overhead as they approach a serenely beautiful mountain lake. One lands on a narrow strip of gravel beach, and within minutes its crew loads a patient and the chopper lifts off again. Another circles high above fir trees, waiting for its turn to load. Campers and boaters watch from a safe distance, shielding themselves from the dust and small pebbles blown into the air as the choppers land and take off.
Two cars on a highway too narrow to have a line painted down the center have collided head-on. Nine volunteer emergency medical technicians, including me, and two ambulances have come as far as 18 miles to assist. Two patients are bleeding profusely and one is unconscious. Two others are . . . by Rachel Owen
Getting to the Heart of the Matter
As if he were a slain deer being butchered, the emergency room patient has his chest cut open by the surgeon. The doctor slides his scalpel between the ribs on the patient’s left side, cutting the skin and muscles. Quickly, he puts in place a retractor, an instrument that spreads and holds the ribs apart. He reaches into the chest and . . . by Jo Ann Conner, MD
Vet Alert: The Animal ER
It’s Saturday night in the animal ER, and with nine dogs and two cats in the same area, the silence is eerie. That’s because these cherished animal friends are the critical care cases at the Veterinary Emergency Clinic in Pittsburgh, PA. They are teetering on the brink of life and death. by Kelly Burgess
Bioterrorism Comes to the ER
Imagine that a patient enters a hospital emergency room in Denver, CO. The patient seems to have pneumonic plague; a lung disease that is unusual but not unheard of. Then another patient shows up with the same symptoms. Dozens more follow. Terrorists have released Yersinia pestis, the bacteria that causes plague, at Denver’s Center for the Performing Arts. Within three days, 16 hospitals report 3,700 plague cases. More than 900 "patients" die.
Fortunately, this epidemic, called "Operation Topoff" (for "Top Officials") was only a simulation. The exercise seemed like far-fetched science fiction in May 2000. Now, the threat of biological and chemical terrorism is all too real. by Kathiann M. Kowalski
The Body Against Itself
When lunch turns into a medical emergency for a 15-year-old girl time stands still, conversation is clipped, and brains and skilled hands go to work. This is a true story. by Tony Dajer, MD
Where do you find more than the usual number of injured or sick people needing emergency medical care? In a war zone. Military medical personnel face daily the threat of gunfire, explosives, chemical weapons, and other battlefield hazards. And many get injured. by Laurie A. Cavanaugh
Try These EMT Tactics
Emergency room medicine often begins in the field, miles from a hospital, where an emergency medical technician (EMT) must take charge. His or her action can mean life or death for the patient. The key to effectively responding to any emergency – from a bug bite reaction to a plane crash – is knowing what to do . . . from memory. by Rachel Owen
In the hospital emergency department, time is of the essence. When multiple emergencies arise at once, who gets treated first? Nurses perform triage (TREE-ahj) to decide what sort of attention patients need, and how quickly. by Kathiann M. Kowalski and Laura K. Meissner
Sports Emergency! Don’t Let It Happen!
Everyone wants to stay out of the ER, and that means staying well . . . and safe! But, according to SAFE KIDS, unintentional injury claims more lives in the 14-and-under age group than any other childhood "disease."
For instance, in 1999, unintentional injuries claimed 5,834 lives in this age range. In 2000, more than 6.9 million kids under age 15 were treated in hospital emergency rooms for accidental injuries . . . How well do you know your own injury vulnerability? by Stephen James O’Meara
You Can Do Astronomy: Create a Constellation Story!
Our activity this month is to create a new constellation using the star patterns provided. One of these patterns is an officially recognized constellation and the other is not. by Noreen Grice
Science Scoops (News!)
Medi-Chips Ahoy, Rats to the Rescue, It’s a Bug’s World, Order! Order!, Hot Vision, Our Spectacular Universe, Don’t Be Cruel. by Stephen James O’Meara
Brain Strain: The Doctor’s Dilemma
Dr. Oliver is an emergency room physician who is used to seeing some, let’s say, unusual situations. But one day, a patient named Bill comes in with a mechanism embedded in his forearm. Three glowing buttons like those on the octane selection area of a gas pump appear on the surface of his skin . . . by Clifford A. Pickover
People to Discover: Captain Roger Boutin, On Alert in Kosovo
Captain Roger Boutin’s Army Reserve unit, the 399th Combat Support Hospital, trained intensively before heading to Kosovo to support NATO troops. A Massachusetts firefighter/paramedic as well as registered nurse, Capt. Boutin served in Kosovo as a nurse in the Army hospital’s emergency department from April to October 2001, leaving a wife and infant daughter behind while he was there. He spoke with ODYSSEY recently about this challenging and rewarding experience. by Laurie A. Cavanaugh
What’s Up (Planet Watch and You Can Do Astronomy) by Noreen Grice
Stargazing With Jack Horheimer (Cartoon) The Surest Sign of Winter illustrated by Rich Harrington, text by Jack Horheimer and Stephen James O’Meara
Sci-Chat ODYSSEY’s reader response department, welcomes your original poems, stories, drawings, and responses to questions posed in the magazine and on our Web site. You can e-mail us your responses, with SCI-CHAT as the subject, or mail them to SCI-CHAT, ODYSSEY, 30 Grove Street, Suite C, Peterborough, NH 03458.
Fantastic Journeys: Volunteering in the ER
Have you ever wondered how you could be of real service to others? How about volunteering in an ER? Christopher Meissner, a senior at Miami University in Ohio who is majoring in psychology and prelaw, spent a summer doing just that. He tells us about the hard work (and, yes, fun) that
is involved in this very rewarding experience.
Animal Angles: Saints to the Rescue!
Emergency! Imagine yourself trapped in snow. Your body temperature drops dangerously low. You lose consciousness. Then heat begins to radiate through you. You awake to – ugh! – dog breath. You have just been saved by a Saint Bernard. by Ruth Tenzer Feldman
Coming In December: Chilly Science: Ice and Snow
Did you ever wonder why ice floats? Or why we can skate gracefully and fast on an icy surface? How about spending a night at the ice hotel? The cold slick stuff is certainly fascinating and fun. But if you love to ski or snowboard, it’s the white stuff that you love. In the December 2002 issue, Chilly Science: Ice and Snow, we’ll have the latest info on everything
cold. New research on avalanches, ice cores, ice ages, and microscopic snow critters are just the top of the iceberg. So grab your warmest parka and come along to some of the coldest places on Earth.