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by Dr. Margaret Aranda
I was Vice President of LAC-USC Medical Center's HouseOfficer's Association, which represented over 1,200 interns, residents, and Fellows in training. Together with the other officers, I met with the Chief of Staff, and the L.A. County Board of Supervisors. In 1990, they wanted to take away the housestaff housing, and pour cement into the swimming pool. They wanted to take away free food in the Doctor's Dining Room.
The medical center was just about the largest medical facility in the world. It was simply huge. It was the same hospital steps that are seen on the Soap Opera, General Hospital. This was the place. The Women's and Children's Hospital was separate, and we had to walk down the hill to get there. As I walked carrying my medical bag, it was obvious that I was a doctor in training. Up the hill would come four males together in a pack, and I didn't like it at all. Even in broad daylight.
My fears were justified. A medical student had been killed in the nearby park; another pregnant resident physician had been assaulted in the parking lot. We asked the hospital staff for statistics on assaults, and were not granted access to the data. Shortly thereafter, I was sitting in the cafeteria in the evening on a summer day when I heard a chilling scream.
There was blood on the floor, and a female nurse was bleeding from the neck. Apparently a homeless man had asked her for a dollar. She reportedly said no. So a large group of people were dragging her on the floor, feet first, to the ER. The blood dragged on the floor behind her, and I was left staring. Weren't we just talking about assaults on hospital grounds? Isn't this what we were trying to prevent? Her carotid artery was punctured, she ended up in the Operating Room, and she survived.
I was an Intern now, just graduated from medical school. I did the 'scut' work, drawing blood, taking urine samples and doing the dipstick on them myself. I even took blood and let it go into capillary tubes, then spinning it on a centrifuge to determine the hemoglobin and hematocrit levels on my patients. I was busy. I was busier than busy.
I was out of Jail Ward now, rotating in the ER. A new 24-hour Observation Unit was set up to handle triage, the sending out of patients to various destinations. I had a patient who was an alcoholic with seizures, and he had wandered off the Unit. He wasn't in bed, and I could not find him. I looked around the circular unit desk station, and there were two nurses there. I told them I was leaving to go look for my patient. No one would have thought that it was a wrong thing to do.
I walked down the hallway and immediately spotted him. He was wearing the hospital gown, and was pushing his iv pole down the hallway. I thought maybe he was going outside to smoke a cigarette, as was not unusual for some patients, and I hoped he was not going out to do drugs. He was 6'6" tall, about 200 pounds, and had brown hair and a curly brown beard. I called him by name.
"Mr. Patterson, there you are. I need you to come back to your room with me," I said gently.
He looked down on me, because I'm only 5'4". He said ok, and together we started walking toward the Unit. I didn't think anything at all. I was on his left, and he walked behind me, slightly to my right.
Out of the corner of my right eye, I saw his arm come up behind me a bit, and I thought that he was going to rest his hand on my shoulder. Since he had a seizure, I thought well, that would be okay because maybe he is tired or something. But no, instead he wound his elbow around my neck. He lifted my body off the floor, and I could feel that my toes were not even touching the floor. I couldn't scream. I couldn't move. I thought that if I tried to fight or kick, he would break my neck. There was nothing I could do.
I was suffocating. I had no control. I just waited to get rescued as the time ticked. I held my breath, or did I? Maybe I held it on purpose so my neck would not break. All I remember is that I couldn't move.
"Hey!" I heard a man's scream. Then there was a brief scuffle. Eventually, I was freed.
Everyone concentrated on the patient. Since he was my patient, I called for some valium iv. He needed sedation and because of his history of seizure, this would help ensure that he would not have another seizure. He was on around-the-clock benzodiazepine medication, and had missed his evening dose. So I pushed the drug myself. Once that was done, I felt light-headed. I said I wasn't feeling so good.
Then the attention shifted to me. "Your face was blue!" said Mark, the male nurse who had apparently jumped on the man's back to rescue me. Mark said, "I'm on the Army Reserves, and he had you in a military headlock. All he had to do was to scrunch his arm just so....and poof! your spinal cord would have been severed."
There was nothing to say except Thank You.
Wherever you are, I still Thank You.
Wherever you are, I still Thank You.
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Dr. Margaret Aranda's Books:
No More Tears en Espanol
Little Missy Two-Shoes Likes to go to School
From Menarche to Menopause: A Journey through Time
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