November 22, 1963
More than a dozen doctors and nurses moved efficiently around the patient in Trauma Room 1, concerned with the ABCs of emergency medicine — trying to clear the airway, maintain blood pressure, and control bleeding.
There was no pulse, no real blood pressure. Only an infrequent heartbeat.
Kemp Clark, a young neurosurgeon with an already growing reputation, rushed into the crowded room. Charles Baxter, the physician in charge of the Emergency Room, looked up briefly.
Clark put on a pair of rubber gloves, then examined the injury.
"My God, the whole right side of his head is shot off,” Clark said. “We've nothing to work with.”
At about the same time, the patient's heart rate started falling — 30, 20, 10. Someone opened a chest tray to start a chest massage.
"I just leaned across the President,” Baxter said, "because there was nothing to work with. We had no reason to resuscitate.”
It was nearing 1 p.m. on Friday, Nov. 22, 1963. Soon, the patient, logged into the register at 12:38 p.m. as “No. 24740, Kennedy, John F.,” would be officially declared dead.
Doris Nelson, head nurse in the emergency room, ordered Trauma Room 1 cleaned. Even as staff in Trauma Room 2 saved the life of Texas Gov. John Connally, logged in as No. 24743, there were other patients to be seen.
A boy, Ronald Fuller, bled from a fall. A man, Carl Tanner, had severe chest pains. A woman, Ada Buryers, complained of nervousness. Staff treated 272 patients a day — one every five minutes — in 1963. At the instant of John Kennedy's murder, wrote William Manchester in his book, The Death of a President, 23 people “were receiving attention for automobile injuries, animal bites, delirium tremens, infections, and suspicious discharges.” Lee Harvey Oswald, the president's assassin, would be delivered to Parkland's emergency room two days later.
Bill Burrus, medical writer for the Dallas Times Herald, wrote on Nov. 25, 1963, of Oswald's care: “They rushed him immediately to Trauma Room No. 2, just across the hall from Trauma Room No. 1, where President Kennedy was treated and later died. I remember thinking it was so ironic because I saw so many of the same people who were key figures in President Kennedy's treatment rushing into the room.
On the same day Burrus' article was published, Chaplain Kenneth Pepper emphasized, in a memorial service for the slain President, that same sense of mission.
"We remember his concern for civil liberties and his concern for the underprivileged,” Pepper said. "We remember his faith in education and training and ultimate concern for the sick and aged. Many have watched his work and have seen in him the work of an emancipator.
"Parkland is a hospital where the struggle between life and death, disease and health, is our bread and meat. Rarely a 24-hour period passes that doesn't bring to our door someone with a story of tragedy, suffering, injustice, or violence. To each of these we offer an outstretched hand — sometimes to cure, often to relieve, and always to comfort.”
It is necessary to note the passing of 30 years since the assassination of President John Fitzgerald Kennedy. This brief telling is not meant to dwell on the details on that day; you can read about those, or watch them unfold again, in the frequent spate of television shows and newspaper articles and books.
Rather, this article is to reinforce Parkland's role as an advocate of the Great Society that Kennedy professed. It's a role that his own family wants remembered.
In July 1989, Parade Magazine printed an article by Sen. Edward Kennedy headlined, “We want to remember his life, not relive his death.”
"The tears shed in 1963 were for a friend and brother suddenly taken — but the reasons he was loved, here and everywhere, will always exist,” the senator wrote. “They are found in many things he did and said, but nowhere more so than in his plea in 1963 to see our world as one community: ‘Our most basic common link is that we all inhabit this small planet. We all breathe the same air. We all cherish our children's future. And we are all mortal.' What endures is the way he summoned us to reach beyond ourselves, to do things for others that would reflect our shared humanity — ‘to strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield,' in the lines from Tennyson that he loved.”
Later in the article, Sen. Kennedy said one reason people are drawn to public service is “the satisfaction of giving something back to America in return for what it has given us. It embraces the simple, profound, enduring beliefs that America is a promise of better things to come, that individuals can make a difference and that government can make a difference too. Survival of the fittest may be the law of the jungle and of some people in public life. But it is not the law by which John F. Kennedy lived, and so long as people with his talent and commitment to others are willing to enter public life, it will never be the law of the United States.”
1963 was a year of upheaval. In South Vietnam, monks burned themselves to death to protest treatment of Buddhists. In Jackson, Miss., NAACP field secretary Medgar Evers was killed by a sniper. In Birmingham, Ala., federal troops halted Gov. George Wallace's defiance in the school desegregation case. In that same city, four young girls died in the bombing of Sixteenth Street Baptist Church.
In Washington D.C., Martin Luther King delivered his most famous line: “I have a dream.”
Today, half a million visitors annually visit outside the former Texas School Book Depository to remember the day Kennedy was killed. It's a day many people at Parkland remember even more vividly, but a day they don't really like to talk about.
Charles Baxter expressed similar sentiments in his own way.
"We've always considered it as being one of those things that we were caught up with. And we only had one good thing to say about it: we offered the best that was available in the world, and we were side features. We had nothing to do with it except take care of the aftermath.
"We made an open statement to everybody concerned that if anybody on the medical side ever made a dime off the assassination, we'd see to it that they never went anywhere in medicine ever again, because that's how strongly we felt that this was a private thing.
"Of all the people that you take care of that have less important positions in the world, you would like to bring all that you knew to bear to save the one man who sat on top of the heap. I felt the frustration of not being able to help Kennedy, and was somewhat satisfied in the fact that Connally was stable. Things always kinda get put in perspective. I was walking out of the emergency room that night and there was a young lady standing by the emergency room door crying.
"I looked at her and said, ‘What's wrong; can I help you?' She said, ‘No, my baby just died.' And I know I must have seemed strange to her, because the thoughts that I had — I must have looked blankly at her — but I really felt for her because a life is a life is a life.”
There were 23 patients in the emergency room when Lee Harvey Oswald fired his three shots. Seven more patients arrived and were treated between the arrival of the president and the governor at 12:38 p.m. and the removal of the president's body at 2:19 p.m.
There were a handful of deaths at Parkland on Nov. 22, 1963, and there were 18 births.