A sentinel event is defined by the Joint Commission on Accreditation of Healthcare Organizations (JCAHO) as any unanticipated event in a healthcare setting resulting in death or serious physical or psychological injury to a patient or patients, not related to the natural course of the patient's illness. These untoward events change the method of practice and can certainly change the life of the patient involved.
I could use the same term in describing events in history. These are events that changed our nation or the world. Good examples are Pearl Harbor that ushered in World War II and the World Trade Towers destruction on 9/11 that led to our War on Terrorism and the unstable conditions in the world today.
Today, May 29, is the birthday of President John F. Kennedy and his assassination on November 22, 1963 was also a sentinel event in the history of our nation. Regardless of how we fell about his politics and personal life, when he spoke or even made an appearance it gave us a sense of pride and confidence in ourselves and our nation. The nation seemed to have changed after Kennedy’s death. We have lost confidence in our government and the President.
The sentinel event of history doesn’t have to be a tragedy or catastrophe. The two major scientific events of my life were the Manhattan Project for the development of the atomic bomb and the space program that put a man on the moon. These events spawned many other scientific achievements. In my field of Radiology the major event was the development of the CT scanner.
I wish that we could have at least one other major sentinel event before I depart the planet and that would be the development of another reliable source of energy. That would solve many problems like our dependence on foreign oil and giant Gulf oil leaks.
Meanwhile, all I can do is sit on the porch and watch the giant oil leak expand in the Gulf. It may run up the Brazos into the Leon and then seep into my yard. It could then kill the remaining foliage in my yard and the deer would starve. That would be a bad sentinel event turning into a good one.