KNAU and Arizona News
Wed January 12, 2011
Tucson Surgeons and Sheriff Give Glimpse into Their Drive and Humanity
By Michel Marizco
Tucson, AZ – Pima County Sheriff Clarence Dupnik was just minutes into a press briefing when he started talking about his personal loss in Saturday's killings.
"Five people were killed. One of whom - two of whom - are personal friends of mine, including councilwoman Giffords. One being a federal judge, John Roll."
Dupnik, of course, meant Congresswoman Giffords. He's an experienced lawman who suddenly found himself bound by professional duty on one hand, and grief on the other. Then, the anger crept in.
"The anger, the hatred, the bigotry that goes on in this country is getting to be outrageous. And unfortunately, Arizona I think has become sort of the capital. We have become the mecca for prejudice and bigotry."
Dupnik has since been slammed for these comments, criticized by Republican senators and AM talk radio deejays for confusing the personal with the professional. All across Tucson, the people of this close-knit community they call the Old Pueblo have been grappling with the grief behind Saturday's killings. All told, six people were murdered, another 14 were shot. Sheriff Dupnik's reaction makes sense to
Professor Jake Jacobs, a psychology professor at the University of Arizona. He studies the affects of trauma on soldiers and emergency workers.
The sheriff? As he stepped outside of his role as the sheriff, and began to speak personally, we got more opinions. The anger came out, I think."
The 75 year old sheriff wasn't the only one expressing his personal feelings. The pressure of the past few days has even weighed on the doctors, including Dr. Michael Lemole, the neurosurgeon who's been at Giffords' bedside. He spoke to the press on Monday morning.
"I was personally touched. My wife brought my children by to the memorial and really the look on the childrens' faces said it all and it really spoke to the way the community has come together, the way it's healing and the way it's trying to heal."
Prof. Jacobs says the doctors are doing the most normal thing in the world, reaching out to the Tucson community.
"If there's anything we know, it's connecting with others that helps in moments like these."
Then there's Dr. Peter Rhee, UMC's chief trauma surgeon. Speaking about her condition, his experience as a battlefield surgeon comes through.
"I think that she has a one hundred and one percent chance of surviving. She will not die. She does not have that permission from me."
Dr. Rhee says he's seen much worse injuries in war. He was one of the first trauma surgeons deployed to Afghanistan, then started the first surgical unit in Ramadi, Iraq. If Giffords' case is affecting him adversely, Rhee isn't showing it.
"That evening here in Tucson after mass casualty type of event, we had another person shot in the chest and died in our emergency room as well. This goes on all day long."
Asked how it compares to war, Rhee smiles and says it doesn't.
"This is a piece of cake."
In Tucson, I'm Michel Marizco.