At one of my clinicals, I worked with two patients with cervical-level spinal cord injuries caused by gunshot wounds. These patients were young men who described their accidents as "being in the wrong place at the wrong time," or something to that effect. Their lives went quickly from revolving around friends and weekend parties to learning how to sit up and get out of bed without help.
I was raised in a relatively quiet part of Wisconsin where crime remains at a low level compared to other areas of the country. A little more than a year ago, Wisconsin adopted a concealed-carry law, allowing individuals to apply for a license giving them the right to carry a concealed weapon. At that time there was a lot of media attention on the consequences and risks of that law as well as many discussions on the second amendment as part of the foundation of our country. One year later, the few news articles I've read today reviewing the concealed-carry law agree that there was little drawback to the change.
After the news of the tragedy between Jovan Belcher of the Kansas City Chiefs and his girlfriend, as well as the comments and opinions of Bob Costas, I started to think about the impact gun violence has within the physical therapy profession. Gunshot wounds are the second most-common cause of spinal cord injuries, behind only motor-vehicle accidents. In 2003, a research article about gunshot wounds and spinal cord injuries found the average cost of one day in a rehabilitation hospital to be approximately $1,900.
Aside from spinal cord injuries, gunshot wounds can result in various musculoskeletal, neuromuscular and even cardiopulmonary damage depending on the path of the bullet. Regardless of your position on gun control or a person's right to bear arms, it's clear that injuries from guns impact our profession across all settings.
Now, I don't know a lot. I don't know what's required to purchase a gun or where safety classes are offered. I'm not an expert on constitutional rights or the history of guns in America. But, I do know what it's like to look at patients following a gunshot injury and see their faces as they struggle to complete what they once took for granted. I've heard the message these patients say to their friends and families -- that violence with guns wasn't worth the price they paid in the long run.
It seems like this is an area where we could work together to reduce the number of injuries resulting from gunshot violence, or accidents. There are two general areas of "gun control" to reduce the number of casualties; either by limiting the number of guns in the population (or limiting who uses them), or by changing the culture surrounding how guns are used (such as the "guns don't kill, people do" mentality). Which perspective do you see as a more effective way of reducing gun-related injuries?
What do you think about this particularly sensitive subject? Have you ever worked with a gunshot wound victim? What do you think about the laws for or against weapons?
Waters, R.L., & Sie, I.H. Spinal cord injuries from gunshot wounds to the spine. Clin Orthop Relat Res. 2003 Mar; (408):120-5.
Smith, W., Simmonds, J.O., Alam, Z.A., & Grand, R.E. Spinal cord injury caused by gunshot wounds: the cost of rehabilitation. Clin Orthop Relat Res. 2003 Mar; (408):145-51.