I Should Have Been There

LarkinA large part of my life is connected to the World Trade Center. I grew up in New Jersey and watched the towers rise into the sky. I worked in their shadow as an emergency medical technician before I became a BMET. I have friends who served in the buildings as members of the Port Authority Police Department and immediate family that worked in the towers and nearby. So when I sat hundreds of miles away and watched video of those columns filled with thousands of people crash to the ground, my first reaction was to run to the scene to do something—anything—to help my family, my friends, my fellow human beings.

But, to be honest, there were many other people prepared to help who were closer to Ground Zero in New York, closer to the Pentagon, and in Southwestern Pennsylvania, and those people, frankly, were better qualified than I was to render immediate assistance.

Those rational facts didn’t make me feel any less frustrated. It’s a feeling I share with many other Americans confronted by the video images of that devastating horror. The emotion is particularly acute among professionals who work in healthcare technology service and support. We’re hands-on people in this industry, and we are confounded when we cannot engage a problem with direct action. Somehow, aiding from afar doesn’t feel like enough.

And that’s wrong.

Just as the beating of a butterfly’s wings effects the climate a hemisphere away, the work we do in our local communities will help humanity succeed in the battle against violent, hate-filled criminals like the ones who perpetrated the atrocities that occurred on Sept. 11. The worst thing we can do is to pour all of our grief into one horrific event and fail to prepare for future disasters, both man-made evils and those tribulations Nature will inevitably throw at us. We must honor those who perished that sad day by preparing the healthcare system to deal with future emergencies that may disrupt logistics, telecommunications and air travel.

This means putting an end to many of the petty skirmishes waged within our industry over nickels and dimes. If a vendor gouges customers with radically overpriced materials or withholds access to parts, manuals and training, instead of assisting organizations that have sufficient resources to perform on-site service, its actions could cause a critical device to be left unavailable in an emergency. That is bad. By the same token, a biomed department that refuses to manage “little stuff”, such as infusion pumps, gas regulators, sphygmomanometers and stretchers, could leave its facility without enough devices to set up a disaster triage site.

We need to assess our inventories. We must consider forms of limited pre-staging of material for emergencies—for example, using information technology tools to group available inventory so it can be quickly gathered when needed. We need to create alternative service strategies in case regular channels become disrupted, and increase the number of technicians out in the field. Most of all, we need to increase efforts to recruit more young people to become biomedical equipment technicians.

It’s a shame when it takes a profound tragedy to put life’s priorities in perspective, but it would be more shameful if we failed to improve our industry’s contribution to healthcare quality and preparedness. A long struggle faces humanity. All of us must do our part.

Many people in our industry responded heroically with direct action on Sept. 11 and I am proud to say they are my colleagues. The rest of us now face the daunting challenge of becoming indirect heroes, contributing every day to improve healthcare, a bulwark of human civilization.

Knowing I am part of a noble industry eased my personal frustration and I am confident we will emerge from this trial with renewed focus. I am confident we will embrace the mission that lies before us. I am confident we will prevail.

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