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Meet the Doctor Suing Trump: Dr. Eugene Gu on Gun Violence, Privatization of VA & White Supremacy

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Doctors across the country are slamming former Republican Senator Rick Santorum for arguing that young people protesting for gun control would be better served by learning CPR. Dr. Eugene Gu of Vanderbilt University Medical Center tweeted, “As a surgeon, I’ve operated on gunshot victims who’ve had bullets tear through their intestines, cut through their spinal cord, and pulverize their kidneys and liver. Rick Santorum telling kids to shut up and take CPR classes is simply unconscionable.” We speak to Dr. Gu about gun violence, his lawsuit against President Trump and why he was suspended for taking a knee to fight white supremacy.

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: Doctors across the country are slamming former Republican Senator Rick Santorum for arguing that young people protesting for gun control would be better served by learning CPR.

RICK SANTORUM: How about kids, instead of looking to someone else to solve their problem, do something about maybe taking CPR classes?

AMY GOODMAN: That was former Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum, speaking on CNN Sunday. He accepted thousands of dollars from the NRA during his time in office. In 2011, during his failed presidential bid, he staged a photo op wearing an orange NRA hat and hunting pheasants with a shotgun.

Medical professionals roundly refuted Santorum’s suggestion that CPR could help save the life of someone shot by a military-style assault rifle. Among them, our guest, Dr. Eugene Gu of Vanderbilt University Medical Center, who tweeted, quote, “As a surgeon, I’ve operated on gunshot victims who’ve had bullets tear through their intestines, cut through their spinal cord, and pulverize their kidneys and liver. Rick Santorum telling kids to shut up and take CPR classes is simply unconscionable,” Dr. Gu tweeted.

Well, for more, we continue our conversation with Dr. Gu, who’s joining us today from Los Angeles, though he works in Nashville.

Dr. Gu, can you respond to Senator— former Senator Rick Santorum?

DR. EUGENE GU: Yes, and thank you so much, Amy, for having me on your show.

I think former Senator Santorum’s comments were very reminiscent of, you know, the queen of France, Marie Antoinette, when she said to the starving peasants, “Let them eat cake.” It was just simply unconscionable.

First of all, CPR isn’t necessarily helpful for victims of penetrating trauma. Oftentimes there’s bleeding around the heart—we call that cardiac tamponade—or there’s a collapsed lung, a tension pneumothorax, that could be causing a cardiac arrest. And doing chest compressions is, you know, just counterproductive at that point. Many of these patients are bleeding, and that’s the source of why they’re in such distress. And doing CPR is just not going to help them.

But his comments just really reminded me of a patient that came into the hospital when I was on call. There was a man who had multiple gunshot wounds to his abdomen. And when he came into the trauma bay, he was crashing. His blood pressure was very low. His heart rate was through the roof. We didn’t even have enough time to get a CT scan and see what’s going on. We rushed him immediately to the operating room as a Level I trauma. And as we opened up his abdomen, you know, there was this immediate rush of blood that just fell onto the floor. We packed all four quadrants of his abdomen to temporarily stop the bleeding. And when we examined each quadrant, I saw that his liver—there was a large laceration on the right side of his liver that was causing a lot of the bleeding, as well as his right kidney was completely shattered. So we had to spend a lot of time removing his entire kidney, repairing—taking out the section of the liver that was damaged, and then we turned our attention to the abdomen, where there was a bunch of stool and feces just contaminating the whole area, because the bullets had just ripped through his small intestine and his large intestine. We had to remove a large amount of bowels and create an ostomy. An ostomy is, essentially, a bag that contains the fecal material on the outside of the abdomen. And after we spent many hours in the operating room doing the best we can to repair all his injuries, we sent him to the intensive care unit, you know, intubated and sedated. He was clinging on to life for about a week, and then he finally, unfortunately, passed away. And he was only 20 years old.

And when I hear Rick Santorum telling these kids, who are marching—literally marching for their lives, protesting against the gun violence that happens in their very schools, when he just tells them, “Don’t do that. You know, let’s just—why don’t you learn CPR instead?” it outrages me. It outrages many other medical professionals, as well. And like I said, it’s a simply unconscionable comment to make. You know, these politicians are already not doing anything to help these children, but they are going out of their way to tell these children not to protest.

AMY GOODMAN: I also wanted to ask you, Dr. Gu, about what’s happening at the Department of Veterans Affairs. On Wednesday, President Trump fired Secretary of Veterans Affairs Dr. David Shulkin, said he’d replace him with his White House physician, Dr. Ronny Jackson, a rear admiral in the Navy. Dr. Jackson has no experience running a large agency. This is the second largest in government, $200 billion agency. Dr. Shulkin says he was ousted because of his opposition to privatizing the VA, which runs 1,700 hospitals and clinics. So, this is President Trump at a rally in Ohio on Thursday.

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: I had passed the VA Accountability—the accountable—the Accountability Act. And now, when they’re bad to our vets or when they’re not working for our vets, we say, “Hey, Jim! You’re fired! Get out of here, Jim! Get out!”

AMY GOODMAN: We can only imagine he’s just getting Dr. David Shulkin’s name wrong, as he talks about “Jim.” But, Dr. Eugene Gu, you’ve worked at the local VA in Nashville as a resident physician for the last two-and-a-half years. Your thoughts?

DR. EUGENE GU: Yeah, I think a lot of this is a consequence of what it means to have elected a reality TV show guy who’s not qualified to be president, who’s now hiring all these people who are not qualified to be, you know, the secretary of education, like Betsy DeVos, or now the secretary to VA, Ronny Jackson. You know, earlier, he had even tried to appoint his personal pilot to be, you know, head of the FAA. And Ronny Jackson, who has absolutely no experience running a large federal agency, I think—you know, earlier in your segment you talked about—you and Suzanne talked about how the VA is the second-largest federal agency, with a $200 billion budget. And Ronny Jackson has no experience running that.

You know, as a resident who has worked at the VA, I know the benefits of having a single-provider, nationally integrated system in which to care for all of our veterans. You know, when we have a veteran coming from Miami to Nashville, I can pull up all of his records, because there’s a standardized medical records system, called CPRS, where we can take a look at all of the veteran’s imaging, all of the veteran’s medical records. We don’t have to call another hospital and figure out what procedures he had done. And it’s very, very convenient and effective for us. If the veteran—you know, these veterans have very specific injuries. You know, oftentimes we can have a young 20-year-old veteran, who has hearing loss that you wouldn’t expect to see in a 20-year-old, because of all the, you know, loud gunshots that he’s been having to hear. And, you know, we can consult an audiologist. We can have an ENT physician see him. You know, having an integrated system is extremely important and cost-efficient for these veterans.

Sometimes, you know, I’ve seen—there’s been a hybrid push to have—to see what privatization looks like, by having a VA choice system. This choice system is where, if a veteran can’t get the care he needs at our VA within 30 days, he can be choiced out or sent to another private hospital within the community. Now, what I’ve seen with that choice system is that it actually degrades the level of care we have at our VA. For example, at the Nashville VA, the sterilizers were broken for quite some time, the sterilizer we use to autoclave and sterilize the surgical instruments. So, the operating rooms were actually at very limited capacity, because we didn’t have clean surgical tools to operate on our veterans, which is a travesty. But because of this, quote-unquote, “choice” system, which allows us to send veterans to other hospitals, it was almost like a crutch that we used to say, “OK, we don’t have to really have that much of an impetus to fix these broken sterilizers that are not cleaning the surgical tools we need. We can just choice these veterans out to other local private hospitals, and they can still get their surgeries.”

Well, I had one patient come in in the middle of the night, you know, who we needed emergency surgery. But because our sterilizers weren’t working, we didn’t have clean tools to operate on him. We had to, you know, choice him out, or send him to another hospital. And, you know, that delayed his care. And I think that that’s just one example of what can happen with privatization of the VA.

You know, another example is, we saw the horrible response to the disaster relief in Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria, when FEMA tried to privatize disaster relief. You know, they gave a $156 million contract to a one-woman company, I believe whose name is Tiffany Brown, and she was contracted to provide 30 million meals to these starving Puerto Ricans who just suffered this major disaster. And, you know, it turned out that she only provided 50,000 meals out of the 30 million that she was contracted to provide. So, they’ve paid all of this money to this lady, who then just pocketed the money for herself. And I think—

AMY GOODMAN: Dr. Gu, I wanted to ask you about another issue. You’re one of seven Twitter users who has filed a lawsuit against President Trump after being blocked from Trump’s personal account. The case is titled Knight First Amendment Institute v. Trump. Very quickly, can you talk about what this is about?

DR. EUGENE GU: Yeah, definitely. So, one day I tweeted to Trump after he—he made a tweet about how he was doing so well in the Rasmussen poll. And I tweeted to him because recently he made—at that time, he made a comment about—a typo called “covfefe,” which many people didn’t know what that was. And so, I wrote, in response, “Covfefe: The man who controls our country’s nuclear codes doesn’t proofread his Twitter account.” He blocked me for that.

And I think that, you know, the president of the United States uses his personal Twitter account to make actual national policy announcements. And, for instance, he fired Secretary of State Rex Tillerson through his Twitter account. He fired the secretary of the VA, David Shulkin, through his Twitter account. These are very—this is very important information for me, as an American citizen, to see. And so, it’s not necessarily his personal Twitter account anymore if he is using it in his capacity as the president of the United States to announce major policy changes and personnel changes.

AMY GOODMAN: Finally, we just have 30 seconds, Dr. Gu, but you tweeted a photo of yourself taking a knee and raising a fist, with the caption, “I’m an Asian-American doctor, and today I #TakeTheKnee to fight white supremacy.” Dr. Gu, you were placed on paid administrative leave after the mother of one of your patients complained about that photo. Very quickly, your response?

DR. EUGENE GU: Yeah, so, I took the knee to fight white supremacy, because when I was an intern general surgery resident at Vanderbilt, I was racially and physically attacked in the parking garage by a white supremacist. You know, he stalked me all the way up nine flights of stairs at the hospital, grabbed me by my name badge, nearly choking me. And so, when I saw the NFL players, like Colin Kaepernick and Michael Bennett taking the knee to fight police brutality and white supremacy, it resonated very much with me. And so, wearing the same hospital white coat and scrubs that I had worn the day that I was racially and physically attacked, I took the knee to fight against the very racism that I was the victim of. It was a very personal thing for me to be attacked like that. And so, I wanted to do a peaceful protest to fight what happened to me. And I was punished for it.

AMY GOODMAN: I want to thank you so much for being with us, Dr. Eugene Gu, general surgery resident at Vanderbilt University Medical Center in Nashville, Tennessee, healthcare columnist for The Hill. Dr. Gu has also worked at the local VA in Nashville as a resident physician for the last two-and-a-half years.

This is Democracy Now! When we come back, Stephen Hawking’s funeral is tomorrow in Britain. We’ll remember this remarkable, groundbreaking scientist. Stay with us.

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