How many thousands of people do kids see get shot over the course of their infinite number of hours propped in front of a television…or an app, PlayStation, on and on. And, if kids really buy into what they see and what is branded into their brains, it’s almost always 100%, one and done. One bullet stops all, no matter what the circumstances, no matter how close, how far, how armored up, how macho, etc. Kids who, obviously, morph ultimately into adults have the mindset that, once shot, you’re toast.
But, Dr. Andrew Dennis, the head trauma surgeon at Chicago’s busiest trauma hospital says it’s all bunk and cops need to know that if they’ve allowed themselves to buy into the Hollywood hype, they are quite possibly allowing a very dangerous mindset to take root in their minds. Oh, and by the way, Dr. Dennis is also a full-time police officer and member of two Northern Illinois SWAT teams.
“So much of what we understand as our frame of reference comes from Hollywood, because our frame of reference is based on what we know and what we see. And a good portion of it really does come from Hollywood or, a lot of it comes from what we’ve seen. But me, being a trauma surgeon who has seen a tremendous amount of injury that most police officers will never see…thank God, building a solid frame of reference of, even though it looks bad I mean, it may not be, it may be ugly, it may be terrible, but it may just be a soft tissue injury. And if you control the bleeding, it’s a totally survivable injury. But the problem is a lot of our frame of reference, which builds our perception, comes from Hollywood and the Hollywood mindset can be lethal. Um, you know, if you, if you’re total understanding of a gunfight and a gunshot wound is, you know, Mark Harmon shooting someone in the right chest on NCIS and that person dies instantly. Well, that’s not really true, right? I mean, over two thirds of our people that I take care of, and most trauma centers take care of the kid shot in the chest, a third of them go home the same night. The Hollywood mindset, the Hollywood frame of reference is far from accurate. And when you, if you use that to build your decision tree, then your decisions can often be highly flawed.”
His Medical Tactics course, taught to thousands of officers, is, perhaps, summed up best this way…
“The goal of this course is to force people to recognize that if you’re not dead, you’re still in the fight. The offender is probably still a threat. And at the end of the day, you know, you’re probably gonna live. Three out of five people that get shot in the chest that we see at the County, and we see five to seven people shot every day, by the way, they go home on the same day or the same night. They get an x-ray, if their lung is still up and they get a six hour chest x-ray and if they’re lung is still up in six hours, they go home. I tell them to take a shower the next morning. You know, that’s accurate, that’s the truth. But if you watch television and your frame of reference comes from TV, you’re going to think that I got shot in the chest, I’m going to die.”
As an example of the dangerous mindset I call ‘Honed by Hollywood’, Dr. Dennis tells a little story about a gravely wounded Chicago officer. Or, WAS HE?
“I’ll give you a story. Um, in the early two thousands, I took care of a police officer. We got the call from the fire department that we were, we had a Chicago police officer shot in the chest. They were inbound. He was hypotensive, meaning his blood pressure was low. He was pale. He was sweating. He was sick. So in the trauma world, if you’re dying, we classify you as sick. So are you sick? Are you not sick? Meaning are you okay? Or are you dying? Okay, so sure enough, he rolls in and in Chicago, we wear our vests, our vest carriers on the outside, probably 50, late forties year old guy. He’s every bit of what they said. He was sick. He was pale. He was diaphoresis, meaning that he’s sweating. He looked like he was dying and they flew him in. And you know, when a cop gets shot, it’s a big deal. Right? Everybody kind of goes and their adrenaline kicks in and they fly. So of course they flew in, we throw him on the bed. In trauma, the rule is strip them and flip them, stick a finger and tube in every hole. We did that and we stick a couple of big IVs in him. We started giving him a little fluid and we call for blood. I’m looking, I see no blood on this guy anywhere. He’s now naked. And I am looking and looking, and there’s not even a drop on him. We give him a couple of liters of fluid. All of a sudden his blood pressure starts coming back up. I look at him, I’m like, dude, you’re okay. I, I don’t see, where are you shot? He said in my chest. And he points to his left chest. I’m like, I don’t see anything. You’re okay. There’s no holes in you. His blood pressure comes up. He perks up. I go to the, to the vest carrier that’s on the ground now in a pile, I look at it. Sure enough. He was shot. You know, the bullet was in, there was a hole in the pocket. The bullet was stuck in a book, a little field book that was in the outside of the jacket. There was not even a back face signature on the Kevlar. It didn’t even dent the jacket. Why was he hypotensive? And I’ll tell you, he was in psychogenic shock. He had the mindset, the preordained mindset that if I get shot, I’m going to die. And he virtually did. The power of the mind is extraordinary. You can’t ignore that. And you have to recognize that when you go into the day, you have to recognize that that just because you’re shot does not mean you’re going to die. That’s the take-home.”
He adds importantly that…
“People’s biggest fear is being shot. So let’s just talk about that for a second. A projectile that comes out of a firearm, it’s pretty small, right? Nature built you in a way that protects most of your big pipes. If you’re shot, honestly, the probability of that tiny little, tiny little projectile hitting something of absolute critical nature. That’s going to kill you right there is extremely small.”
Just how small is ‘extremely small’?
“Well, people get shot all the time. We’ll take care of people with 25 holes in them, and they’ll still go home the same night. It comes down to your mental fortitude. Like I’m going to get through this. I’m good. If I’m not dead, I’m still in the fight. And that’s really the, the answer, right? If I’m not dead, I’m still in the fight. And if I’m not actively bleeding, move, stay in the fight, deal with the threat as best you can. You know, if you get a bone broken and you can’t walk, typically the bones hurt the worst. That’s really where the pain typically comes from. Okay? I mean, you’re going to have to make do. You’re going to have to find cover or concealment as best you can, but again, stay situationally where I’m staying in the fight. So it’s a combination of the medical tactics with the street tactics.”
It’s so very critical, here again, to remember always that…
“If you are not dead at that time, you are still in the fight. And if it’s the offender that’s shot, he or she is still a threat. I mean, I cannot tell you how many times we see offenders come in, you know, in handcuffs, kicking and screaming, and they have three or four holes in them…chest, torso, extremity, you name it. And they’re still kicking and screaming and they’re handcuffed to the cart for a reason. Again, that’s accurate, not what you see on TV. If you see on TV, they go down, they’re down one shot. That’s not, that’s not reality.”
Dr. Dennis adds that it’s called Medical Tactics for Cops…for a very good reason.
“That’s right. We call this medical tactics for a reason. You can’t just apply medicine and then stay on the X and get shot again. First and foremost is, you know, we, we came up with a mnemonic called breathe, stop, move. Breathe, take a breath, take it in real quick. You know, where’s the offender? Make sure you’re, you’re situationally aware. Stop, being your situational awareness. Your own safety comes first. It’s are you talking, great? Um, and then get off the X. So breathe stop move is critical. And we want you to recognize that, you know, you need to combine medical tactics with, with street tactics, breathe stop move means I don’t want you to just stop and stand there. Right? Stop stands for a couple of things. The intent is to take a breath, take inventory real quick, stop. And the stop is secure the situation, um, and under stop it’s it’s scan, it’s surveil the area, control variables, assess goals, never lose sight of the threat. Um, and then the rest of the stop is, you know, treat bleeding, open airway, prevent shock, and then move. Get off the X.”
I invite you to be looking for ‘Special Issue #54: Surviving (Seemingly) Terrible Wounds and the Power of the Mind’ coming online in November, 2020. We’ll alert you nationally via email for complete details. Visit us at lineofduty.com. The 35-minute program featuring Dr. Dennis includes a complete trainer’s guide, lesson plan, duty sheet tests, and a certificate of completion exclusively from In the Line of Duty. I’m Ron barber. Thanks for listening. And that’s Stuff You Never Ever Learned at the Academy.