January 16, 2014 Leave a comment
I see the news of the latest shooting in Roswell New Mexico and my heart goes out to the victims and families – how could it not? But my heart also goes out to the first responders, EMS, and hospital providers caring for those children.
It has been almost 26 years, but I still remember working in the ED that day in May 1988 of the Laurie Dann shootings in Illinois. I remember getting ready in case we had to take the overflow of the injured children. I was working at a Level II Trauma Center at the time, and the Level I center was deciding if they needed to send some of the less critical children to us. As we were getting prepared – I had fleeting thoughts of relief that my daughter was in 1/2 day kindergarten and safely home at the babysitter at that time. But had to fight my impulse to call and check on her. In our quiet little north suburban area, this shooting was so surreal that no one truly knew what to feel – and in 1988, shootings in a school just was unfathomable. That was long before such things as Wiki Pages for School Shooting existed.
Our ED did not get the shooting victims that day – just some scared kids that parents brought in to be checked out. Although there was some relief of that, there was also some weird form of survivor guilt. When you are an ED nurse, you take care of children who have been through horrible traumas, so you understand what your peers at other institutions are looking at physically. When you are taking care of even one child with non-accidental trauma, you are sickened and need to box up your anger and sadness in order to provide the best care for that wounded child (I should say that is what the hidden curriculum taught us at that time). So those of us not at the affected hospital have some understanding and fear of what it must feel like emotionally to box up the anger, sadness, and despair that comes with caring for multiple children who were intentionally hurt.
Back in the late 1980’s we had a focus on Critical Incident Stress Debriefing. So a team came in after it was all over to let us all vent that box of toxic emotions and suggest ways to cope. What I wish for the current generation is that someone comes in and does some form of mindfulness training BEFORE incidents like this happen. In some ways to prepare the providers for the feelings that they will have. Someone who can say: it’s okay to be worried about your children and then to go home and watch them breathe for hours, it’s okay to be supremely pissed off at the perpetrator and whatever system issues you think contributed, and so many other things that I don’t know that I am the best person to articulate them all. It is okay to acknowledge and/or verbalize all those feelings before you deal with the crisis at hand. I am encouraged by movements such as Com-passion for Care which encourage health care providers not just to have compassion for their patients, but also for themselves – to remember that we are also human.
Later in my ED career I worked with a nurse whose brother was shot in the chest that fateful day in May – he later lobbied for gun control and now works teaching hostage crisis negotiation. The nurse’s bedroom was where Laurie Dann actually shot herself – she told me once that her brother was her inspiration for getting her life back to normal and for eventually going into nursing. The two of them are just a small example of the wounded who became healers and/or heroes. But like most of us in healthcare, I am sure they hoped never to NEED to take care of gunshot children.
So my heart goes out to all the providers of care to these children and the other tragedies. My thanks goes out to you for being there when they most needed you. My apologies to you and perhaps forgiveness to myself that I wasn’t able to be there to help you.