Admissions have risen by more than 3,000 in the past decade to more than 8,600 last year. That is despite the fact that the center is built to accommodate 3,500 patients annually; a new tower slated to open by year’s end but already largely in use improves that, adding 64 critical-care intensive-unit beds, five operating rooms and a larger waiting area.

“When people ask for help, we figure out a way to say yes,” Pollak said. “It’s easy to find reasons to say no.”

For Scalea, that translates to 100-hour work weeks all year but for one week each summer he spends on Cape Cod with his family. Scalea acknowledges that he earns much more time off but adds, “It’s not like you have to be like me to do this.”

He isn’t the only one who thrives on Shock Trauma’s fast pace.

“I don’t think it tires me. I think it excites me,” says Gina Sellers, a 25-year-old nurse with golden curls who works on the multi-trauma care unit.

But staff members are conscious that a busier shift means more families grieving a loss or worrying over a sick relative. They don’t invite the drama, and they’re afraid to jinx it into being.

“We don’t use the ‘Q’ word around here,” says Terry DiNardo, a petite nurse manager with a deep rasp, before mouthing “quiet” softly enough so the fates can’t hear.

Some rare downtime comes as nurse Susie Breeback and techs Dan Goodman and Becky Gibbons await a patient airlifted from Baltimore County, found after falling from a horse. “This has been the longest five minutes of all time,” one of them says.

They chit-chat about local road races — to run the Baltimore or Marine Corps marathon? Or what’s that spring marathon in Washington? — until the whir of the incoming chopper drowns out their conversation.

They rush to meet the state police helicopter and whisk the patient into the elevators down to the trauma unit, where one of the officers launches the routine all over again, running down the details of the accident:

“You ready for a story?”

sdance@baltsun.com

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