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Letter to the Editor: Doctors put patient first



On October 7, a gas main ruptured outside George Washington University Hospital in Washington, D.C. The resulting street fire forced the evacuation of hundreds of patients, physicians and nurses from the hospital. Cardio thoracic surgeon Bryan Steinberg and his team were performing a coronary bypass operation at the time. The patient was connected to a heart-lung machine.

During an interview published in the October 27 American Medical News, Dr. Steinberg recalled that they initially heard rumors about a possible fire in the street, then "people started coming in and making comments that there was a car on fire," then there was an explosion "and people started reporting there was flames 40 feet in the air." Eventually, "someone came in and said that the hospital was being evacuated."

The evacuation order created a dilemma for Dr. Steinberg and his team, as it clearly jeopardized the life of their patient. Dr. Steinberg was also concerned for his coworkers:

"We tried to get the nonessential people out and at the same time continue the operation as quickly as possible. Those of us remaining were committed to caring for the patient. We said we didn't want to know any more about what is going on outside. But that didn't mean we weren't aware of what was happening. In the back of your mind you are thinking about your family."

Meanwhile, "several firemen were stationed around the operating room to make sure the environment was safe and there wasn't gas coming in," and other hospital personnel made sure that "we had adequate blood, supplies and medications before evacuating everyone. We were then at a point where we needed another 20 or 30 minutes to get off the heart-lung machine and have the work on the heart completed. So we did that."

By placing their patients's welfare ahead of concern for their own safety, Dr. Steinberg and his team were able to complete the operation without undue complication. In his words, the patient "did extremely well" and was "very appreciative."

Happily, nobody was killed and only one person was injured by the gas main rupture, fire and explosion.

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