Neuron Culture


My brother, who started his medical career as a pulmonary tech at a naval hospital and is now the medical director for the National Disaster Medical System — a system that draws heavily on medical personnel normally employed outside government — sent me this account of his Inauguration Day, which he spent overseeing the NDMS care of the vast crowd on the Mall.

Allen’s job that day, for which he spent months preparing, was to be ready for anything from stubbed toes and headaches to widespread medical disasters of the sort best not pondered (except by disaster relief people). The day proved both quieter and more eventful than he dared hope. Below is his email to me and my family describing the day — teenage medical heroes, very cold and highly determined children, and a drive-by to remember. It captures nicely the day’s keenly desired but still unexpected wonderfulness. I’m running it below the break, complete with emailish typos etc intact.

End of a LONG 6 months of medical support for events early this am. On January 17, visitors began really arriving – everyone joyful and happy to be here. We had some 8 First Aid Stations set up on the National Mall towards the Lincoln Memorial for the Inauguration Opening Ceremony and performances on January 18. We knew that there were many people as we sent teams of docs and nurses out in the cold morning at 8am to meet the volunteer Explorer teams (older teens with EMT certification) at the Aid Stations. Usual fiasco as the security gave us the wrong credentials for our logisitics folks who then couldn’t deliver our medical supplies for about 2 hours. Luckily the Explorer groups had AEDs [defibrilators] and some limited supplies. As one of the teams entered their tent they heard a ruckus outside. The young Explorer kids ran outside with their gear to find a 50 year old man who had a sudden cardiac arrest. They started CPR and our nurses quickly came out, slapped on the AED pads and turned on the machine. After the third shock the man’s pulse returned and he began breathing on his own. EMS transported him to a nearby hospital where he is alive today.

An auspicious start, you think? 400,000 showed up that day then 1.4 million people on the mall itself for the Inauguration yesterday. Not one death. Not one arrest by the Metropolitan Police. Lots of people refusing transports to hospitals because they wanted to go back outside and be there.

A 10 year old boy up close to the Capitol steps who was so lethargic and weak from hypothermia he couldn’t put his arms around the neck of one of my docs who carried him 100 yards back to one of our medical RVs with Mom right behind. 2 hours later and warmed up he refused to go home and returned with his Mom to there area where they watched the Inauguration.

On the way to the event at 4:15 am the day of the Inauguration we missed the first Metro train because it was too packed in every car for us to get on. Same for the second train and we turned away to walk instead when I saw a small gap in one of the cars. My good friend J.P. (a great US Public Health Service clinical psychologist who recently returned from Afghanistan where he was working to assist the Afghans in building a mental health system from scratch) and I squeezed in among young families and the elderly who, well before dawn, were laughing and looking joyful. We were in our camoflage uniforms and before we knew it the families and kids and grandmas were asking questions about what we did and why we were there, thanking us profusely, having their friends and families take their photos along side of us. You could see that the country’s Constitution had finally reached fruition or a maturity in their eyes. ‘Obama’ knit hats on everyone.

The mall so crowded with humanity, cold but joyful and expectant. The First Aid Stations were not that warm but people crowding in, some sick, many just cold but emptied out as the ex-presidents and VIPs began walking out onto the Inauguration platform, all welcomed with huge cheers. Our medical folks tired and cold from being there already 5 hours, all smiles and joviality.

Busy until the wee hours this morning [Jan 21]. Late in the evening we took a break and took the Metro to Chinatown to get a burger. Everyone dressed in evening gowns of every sort, tuxes with hats of every sort. Smiling and laughing folks crowded on the sidewalks heading to the Metro and the many balls and galas. We’re sitting tired in our dirty, stinky camoflage next to some equally tired Capitol Police watching with appreciation and wonder through the big Fuddruckers’ window when motorcycles with flashing lights go streaking by, sirens wailing, followed by new shiny limos, one with the Presidential and US flags flying on the front fenders and the back windows rolled down in the cold night air. People turning and yelling good wishes, waving and jumping up and down. It was something else. More than I ever thought possible.

CAPT Allen Dobbs, MD
Chief Medical Officer
National Disaster Medical System
[Jan 21, 2009]


  1. #1 Tony P
    January 22, 2009

    Check out the link in this post. It’s the FBI Command Center tour. Even they say it was a banner event, no protest, no real problems other than angry people who were trying to get there.

    Kudos to your brother and all the medical staffing those stations.

    And the 10 year old, that just warms the hell out of my heart. Even at 10 he knows a good president and momentous event.

  2. #2 Art
    January 22, 2009

    Thank-you for the report from the inside.

    Good job taking care of the crowds.

    Hang tough.

    Get some rest. Relax. Catch some sun.

    Then get back to work and start planning on how we, the broke and long abused American people, are going to handle the next big thing/event/disaster.

    And, because in the middle of it I won’t be able to say so, thanks ahead of time for what your do when things get tough.

  3. #3 Anon
    January 22, 2009

    Great story, just one nitpick:

    . . . new shiny limos, one with the Presidential and US flags flying on the front fenders and the back windows rolled down in the cold night air.

    The presidential limo has bulletproof windows that don’t roll down. Must have been some other VIP in a gov’t limo.

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