Catherine Mazzola, MD, FAANS
I will never forget the Thursday of the Paramus Eastbrook School bus accident. Our team at NJPNI was just about to start our Thursday “lunch and learn”, when Dr. Louis Difazio called me. Lou is the Chief of the Trauma Team at Morristown and a great friend. He told me there was a bus accident and about 24 children were being transported to Morristown Emergency Room. While he was talking, I called my colleagues together, and we headed across the street. We were there within ten minutes, and the Trauma Bay was filled with pediatric patients, nurses, physicians, and surgeons. There were four children with serious head trauma that we cared for that day. We train for polytrauma events, but thankfully, we seldom must deal with multiple pediatric trauma patients at once.
Triage, or the rapid evaluation and management of emergency patients, is a skill acquired after years of training and experience. I remember evaluating the four head trauma patients and one of my colleagues questioning my direction. I remember feeling neither insult nor anger, but I repeated my “request” and stated that this was really not a request, but an “order” based on my experience. I told him that I would take full responsibility for all my decisions, regardless of the outcome. Days later, he asked me how I “knew” what to do in that situation. After years of training in Newark, Pittsburgh, and Hackensack, NJ, I have seen numerous head trauma patients and I knew what had to be done, expediently.
I made many decisions that day. I spoke to many parents. I will never forget sitting in the Pediatric ICU conference room and telling the mother of a child I had just operated on that her daughter had a 50% chance of making it through the night. There were tears in my eyes and she was sobbing. Today, with the efforts of so many great doctors and nurses and therapists, that child is alive. She will always have scars, both physical and emotional, that she and her family will live with forever. We were all changed that day.
I remember driving home that night and going to the Lions Club Carnival, where I was supposed to be volunteering. I recall looking at all the young kids, teens, and their families. I was thinking about how quickly life can change and how grateful we should be for everyday with our children.
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