Journal (15Sep11)by Tourguide on Thu 15 Sep 2011, 05 PM CET, Views: 455
Throughout the last year, Rachel and I have spent a majority of our time working in the walls and corridors of Landstuhl Regional Medical Center. Due to the nature of my job, I also bounce around to the other hospitals in Europe as well. Outside this, the only really change of pace in our schedule (outside our well documented weekend travel adventures), is the opportunity to support Army Medical Command conferences. As we are in the European region, again most of our tours take around Germany and the neighboring countries.
However, a couple times a year our Region combines forces with one of the other 5 regional medical commands. This is how I was able to get out to San Diego and Boston already this year. Well Rachel and I were pulled in to support a very unique conference this year. Not only was the European region looking to have a conference with the other regions, but they were looking to bring in a major civilian healthcare facility as well. Something fairly unprecedented. And not just any civilian hospital, but Johns Hopkins University and Medical Center. According to US News and World Reports, the number one hospital in America …21 years in a row.
The prestigious research university attached to the hospital is just as heralded. The National Science Foundation (NSF) has ranked Johns Hopkins University #1 among U.S. academic institutions in total science, medical and engineering research and development spending for 31 consecutive years. As of 2009, thirty-three Nobel Prize winners have been affiliated with Johns Hopkins, and the university’s research is among the most cited in the world.
However, when it comes to advancements in military medicine, the US Army has no peers. During times of war the science of battle field medicine and trauma treatment is accelerated light years. This is because in times war, medics and field surgeons are able to put experimental procedures and equipment into practice that would not have gained FDA human-testing approval for decades. But when a young GI is going to die on that make shift exam table, and there is no other option, the surgeons have the liberty to try the new and unknown. This is how they figured out a hemophilia drug, Factor VII, could also be used to create instant surface area clotting in wounded soldiers. Here you have a blown up soldier bleeding out, and some medic dumps a bag of high concentration Factor VII on their wounds, and suddenly the bleeding …stops. The soldier lives.
Additionally, unlike Johns Hopkins and every other civilian hospital, the US Army Medical Command really doesn’t have to worry about things like budgets, and profit margins to keep the lights on. The US Army can put millions of dollars towards new research without as much concern for shareholders, and the pressure for success. The Army’s mission is soldier readiness, and all other priorities fall a far distant second. To this end the Army has pioneered the world’s largest, and currently most successful, Electronic Medical Record system. At over a billion dollars and counting this system, AHLTA has been a singular blueprint for the civilian sectors on how to, and not to, create and deploy a world wide EMR.
And this is where Rachel and I come in. Johns Hopkins, like much of the US civilian sector are looking for advice on how to go electronic with their medical records. More than just the system, evidence has shown that it is the deployment and training and implementation of the system where hospitals fail. And Rachel and I have been living this aspect for years now.
So clearly both the Army and Johns Hopkins had something to offer each other. And fortunately Rachel and I were tapped to be the sole electronic medical record software trainers to represent the Army as part of this team. We were very honored to be asked to be part of this important summit of civilian and military medical minds. Plus, Johns Hopkins even agreed to host this conference, which meant something even better …we would get a free trip home.
An interesting detail soon surfaced though regarding our trip. We would be flying into Washington DC on the tenth anniversary of 9/11, on a plane full of US Army soldiers. As realization of this occurred, there was a good bit of chatter about the risk of this, and what could be done to mitigate it. With the shooting of several US soldiers a few months back at the main airport here in Western Germany, it was clear that extremists had already identified our area as what is referred to as a soft target.
Arriving at the airport the day of our flight you couldn’t help but notice the additional security. We also went through several more security stops than usual, which was at first a bit unnerving, but ultimately made us feel a bit more at ease. The biggest new step was something called “local check-in.” Meaning regardless of whether you printed out your boarding pass at home and had no bags, they still wanted to talk to you in person.
This “interview” was fascinating. They wanted to know every type of electronic I was carrying from razors to iPads, and when was the last time I had it repaired, …and by whom. They asked me not only if I had packed my bags, but where in the train I had stored them for the ride over. They asked me where I was from, …and what was the weather like there this morning.
It was interesting, as it became clear that this “agent” was less interested in my response to the question, but how I responded. He never broke eye contact, or even blinked I think. I could tell he was reading all of the subtle body language changes Rachel and I made. He was looking for particular emotional responses to being challenged. Fascinating. It reminded be of the Void-Comp tests from Blade Runner.
One you passed this test, you got a small colored sticker on your passport. This was this agent’s only job, and it was clear he had been trained specifically for it. The gate attendants then checked for this sticker as you boarded your plane. No sticker, …back to the Gestapo with you. I hope you remember how old your luggage is, that was on the test too.
One flight and 8 and half hours later, we were back on US soil. Rachel’s first return trip in over a year. Amazing, how quickly time had flown. But, it was good to be with friends and family again. We had planned an all-hands party for that Saturday to catch up with as many people as possible. You kind of feel bad when you return home after that much time, for only a week. And you hate to make it seem like you are holding court. It’s as if you are saying “OK everyone drop what your doing, and come pay your respects.”
But it’s tough. You want to see everyone, but logistics become difficult. And we still had to make our way to Baltimore to help set up the conference, not to mention both Rachel and I would be speaking at some point. In my defense, I actually drove to Richmond to see some friends who I knew couldn’t make it up. But for the most part, the only real way to see everyone is to ask them to come see you. But it worked out as best as possible, and it was great to see our families. I never thought a full year would go in my life without seeing my twin sister. Here’s hoping I never let another year go by like that again.
Rachel’s family hosted my family for the weekend and treated us all to their first matza balls and Russian caviar (Rachel’s mom had just visited Moscow). Finished it off with some Russian vodka. Not quite your normal welcome back meal, but meals with family are always the best regardless of the menu.
The Sunday before the conference was a solemn day, as it marked 10 years of the 9/11 attacks. It was interesting being back in the states for this, of all weekends. See the news coverage really brought me right back to that day. I think more than the falling buildings (which, incidentally, I don’t think I’d ever watched all the way through before), I’ll remember the phone call telling me a good friend was in tower 2. I guy I had lived with for a few years in college. Nothing brings tragedy home like a familiar face, and the heart wrenching reality that you just saw them die on national television. So Matt, here’s to you. We have not forgotten.
Its is amazing to think how much our worlds have all changed since that day. For Rachel and I, the attacks on 9/11 are the very reason we are living in Germany. Once the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan started up, the medical mission in Germany’s Landstuhl Regional Medical Center (LRMC) become critical. As we treat 100% of the wounded from both theaters of combat through here, the staff requirements here in LRMC increased exponentially. As did their need for doctors, computers systems, and computer system trainers. This is why we are here. I guess I am reminded every day I come to work here at LRMC what the results of that faithful day were. Its comforting to think that Rachel and I are doing are own part to honor those we lost on 9/11, to honor those like Matt Horning.
Leaving Virginia behind, Rachel and I set our sites on Baltimore and the conference at Johns Hopkins, which I’m glad to report went fabulously. Speaking in Heard Hall, you could feel the ghosts of medicine’s past around you. Rachel and I played our parts perfectly. We knew when to step up and when to fade into the background. I was told we made quite the power couple, ha ha.
I’d like to think we all forged an important and historic bond between the staff of Johns Hopkins and the US Army. We even made it out to a baseball game to see the Orioles. Who knows what fruits that relationship will bear in the future?
Unfortunately, our trip home was all too brief, and soon we were back on a plane to our current home in Germany. Rachel’s goodbyes were not too tough, as she knew she’d be seeing her sister next week here in Germany. Yes, its time for Oktoberfest. After trips to Paris, and to the States, we go to back out yet again for a trip to Munich. No rest for the weary. Till next week, where we’ll be coming live from the beer tents of the 2011 Oktoberfest in Munich!