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A Postgame Nightmare

Robert G. Hosey, MD


Ihave always enjoyed attending scholastic football games. I've savored the enthusiasm, intensity, and desire displayed by the young athletes. This began when I was old enough to join my father, a high school coach, on the sidelines, and it continues today as I serve as a team physician for a local high school.

Now I treat injured players and protect them from further injury. Ice, braces, pads, tape, splints, and a backboard accompany my trusty stethoscope and penlight to all of the games. I routinely care for players with bumps, bruises, strains, sprains, and the occasional fracture. Most of the time I'm able to enjoy the game and feel well prepared to handle any injuries that occur. But recently something happened that I was clearly not prepared to manage.

With the glow from the field lights still illuminating the empty stadium, I had finished my postgame duties in the training room and was making my way to my car. From across the parking lot, I saw the athletic director coming in my direction. His actions and concerned facial expression showed that something was terribly wrong. When he reached me, he reported that two youths and been shot just outside our high school.

Without any medical equipment, I ran to the street where disbelieving onlookers had gathered. The police had already arrived and designated the "crime scene" with the all-too-familiar yellow tape. Announcing that I was a physician, I crossed under the tape. Immediately I saw a young man who had been shot once in the head, but who was still conscious and alert. The other victim had already been declared dead.

I found myself going through the motions of treating the surviving victim. Without any emergency equipment, all I could do was hold pressure on his wound and talk to this confused and scared young man. The wait for the ambulance seemed excruciatingly long. But fortunately, the vehicle quickly arrived, and the youth survived his wounds.

That night I had a difficult time sleeping. I kept replaying the events following the shooting. I had felt inept, as if I were participating in someone else's nightmare. It all felt surreal.

Unfortunately, such scenes are all too real. More and more violence is occurring at high school athletic events. Nowadays arguments are settled with guns and bullets, not with words and fists as they were in the past. Violence has always been part of football, but now it has spread to the bleachers and parking lot. More police and security guards are present at games to quell unruly fans. Some high schools have even stopped scheduling night games, opting to play only in the relative safety of daylight. If the violence continues, games may soon be played without spectators save the plethora of police employed to keep the peace. For the sake of the game and the athletes, I hope this scenario does not come true.

I still enjoy attending high school football games and being a team physician. But now I also prepare mentally to deal with gunshot wounds, and I feel a little less secure standing on the sidelines.

Dr Hosey is a clinical instructor and sports medicine fellow in the Division of Family Medicine at the University of California, Los Angeles. He also serves as team physician for St Bernard's High School in Playa Del Rey, California.



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