…The Rich and The Famous!

I saw this presentation years ago at a symposium in Dayton, OH, when I was a young Basic EMT presented by Peter Lazzara from the Chicago Fire Dept. It was a fun presentation, and really impressed some things I wanted to integrate into future presentations. So, in a change to Peter’s original presentation, take your steps into history as I present a case study very near and dear to Memphis…

The Assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr

Martin Luther King Jr was perhaps the most influencial civil rights leader of the last century. Not many school children these days know who Fredrick Douglass was or his contributions to the Union Civil War effort by pressuring Massachusetts into raising the first battalion of black soldiers or raising awareness of the plight of enslaved persons in Confederate states. They do, however, know about MLK Jr and his death in Memphis at the Lorraine Motel.

Dr. King arrived in Memphis during the ’68 sanitation worker strike which was quickly evolving into a low scale riot. In order to allow peaceful demonstrations to prevail, he arrived in Memphis in the afternoon of 3 April, 1968. Shortly thereafter, he delivered the famous “I’ve Been To The Mountaintop” speech and retired to the Lorraine Motel to make plans for the demonstration in the coming days.

Dr King stepped out onto the balcony of the 2nd floor of the Lorraine Motel with several others to go to dinner on 4 April 1968 and was shot in the face from long range by a large caliber rifle at approximately 1801.

An undercover police officer attempted to provide first aid while an ambulance was called. Dr King arrived at the St Joseph’s Hospital (which stood where St Jude Children’s Hospital stands today) 15 minutes after being wounded with a simple oxygen mask on his face. Despite the best efforts of the physicians, Dr King was pronounced dead at 1905 CST.

Injuries described at autopsy were extensive to the face and neck. The bullet entered his face on the right lateral face at the jawline, traversing his neck severing the carotid and destroying the spinal cord. The bullet finally came to a stop in his left shoulder blade.

Trauma care provided by the Memphis Fire Department in those days was basically rudimentary first aid care, but were we to transplant modern techniques into 1968…

“… respond to a 27D3G, report of a man shot at the Lorraine Motel…”

Engine 2 would be on top of this immediately as the Lorraine Motel is directly behind Station 2. Response for the initial ALS company after receiving the call would be about 2 minutes.

You’re on Engine 2. What are your initial priorities on the balcony at the Lorraine Motel, with the severely wounded Dr. King as your patient?

I won’t approve comments on the story until after I have published Part 2 to give everyone an equal chance


Category: Case Studies

About the Author

Russell Stine is a firefighter/paramedic in a large urban system. He has been employed for 6 years as a street level provider and has delivered care as an EMT and a paramedic across the urban, suburban, and rural settings. He has been in emergency services for 15 years.

  • lynn heath

    1-Personal safety 2-Hemorrhage control-carotid was severed 3-Management of the airway/suctioning excess blood out of the airway and ensuring patency. 4-Fluid replacement to maintain perfusion. Add all these things together….Our personal safety is our first priority-if we go down, we’re not any good to anyone. 2-4 attend life threats,ensure airway and slow the possibility of our patient going into shock. Cover and transport in Trendelenburg. Appropriate meds for any dysrhythmias and to maintain perfusion.

  • CCC

    From all accounts, (that being yours, and what I have learned in schooling) he suffered a mortal wound.  I’m not sure that much could have been done to save him. 

    That being said;  Bleeding obviously needs to be controlled, (which I can’t imagine there would be too much considering the entrance to the wound, and the bullet not exiting) and most likely, aggressive airway maneuvers should be taken.  I would favor quick transport to a surgeon over IV access.  I’m not sure of the capabilities of the hospitals there in Memphis, so I can’t really name a hospital, thought St. Jude’s location is not that far away. 

    I would make sure that Jesse Jackson was as far away from me as possible. 

    As a side note, I have seen both the home in which King was born, I have sat in the church in which he preached, I have seen his tomb, and I have stood where he was when he was assassinated.  They were all chilling moments. 

  • Too Old To Work

    The bullet entered his face on the right lateral face at the jawline,
    traversing his neck severing the carotid and destroying the spinal cord.
    The bullet finally came to a stop in his left shoulder blade.

    Probably not on point, but he was shot in the face (head) with a 30.06 rifle round. The injuries you describe were likely fatal if not immediately, within short order. Had he been shot in an OR of a modern trauma center it is very likely that he would still have died.

    With that said, the priorities of any level of EMS would be protect the airway, stop any external bleeding, and transport. Spinal immobilization, while necessary in the world of EMS, would be futile.

    If MLK Jr had been shot in Viet Nam in 1968, those would have been the priorities of the military medic taking care of him. Plus a CASEVAC. If he had been shot in Iraq a couple of years ago, it’s likely a surgical crich would be in the mix followed by CASEVAC to the nearest OR. Not much has changed in the military world, but in the civilian world EMS has advanced to the point that a surgical airway or intubation would be likely if he were shot today in Memphis.

    Still, the outcome would likely be the same.

  • http://hybridmedic.com HybridMedic

    Yeah the view from the balcony at the Loraine is an interesting experience.


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