As a resident physician, I work in many areas in the hospital, including the emergency department. When someone comes to the ER for evaluation, they are given a “triage number” — a number used to determine which patients are most sick and who may need to be seen sooner than others. This is the same system used in most hospitals throughout the world.
Last week, as I sat looking at the list of patients to see who was next, each patient had a number next to their name. There were several patients with the numbers 2, 3 and 4. There was even a patient with a red 1 and a few labeled 5. Someone who is having an active heart attack is usually given the triage number of 1. This means that they have a very real chance of dying very soon, especially if they don’t get medical intervention rapidly. On the other side, someone who comes to the hospital for a refill of an allergy medication will be given the triage number of 5. This means that there is no real emergency. This system is used to determine who needs the highest level of care the soonest.
The triage system is not there to say the life of someone with a triage of 1 is more important than a 3 or 4 — it is just to differentiate who is most sick and has no time to wait before receiving medical care.
Much like triage in the hospital, there are groups of people in our country who exist in more dire situations than others. In the past few weeks, we have seen several tragedies among black members of our communities in various parts of our nation. Through captured videos, we all have witnessed just a handful of horrifying events which are mere echoes of what members of black communities have witnessed and suffered for decades.
I have come to see the term Black Lives Matter the same way I see triage numbers in the emergency department. Saying Black Lives Matter does not mean that black lives matter more than other lives. But to me, it has come to mean black lives have a triage number of 1 right now. As a white Christian male, my number is probably 5, and that’s OK — I don’t need much to change for me to exist peacefully.
I have real and valid concerns for the future and well-being of myself and my children, but I have never felt that I or my children could never return home because of “fitting a description” or a profile. In the hospital, if there was no system to identify and help the sickest people first, many more would die unnecessarily.
Black Lives Matter has become a mechanism to raise attention and identify a group of people in dire need of change. Like the patient with a heart attack needing higher level and faster care than the patient with seasonal allergies, our brothers and sisters of color need higher level change. And just like treatment for a heart attack needs immediate attention, their change needs to happen now.
Dr. Ben May is a third-year resident physician in family medicine in Olympia and Chehalis Washington. He attended medical school at Pacific Northwest University and received a bachelor’s degree at Southern Virginia University. He is a husband and father of three incredible children.