It wasn’t exactly business as usual for Melissa Kohn, MD, attending physician in the Department of Emergency Medicine, Einstein Medical Center Philadelphia and Elkins Park.
A man was pinned under a rail car in Northeast Philadelphia one night last July. Working with fellow attending physician Megan Stobart-Gallagher, DO, she performed an emergency amputation on one of the man’s feet. The doctors’ working space was incredibly tight. Both had to crawl on hands and knees to get to the victim, and once under the rail car, there was so little room, they needed to squat. Their helmets bumped up against the bottom of the car. Temperatures under the rail car were over 100 degrees.
It’s a story Dr. Kohn has related to news reporters over and over again, and you can understand why they were so interested. Einstein emergency physicians attend to difficult trauma cases all the time, but the rail car rescue was especially dramatic.
“It’s not an experience I’ll likely have again,” Dr. Kohn says. “It’s part of what we do—not an everyday event, but it is what we’re trained to do. Not everybody has that level of training. Even within our specialty, it’s a narrow group.”
Dr. Kohn will soon have an opportunity to share that story again—as well as the story of her work as a volunteer in the medical tent during the 2013 Boston Medicine, working on patients injured by two powerful backpack bombs at the finish line. She has been selected to share her insights into those experiences, as well as her views on the emergency medical profession as a whole, at ThinkFest 2015, a one-day event sponsored by Philadelphia Magazine. She will join 23 of “our city’s biggest thinkers” invited to “share their boldest ideas and most inspiring stories.”
Other speakers on the program include the likes of Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter; Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf; Hardball host Chris Matthews; writer Buzz Bissinger, renowned for his book Friday Night Lights; and Pulitzer Prize-winning Philadelphia Inquirer architecture critic Inga Saffron. The event takes place tomorrow at the LeBow College of Business at Drexel University.
Dr. Kohn regards the honor as “an amazing opportunity to give the public insights into emergency medicine.”
In addition to the rail car emergency, the Boston Marathon bombing opens a window on the world of emergency medicine in a big way. Dr. Kohn recalls how she and all the volunteers just switched into autopilot, doing what they’d trained for years to do. A self-described Type A personality, tightly organized and focused when faced with an emergency, she says that under such circumstances, “all of that training and knowledge kicks in. You just do stuff. You don’t think about it.”
But don’t make the mistake of believing those highly trained individuals aren’t affected by exposure to such horrors. “It didn’t hit me till days later,” she says. “I didn’t lose it until the weekend afterward.”
That shared humanity is all part of the picture Dr. Kohn hopes to paint for her ThinkFest audience, but fundamentally she views her part of the program as a teachable moment about her profession. “People need to understand what we do,” she says—“how we do it, why we do it, and how we try to help people.”