In Praise of Giffords' Physicians

January 19, 2011

The doctors who have cared for Rep. Gabrielle Giffords and the other victims of last week's shooting deserve more credit than they've been getting for their heroic efforts.

For all the coverage and controversy surrounding the grisly shootings last week of Rep. Gabrielle Giffords and 19 other of our fellow citzens, one storyline has gone relatively under-reported: the Herculean -- indeed, heroic -- efforts of the medical team at the University of Arizona that has cared for the victims.

So I'd like to take a moment to say thank you to Dr. Michael Lemole, the neursosurgeon who is treating Giffords, and Dr. Peter Rhee, the University of Arizona's head of trauma surgery. And let's please not forget the dozens, even hundreds, of nurses, techs, orderlies, and others who toil tirelessly in obscurity and whose efforts are crucial to patient care.

Lemole and Rhee in particular have done a service both to their patients and to their country. Not only have they saved lives, they have also spent time explaining to us the nature of the lawmaker's injury, their sense of her progress so far, and their view (so far as they can ascertain at this point) of her prospects for recovery. Every day, they have been behind the podium. (The briefings have become less frequent the last few days.) And their interactions with the press have been absolutely perfect: They have been commanding without being arrogant. They have given us hope but not false hope. They have been informative about an extremely complex topic without being pedantic. And they've been humble, insofar as they have given Giffords most of the credit for the progress she's made.

There's no training for that part of a situation like this. There's no medical school class on how to deal with a roomful of reporters and TV cameras. One minute you're Joe Doctor, the next your face is on the evening news every night and you're chatting with Diane Sawyer.

When do these guys sleep? (And where? According to Mark Kelly, Giffords' husband, Rhee moved his own family into a hotel across the street from the medical center, so that he could spend as much time as possible at the hospital. Did somebody say "Work/life balance?")

Sooner or later, Lemole and Rhee will get their public plaudits. The president will invite them to the White House and hold a press conference in their honor. They will receive a Congressional declaration of some sort. Barbara Walters will name them among her most fascinating people of the year. 

But before all that gets started, I'd just like to say: Thanks, guys, for reminding us all why we love doctors. America is in your debt.