Rifle doc talks real life medical experiences to students | PostIndependent.com
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Rifle doc talks real life medical experiences to students

Mike McKibbin
Citizen Telegram Editor
Mike McKibbin/Citizen Telegram
Staff Photo |

From pulling a middle-of-the-night prank on his college dean, to helping provide medical care after natural disasters and while with a SWAT team, Grand River Health Dr. Michael Duerhssen told about 30 potential medical career high school students of his experiences during a Friday, Oct. 25, presentation.

Duerhssen has led medical trips to many South American countries, been on SWAT teams and is considered well-versed in emergency medical medicine. His field experience includes performing medical operations in the field under fire. He has also developed a college level pre-med curriculum that involves two years of medical and survival skill in third world countries.

During one of the hospital’s “Medical Silhouettes” weekly presentations, Duerhssen was raised in Rifle and decided in his senior year at Rifle High School that he wanted to be a doctor. His stepfather was the only physician in Rifle at the time and would make house calls, Duerhssen said.

“I really didn’t know what I was getting in to,” he added. “One thing I’ve found is that you don’t have to be smart to be a doctor, but you have to be motivated. And doctors have to be compassionate.”

While attending a Christian college, Duerhssen said he and other classmates pulled a prank on the college dean that involved pouring cold water on him as he leaned out his bedroom window late at night.

Duerhssen attended the University of Wyoming in Laramie, where he earned his medical degree, then opened a practice.

“I started doing search and rescue work, then got on a SWAT team due to my emergency medicine background,” he said.

Working in a hospital emergency room, Duerhssen said “you never know what’s going to come through the door.”

For example, he recounted a patient in Cortez who had swallowed a liquid he said was cyanide, after police caught him trying to steal a pair of shoes from a local store.

“Right away, we thought he was lying,” Duerhssen said. “But then he said he got the cyanide from a gold mine. I knew gold mines used cyanide. Then he stopped breathing.”

Duerhssen and his colleagues administered medicine and the man lived.

Another incident, just a month ago, did not turn out the same way. A child drowned and was pronounced dead at Grand River, Duerhssen said.

“What do you do when you have to tell parents something like that?” he asked. “All I could do was cry with the parents.”

Duerhssen also recounted a 17-year-old girl who was ejected in a rollover accident and brought to the emergency room.

“She asked me if she was going to die and I said ‘no, no, you’re going to be fine,’” he recalled. “Ten seconds later, she died. We found out she had torn her carotid artery. These are the hard cases to handle, but I’d still rather be there to help.”

But another child, who suffered a gunshot wound to his head in an accidental shooting, was saved.

“A few years later, I ran into him and he shook my hand and thanked me for saving his life,” Duerhssen said. “It’s things like that that keep you going.”

While assigned to a SWAT team in Cortez, Duerhssen went with the team as they tried to track down a man who shot and killed Colorado State Patrol trooper Dale Claxton several years ago.

“The team flew by helicopter into this canyon where there were ancient artifacts and we started clearing all these rooms in the ruins on the cliffs,” he recalled. “So I’m there, wearing a Glock (handgun), climbing up the wall of this cliff and the helicopter hovering behind me to give me cover. I just had a moment where I thought, ‘I’m a doctor, what I am I doing here?’”

Duerhssen recommended students interested in a medical career get involved with “hands-on” programs, along with medical school.

“There’s a real need for medical mission work in third world countries, so it that’s something that interests you,” he said, “find a program that helps do that.”

Duerhssen recounted one such overseas experience while flying in a helicopter with a pregnant women in labor, a man who couldn’t walk due to leg injuries and a third patient. While flying at night, the copter’s landing lights don’t work, then a radio communication comes in of another pregnant woman, delivering a “breach birth” baby that needed his help.

“I prayed a couple of times,” he said.

The copter’s landing lights started to work and the copter eventually landed, but the landing lights immediately went out again, Duerhssen continued. But the story had a happy ending.

“The woman in the copter gave birth and the baby and mother were both fine,” he said. “The man with the injuries was treated and the second woman gave birth with no problems.”

Incidents such as these were things Duerhssen said he never thought he could handle.

“In high school, I almost passed out when I watched an appendectomy my step dad performed,” he said.”But it’s extremely rewarding helping others. That’s why I do it. Eventually, you get used to the needles and blood.”

Three years ago, Duerhssen found out how people feel when they have to go to the hospital, after he was diagnosed with leukemia.

“I hated being in the hospital” for treatment, he said.

And through it all, Duerhssen told the students there’s one main reason he remains in medicine.

“I get to do what I love to do,” “ he said. “Helping people.”


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