Alan Pean sought refuge

Alan Pean, a college student with bipolar disorder, recognized in the midst of a manic episode with terrifying delusions that he needed help. Driving to the first emergency room he could find, he sought refuge in our medical system.

As he lost track of reality and a frightening paranoia set in, he became agitated. At another hospital, personnel trained in de-escalation might have helped re-orient him to his surroundings and calm the situation. A doctor may have given him Haldol to calm his storming mind and help him sleep until the morning when a trained psychiatrist could have tended more thoroughly to his suffering.

Unfortunately, he ended up in the wrong hospital that day. He ended up at a hospital patrolled by armed off-duty police officers with no training in de-escalation and insufficient experience helping patients having psychiatric crises. Rather than help Alan, they shot him the chest, rupturing his lung. The bullet passed within millimeters of his aorta, millimeters of his life.

When a surgeon rushed into the bloody room, he shouted “Take the cuffs off now, we have no time to waste!” He pleaded with officer, “We can’t do anything with him cuffed. Take the damn cuffs off him!”

Hearing these words, I thought back to the many horrifying videos I’ve seen of cops gunning down black men and women. Placing bullet after bullet into their sacred bodies, tearing into their organs and spilling their precious blood. I thought back to seeing Tamir Rice lay there, his life draining from his body, the police doing nothing.

“Check his pulse!” I want to scream. “Put pressure on the wound and call for an ambulance!”

And I watch them do nothing. I watch them put fatally injured boys and girls, women and men in handcuffs. I watch them crafting their alibis. I want to throw up.

Medical training cultivates an instinct for saving a life–that most precious and fragile thing. It could not be further from this callousness.

Alan Pean nearly died because a police officer saw little value to his life, but lived because those police were outnumbered by doctors and nurses who recognized that value and immediately set about preserving it.

“Take the damn cuffs off him!” they shouted. We shouted.

You can read the New York Times story here.

You can listen to the This American Life episode here.

Author: Harrison Kalodimos

I'm a family medicine resident at Swedish Medical Center in Seattle.

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