It’s not opioids. It’s not marijuana. It’s not obesity and diabetes. It’s not a disease that over time with research and the commingling of hard scientific work and cooperation we have almost conquered–like AIDS and some cancers. No. This continues to be a MEDICAL CRISIS harming 30,618 people in 2016 and killing 15,085. So far this year it has already killed 13, 304 and harmed, 27,206. It’s guns.
Okay, some of you stopped reading right then. But as a nurse and a mother and the wife of a cancer patient, the daughter of a father who died when I was a small child–I know about loss, about struggle, about the importance of good medical care, and the difficulty of picking up your life again IF–you lost a limb, have a spinal cord injury, facial and body deformities or simply can no longer lie down and have a good night’s sleep. PTSD. You keep living it. But so far A GUN has not been part of my family history. I AM SO DAMN LUCKY. So far.
IF YOU WERE SHOT, WHAT’S YOUR FIRST LINE OF DEFENSE?
So if you skipped the above heading, please go back and read it again. What is our first line of defense. Many would answer: your own gun or a man, woman, policeman with a gun. In other words, if someone shoots you–that’s what you need right away. Yes, if you’re down and the guy is just shooting and shooting. Because then, you’re dead. But if you’re in a crowd and the shooter has moved on, your first line of defense for your life IS A DOCTOR! Or nurse EMT–someone trained to stop your bleeding.
TALK ABOUT GUNS
Dr. Garen Wintemute, an emergency department physician at UC Davis in California called on primary care doctors “to make a commitment to ask your patients about firearms when, in your judgment, it is appropriate.” He has asked his fellow doctors to sign a public commitment: “When risk factors for harm to my patient or others are present, I will ask my patients about firearms ownership and safety.”
DOCTORS CAN DO SOMETHING ABOUT IT, since February 2017 when the U.S. 11th Circuit Court of Appeals struck down a 2011 Florida law that would have barred doctors from speaking to their patients about firearms. They concluded that the act violated the first Amendment rights of doctors. Remember, they take an oath TO DO NO HARM.
Here are some things doctors could talk to their patients about:
- how do you store firearms and ammunition;
- you need safety locks and separate locked cases;
- review stats showing that 60% of U.S. gun deaths are due to suicide;
- impulsive teens with access to firearms are at high risk;
RESEARCH CENTER FOR DOCS
Dr. Wintemute is also heading the nation’s first publicly funded firearm violence research center, established by the state of California at UC Davis. For the first time in 2 decades, there is a growing body of research to guide doctors when they discuss firearms with their patients. He urges doctors NOT TO STAY ON THE SIDELINES. But with this research, Dr. Wintemute says “you won’t be acting alone.”
Examples of when THE TALK should occur:
- patients who are drinking heavily or abusing drugs should be asked about the presence of a gun in the home;
- an acute injury, difficult medical diagnosis or a job loss;
- or when a severe mental illness is not under control;
- past history of violence, including a suicide attempt or an abusive partner
THE FIRST STEP
Wintemute acknowledges that asking these questions may not lead to immediate behavior change. But there is proof that a doctor’s counseling a patient, especially when that counseling is repeated, can be a powerful prod to change and a healthier behavior. He make this IMPORTANT POINT: “The fact that it doesn’t work all the time isn’t a reason to never do it.”
IMPORTANT COMMENTS FROM DR. WINTEMUTE: “I know as an ER doctor, most of the people who die from gunshot wounds die WHERE they were shot. So for us as clinicians to make the largest inroads we can into the number of people who die, we have to prevent them from being shot in the first place. So that’s why we don’t back down. The questions are fascinating. The opportunity to make a difference for the better is fascinating. There are very very few people working it. There’s active opposition. What’s not to like?”
“Firearms are consumer products. The industry needs to move product. To the extent that they see the work that any of us do as threatening those economic interests, they see as a threat.”
A FINAL THOUGHT
To determine future blog content, I save articles from newspapers, magazines or printed items from the internet. When I checked today, I found two articles from the LA TIMES about Dr. Wintemute that I had saved. This was AFTER the Las Vegas shooting. Now as I write this piece, we have already had ANOTHER MASS SHOOTING. It has to stop. Go to: http://www.gunviolencearchive.org for statistics.
Photo: Health Tip Gunshot Wounds Chest, Doctor answers