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Out of the Tunnel


Rachel North
Rachel North
Susan Ormiston
Susan Ormiston

The most riveting and moving University Grand Rounds of the year was given by a patient -- Rachel North. After hearing her speak on the BBC when he was in the UK, Richard Reznick invited Rachel, a young British marketing executive and writer, to be the Kergin Lecturer, interviewed by the able CBC correspondent Susan Ormiston.

Rachel told us the story of her experience on July 7, 2005, when a 19-year-old suicide bomber pushed himself into the overcrowded carriage she was riding on the London underground and detonated a rucksack full of explosives, killing 26 people at Kings Cross Station. Her heroic response was to lead survivors out of the train, along the dark underground passage to the next station. "Would we be electrocuted? Would there be more bombs?" She described her care by the doctors and nurses and "ticket collectors who sprinted into the tunnel and tore their shirts to try to stop the bleeding". Her empathetic response to her rescuers and fellow survivors is one of the most touching parts of her well-written book Out of the Tunnel - inspiring summer reading.

When Hugh Scully asked, "Have you connected with the first responders and the feelings that they have?" Rachel told us, "There are several first responders in King's Cross United, the support group of survivors who continue to meet after the bombing. The police officer who was the first man into the train, who had to walk away from the carnage, suffered extremely severe post-traumatic stress. He had been involved in several traumatic events before and the 7th of July broke him. Underground ticket collectors who led out the wounded went on to suffer severely in the aftermath. I'm in contact with fire officers who had to carry some of the people out of the train without stretchers, using the coats dropped by passengers. One of the most difficult things for them is that as they carried out these people two of them died in their arms. There is an enormous, profound sense of gratitude to the first responders and an enormous sense of compassion, because we ran away - they went towards, which takes an extraordinary kind of courage, because they're not protected by shock, they are knowingly walking into things that are appalling and that would make anybody despair. One of the things that we found helpful was to go to the pub with these people and say thank you. The police officer was particularly stressed by the fact that we had to leave people behind and he obsessed over it for a long time - the people he had to walk away from knowing the last thing they would see would be him walking away. It was only when he met all the people who didn't die, and we were all jumping on him saying thank you, thank you, you were the first voice we heard, you were the person who told us we were going to get out, that he was able to recognize the fact that he had helped, that he had been part of people's recovery. So we owe a great debt; these people are heroes."

Chris Feindel asked what we can learn from her experience to help the patients who cope with the psychological and physical trauma we inflict as surgeons. "Help them feel that they are in control - not helpless victims."

There is a back story of an earlier experience that helped prepare Rachel North for her ordeal. Read about it in her book, or visit http://rachelnorthlondon.blogspot.com/


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