After I finished my doctorate in Biology at Georgetown University, I moved "across town" to the George Washington University School of Medicine's Department of Pathology, as a post-doctoral Research Associate. Although my time there was brief, I did have a few exciting days. Most especially April 3rd, 1981.

That was the day that President Ronald Reagan was shot in a bungled assassination attempt by John Hinckley. The shooting occurred along Wisconsin Avenue, perhaps a mile and a half from GWU Medical Center. The President was rushed to the GWU Emergency Room, and thereby began what I can only describe as a week of pandemonium and near panic, especially in the first few days. Within minutes, reporters and TV crews were everywhere in the hospital and med school corridors, interviewing anyone who'd sit still long enough and didn't mind having a microphone stuck in his face. Honest to gosh, they even interviewed the housekeeping staff, who were then billed on the Nightly News as "hospital sources!" No work got done that day or for a few days afterwards, until the hospital authority and the Secret Service got things under control.

The President recovered from his wound for one simple reason: only one side of his chest was compromised. In medical terms he had a "traumatic unilateral pneumothorax" from a small-caliber bullet which lacked the energy to penetrate deeply enough to perforate the chest wall on the other side. Luckily for the President, Hinckley was a pretty incompetent assassin, as most are. He shot four people that day: thanks partly to skilled medical intervention, but mainly to Hinckley's ignorance of terminal ballistics, none of them died.

Had Hinckley chosen a more powerful weapon, it's almost certain he'd have succeeded in his mission. President Reagan would most likely have died during the few minutes it took him to get to the hospital had both lungs collapsed.

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