A Doctor Responds to London Terror Alert

Robert Siegel talks with Dr. Peter Holden, who treated victims of the Tavistock Square bus bombing in London Thursday. The bus bombing occurred right near his office in the British Medical Association building. Holden tells how they set up a ward to treat several dozen victims in the building's courtyard.

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ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

The double-decker bus that was blown up yesterday was in the Bloomsbury section of London, at Tavistock Square. By coincidence, it was right near the headquarters of the British Medical Association. And one of the compelling stories of Londoners battling adversity was what the medical personnel inside BMA headquarters did. Dr. Peter Holden is a family physician, and he was inside BMA headquarters yesterday.

Now that wasn't entirely by coincidence. You're there quite often.

Dr. PETER HOLDEN (Family Physician): Yes. I'm there every Wednesday and Thursday. I am one of the six chief representatives of family doctors in the United Kingdom.

SIEGEL: Tell us what happened yesterday morning.

Dr. HOLDEN: I went to work as normal, got there about 8:30 in the morning. We tend to start a little bit later than the Americans. And I'd just been out for a coffee. I came back, and suddenly, there was a large bang, and it was very close. We could actually hear it, see it, smell it and feel it. We felt the vibration. The group of us in there, we are a mixed sort of background. I have been trained in major incident work. A couple of my colleagues have military service, and one was from Northern Ireland. We all looked to one another and said, `That's a terrorist bomb. There will be a secondary device. We stay where we are.' After 10 minutes, we decided there was unlikely to be a secondary device, so we went to the front of the building. And the others said, `Peter, you know what to do. You're major-incident trained. You get on with it.'

SIEGEL: You mean, you were sort of appointed boss on the spot.

Dr. HOLDEN: Appointed. I think I was dumped on, told `You're it, mate. Get on with it.' And we started bringing patients in from the street on tabletops and we put them down in the courtyard. And long and short we took in several dozen casualties, and apart from one who was moribund at our front door, everybody who arrived at the BMA house alive left in better condition than when they arrived.

SIEGEL: What sort of injuries were you treating?

Dr. HOLDEN: One of the features of blast injuries, sometimes there may be no external marks, and there can be very significant internal injuries. But then we were also dealing with the problems of people being thrown from a height, flung against walls, the direct shrapnel cuts, lacerations, head injuries, chest injuries, abdominal injuries, severe limb injuries.

SIEGEL: I think we'd probably all like to think that we would keep our heads in a situation like this and do something useful.

Dr. HOLDEN: Very easy to lose it.

SIEGEL: I can only imagine, and what do you do to stay focused at that point and...

Dr. HOLDEN: It's training, training, training, and fortunately, in a situation like this, we have well-rehearsed plans in the UK and we are all trained the same basic pattern, and your training just kicks in. You know, this is not that this is a terrorist bomb. This is I have got so many casualties with blast injuries. Now deal.

SIEGEL: Of the people whom you treated yesterday outside BMA house, the headquarters of the British Medical Association, is there one in particular that, when you think about what was happening yesterday and how you were treating people, that just sticks in your mind especially?

Dr. HOLDEN: No. I just remember the sheer pace at which people were asking me questions. No one sticks in my mind, and that was because I had deliberately tried to blot the horror out, because I knew if I let it get to me, I would not manage the scene.

SIEGEL: When you speak of the pace at which you were being asked questions...

Dr. HOLDEN: Yes.

SIEGEL: ...what do you mean by that?

Dr. HOLDEN: Well, when you've got dozens of casualties there and you've got upwards of 20 colleagues there, many of whom have never dealt with a casualty for 30 years, they're asking you clinical questions. They're asking you, `Can you arrange for more oxygen?' `Can you arrange for more fluid?' And you've got to keep your head about you, because you're not just making decisions for now. You're making decisions that have an impact 30 minutes, 60 minutes on.

And all the time, the fire alarm's going off. You know, simply finding somebody to turn the fire alarm off, a simple thing like that. But that was the difference between us all going mad and not being able to hear ourselves think. Even being able to listen to somebody's chest, you couldn't do it with that din. We got that shut down. But it was just the pace of decision-making that hit you. No one person, they were just a mass of humanity.

SIEGEL: Well, Dr. Holden, thank you very much for talking with us.

Dr. HOLDEN: Thank you very much, indeed.

SIEGEL: Peter Holden, who is a family physician, spoke to us from Matlock, Derbyshire, north of London. He was at the British Medical Association headquarters yesterday at Tavistock Square.

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