Deaths of Dr. Dan Dickinson, Dr. Matthew Burke take toll at Eisenhower Army Medical Center

Some of the staffers already knew the bad news when they gathered that morning at Dwight D. Eisenhower Army Medical Center, but it didn't diminish the heartache when they were told Dr. Dan Dickinson was killed by a car while bicycling to work.

The hospital was somber and quiet Aug. 1, but especially the family medicine clinic where Dickinson worked, said Maj. Cliff Vicars, one of four chaplains at the hospital on Fort Gordon. Some of them cried; others sat in disbelief.

"People just couldn't believed it happened again," Vicars said. "Another doctor, of all things."

Six months earlier, a similar scene had occurred when Dr. Matthew Burke, an orthopedic surgeon at the hospital, died of injuries sustained in an October bike wreck. Burke was first taken to Medical College of Georgia Hospital, then to Eisenhower.

Burke was hit on Beech Island Avenue in Aiken County during a Friday night ride, and it wasn't until Monday that most of his colleagues heard the news. At that point it wasn't clear whether he would survive, said Maj. Collie Foster, a fellow chaplain.

Foster held a "critical incident debriefing," which allowed people to share their grief and their good memories of Burke. Unlike the immediate, sudden departure of Dickinson, Burke's colleagues were able to check on him while he was at the hospital and spend time with his family. As medical workers, they could track every improvement and deterioration in his condition, Foster said.

As chaplains, Foster and Vicars have experience counseling people with both types of deaths.

"Neither one is easy," Vicars said. "They just feel different."

Perhaps hardest to accept is that two doctors at Eisenhower were killed doing something they loved: cycling. A lot of people at the hospital want to stay in shape and ride their bicycles, Vicars said, but when people in the same profession are lost, there's a feeling of dread.

"When does this ball stop bouncing? What needs to happen in the community to make it a safer place?" he asked.

Dickinson and Burke were highly esteemed by their colleagues.

Vicars said Dickinson made an effort to get to know the nurses, doctors, clerks and other staffers he worked with.

When they died, their colleagues made plans to take care of Burke's wife and daughter and Dickinson's wife and four children, the chaplains said.

Besides the emotional toll on a combined 100 colleagues, the doctors' deaths had a logistical impact, too. Patients were showing up for appointments the mornings they were hit. There was an immediate need to reschedule and shuffle patients to other doctors.

"There was a great domino effect," Vicars said. "It affected the community in a very personal way."

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