The paramedic rushed into Mission Hospital’s trauma bay, cradling
the little boy who had been badly burned in a house fire. The paramedic
cautiously placed the child on a bed so trauma surgeon
Almaas Shaikh, MD
, could carefully and quickly tend to him. Around her, physicians, nurses
and staff sprang into action, working in harmony like members of an orchestra.
“My job is to conduct these notes into a beautifully orchestrated
symphony,” said Dr. Shaikh, trauma medical director.
At that moment in time, like every other moment she is charged with helping
patients, Dr. Shaikh’s only focus was trying to save a life, staving
off further injury and bringing healing.
“When you are in this room, you keep emotions out of this room,” she said.
It was only later, after she had done what she could, that she allowed
the tragedy of a badly burned little boy to affect her. When she got off
her 24-hour shift, she drove to her 4-year-old son’s preschool just
to watch him play. The smell of smoke from the fire still permeated her
clothes and hair.
As the leader of
Mission Hospital’s Trauma Center
– one of three in the county and the only regionally designated
Level II trauma center in south Orange County – Dr. Shaikh has the
challenging task of bringing order to chaos and helping patients and families
in their darkest hours. She serves the critically injured and their families
with expertise and compassion. She was born to do this.
“I knew I wanted to do something to serve and help people,” she said.
Mission Hospital is uniquely equipped to help the most severely injured
patients around the clock. Eight to 10 times a day, patients with injuries
or wounds caused by external force or violence are rushed to Mission Hospital’s
Trauma Center. A traumatic injury can be anything from a gunshot wound
to a bad fall. The three biggest traumas treated at Mission Hospital are
car and motorcycle collisions, falls, and sports-related injuries such
as surfing and boogie board accidents.
Anyone suffering a traumatic injury in south Orange County will come to
Mission Hospital, Dr. Shaikh says. It’s important that people understand
the expertise and resources available to them.
“If you are in south Orange County, Mission Hospital is your trauma
center,” she said.
Unlike other non-trauma centers, where medical personnel also are charged
with emergency room responsibilities, Dr. Shaikh and other members of
the trauma team are solely dedicated to trauma care. Mission Hospital
has a specially trained trauma nurse who stays with a patient throughout
the critical stage of care, which is also rare among trauma centers. The
trauma team is busy, handling about 2,500 traumas a year.
“The vast majority of traumatic injuries are preventable and can
be prevented by things people choose to do or not do. In many cases, it’s
a choice that we make,” Dr. Shaikh said. “In a disease like
cancer, often times, we don’t have a choice; in the disease of trauma,
most often it is our choice.”
Trauma is the number one killer of youth, Dr. Shaikh said. She sees the
young people who were texting and driving, who suffered neck injuries
from diving into shallow water, who were riding their bicycles without
a helmet. She also sees older patients on blood thinners who hurt themselves
badly after falling.
All of these patients need immediate care.
In the world of trauma medicine, time is life. Trauma surgeons and specialists
know that a patient has the best chance of survival if he or she is seen
and treated within 60 minutes of a traumatic injury. That period of time
is known as the “Golden Hour.” The patient’s chances
of survival decreases significantly after that window closes.
“That’s when the clock starts ticking,” she said. “We
have 60 minutes to make an impact.”
When a trauma call comes in, Dr. Shaikh says two prayers. She prays that
she doesn’t know the patient coming through the doors of Mission
Hospital. Her second prayer is this: “Please guide my hands and
heart to lead this team to doing what is right.”
Calm in chaotic situations, Dr. Shaikh says she is blessed to lead the
Mission trauma team. But trauma medicine goes beyond the hospital’s
walls, she said.
“It’s not just about what happens in this room. It’s
about going out there and making it better in the community,” she
said. She’s dedicated to preventing traumatic injuries and educating
people about safety precautions including wearing helmets while riding
motorcycles and bicycles.
As much as she loves her job, one thing that will never get easier is telling
someone that a loved one has died.
“There are no words to describe a mother’s tears. No words
can heal a broken heart,” she said. “There’s often nothing
you can say.”
Dr. Shaikh sees patients at their worst, when they are in pain and are
vulnerable. She often has a chance to see them whole again. Many come
back to thank her and her team for the exceptional care they received.
Dr. Shaikh keeps a folder filled with thank you letters and cards from
grateful patients and relatives. It’s a tangible reminder of the
difference she and her colleagues are making in the lives of people in
“This profession is very close to my heart,” she said.
For more information about Mission Hospital’s Trauma Center, please click
here. For more information about Dr. Shaikh, please click
Photos courtesy of Joel Rahmatulla, Mission Hospital.