This is a good news story, but underlying it is a bleak reality.
The volume of gunshot wounds and other trauma cases treated at Stroger Hospital is so high that the U.S. Navy has teamed up the past two years with the hospital’s prestigious trauma unit to keep its medical personnel better prepared for their next deployment.
The Navy guys might see as much action in a typical night at Stroger as they would if they were in a combat setting.
Let that sink in for a minute.
Then, snap out of it because the story here is that somebody was smart enough to realize that if Chicagoans are going to keep shooting and stabbing each other and crashing their cars at high speeds, we might as well use that as an opportunity to better care for our soldiers and sailors overseas.
Navy hospital corpsman 2nd class Jose Tamez is among 16 corpsmen stationed at the Lovell Federal Health Care Center in North Chicago who thus far have completed eight-week rotations through the Stroger Trauma Unit.
A corpsman is what we non-military types might know from Army terminology as a medic — the enlisted soldier who is trained to deal with medical emergencies in the field.
I met Tamez recently when he returned to the ER for his re-enlistment ceremony. Tamez said he chose the location as a way of paying back his former hospital colleagues by giving them a taste of the Navy’s tradition.
During the training program, corpsmen work alongside the hospital’s doctors, residents and nurses, many of whom crowded around a trauma bay to watch Tamez swear his oath for another three-year hitch.
Navy Capt. Paul Roach, a surgeon, said the corpsmen picked for the Stroger assignment work 12-hour shifts five to six days a week.
“They come in at night, when the action is,” said Dr. Faran Bokhari, chairman of Trauma and Burn Services for the Cook County Health and Hospital Systems.
They are treated like medical students with a presumption they have a fundamental knowledge of medicine and anatomy, as well as an ability to perform in high-pressure situations.
It’s hands-on duty. They aren’t just there to observe.
“They’re good,” Bokhari said. “Some of them have fairly advanced skill sets.”
Many of the other corpsmen have served previous overseas deployments, which can include being embedded on the ground with U.S. Marine Corps units or working in a field hospital. Tamez, 28, first enlisted in 2007 and served in Iraq from 2008 to 2009 with a five-man Air Naval Gunfire Liaison Company.
Because of their experiences, corpsmen tend to have “creative ways” of treating wounds and injuries that don’t follow traditional medical school training, Bokhari said.
“They are very direct,” he said, which I understood to mean that if there is a need to stop the bleeding, they wade right in and do whatever it takes to stop the bleeding.
Bokhari also joked that the corpsmen tend to be much more respectful than the medical residents.
“Look at these guys, they call me sir,” Bokhari said he tells the residents. “They don’t question me too much.”
The trauma unit will handle 40 cases on a typical night, including four to six gunshot victims, which is much more than the corpsmen would see at any stateside military hospital to which they might be assigned.
Tamez, who lives in Kenosha, Wisconsin, said the experience of working at Stroger helped him keep his skills sharp for his next deployment, which he expects soon.
“It makes me more confident,” he said. “It makes me a stronger leader.”
The big difference, he said, is that at Stroger he was working in a controlled setting with some of the best surgeons in the country. In combat, he could be entirely on his own.
Perhaps there’s some cold comfort in knowing something good has come of Chicago’s violence.