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Day 3 Friday Aug 29th Tucson. Medical matters.

“He who desires to practice surgery must go to war” Hippocrates

University of Arizona Medical Center, and an interview with trauma surgeon Dr Peter Rhee. I blush to confess my  failure to realise how much of a media celebrity he is. Slap wrist for inadequate preparation in advance.

I knew from a list of his contributions to medical journals that he was interested in the correlation between variations in gun control laws from one state to another and  gun casualty statistics; and that he was thus pretty likely to be in favour of gun control. For example: “Repeal of the concealed weapon law and its impact on gun-related deaths and injuries” (March 2014) and its unsurprising conclusion – “Liberalization of gun access is associated with an increase in fatalities from guns.”

I knew also that Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords had been shot in Tucson in 2011. I surmised that she was therefore likely to have been treated at his hospital?

 “Yes, I’m going to go golfing with her husband this Saturday”


This [as I was later to learn from his colleague] the husband who, on his desperate flight to her bedside, was listening to CNN News  announcing her death. Dr Rhee swiftly countered that she was not only alive but had a 101% chance of survival, and operated successfully to prove his point.

Rhee is particularly proud of his hospital’s recent record in brain surgery. Seven years ago the survival rate for people shot in the brain was 10%; it now stands at 47%. It remains at 10% in the rest of the States. Gabrielle Giffords was in the right city.

Not only is Peter Rhee in favour of gun control, but he is a passionate advocate who has drawn down on himself the full wrath of the gun lobby. The second amendment?

“Not meant for today”

He recommended that I go to an Arizona gun show to see the full extent of the lunacy. Sadly none were currently available to me.

“The NRA (National Rifle Association) has got our country to a frenzy”

The statistics are staggering: there 105,000 gun casualties a year in the US. Every 5 minutes someone is shot; every 16 minutes someone dies. There are 88 gun deaths a day.

“We lost a guy this morning- gunshot wound to the chest”

There are 11,000 gun suicides a year.

I asked if, in his opinion, most trauma surgeons tend to be supporters of gun control. Not necessarily: one of his colleagues has diametrically opposing views, “packs a gun”, keeps one in his car, others at home. “I wouldn’t have a gun in the home.” I asked him what the difference was between him and his colleague and he couldn’t resist a swipe: “I’m just more clever than him”

“I have guns: a military souvenir, a hunting gun – [his colleague] bought me an assault rifle. It’s a nice toy.” 

But they are not kept available to confront intruders: “I don’t believe in home protection”

“I have this woman in – 67 years old. Hole in the stomach. She won’t be able to eat.”

Please God, not my lovely friend Bonnie Short! (see Day 2).

What do you know about Dr Goodfellow? Have you heard of him?

“My colleague Dan Judkins has started a Goodfellow Award.”

Dan Judkins is instantly conjured at the end of the phone and an arrangement is made on the spot for me to visit him later that day. I cannot tell you how delighted I was to have discovered an American trauma surgeon who is a Goodfellow enthusiast! (Well, I suppose I just did…)
Peter Rhee

It was a privilege to be given half an hour of Dr Rhee’s time. I have ordered a copy of his book  “Trauma Red: The Making of a Surgeon in War and in America’s Cities” which will fill out some detail on his 39 years service in the Navy which took him to Iraq and Afghanistan (See Hippocrates quote at head of blog).






For anyone interested in more detail, I encourage you to look up Arizona Daily Star and put in “Dr Rhee” for a series of excellent interviews  (with some  interesting comments) conducted by more competent interviewers than myself.

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