A 15-member volunteer team of critical-care specialists from the Shock-Trauma Unit in Baltimore is standing by, ready to go into American military hospitals in Germany to handle any casualties from the Persian Gulf.
The Shock-Trauma team, which can be mobilized within 24 hours, is one of 25 teams recruited by the Society of Critical Care Medicine from 75 major medical centers across the country for overseas wartime duty, said Dr. T. James Gallagher, the society's president and director of critical care at the University of Florida at Gainesville.
The teams would augment trauma personnel at three military hospitals in Germany, said Gallagher, whose group has 5,000 members.
This is the first time volunteer teams of critical-care specialists have been pulled together to care for victims of serious war injuries by the society's newly formed disaster control task force.
Gallagher said the task force was set up at the request of the Department of Defense.
The teams will include surgeons, anesthesiologists, critical-care physicians and nurses and allied health-care personnel, such as respiratory therapists.
They will be given five days' notice before they are deployed, said Dr. Howard Belzberg, a critical-care physician and a member of Shock-Trauma's team.
"We've had a very spontaneous response and everyone is very concerned about the possibility there will be severe casualties," Belzberg said. "And, since we have very specific expertise, people want to do everything that's possible to help support our soldiers over there."
Belzberg, a native of Los Angeles, is 39 and single. But some of the Shock-Trauma volunteers are married with families, he said. This would be Belzberg's first experience caring for war casualties.
The teams will be used for a maximum of two or three weeks only on a rotating basis because of the rigors and pressures attached to treating the multi-injured or most critically wounded patients, Gallagher said in a telephone interview from Salt Lake City, Utah.
Gallagher, a professor of anesthesiology and surgery, said the teams would either assist the physicians in Germany or help in the transfer process of the wounded who would be returning to Department of Veteran Affairs medical centers, initially on the East Coast.
He said the Society for Critical Care Medicine, the largest provider of critical care in the United States, approached individual members of its organization, and not medical institutions, in the formation of the volunteer teams.
"We've asked our members to find volunteers within their own institutions who would be willing to care for the worst war casualties under very trying conditions," Gallagher said.
"Each team would be made up of about eight people. If Shock-Trauma has come up with 15, that's good. Perhaps they will be able to provide us with two teams."
Belzberg said the size of the Baltimore volunteer team would not adversely affect the quality of care at Shock-Trauma.