About a week ago, I awoke to the news of the Orlando mass shooting-that 49 people had been murdered in the Pulse nightclub--for no other reason than that they were gay, and most were Latinx. The mass shooting du jour in America. You know the rest of the story, because unfortunately we've all heard these stories repeatedly. But it made me wonder about something else, tangentially related--but related to us in our work.
I came across a Facebook post by Dr. Joshua Korsa, an Orlando resident who described his experience caring for the surviving victims. Check out his story here
(original post) or here
(short news story)--. The "tangible reminder" he refers to below? His blood soaked Keens. He writes (about the survivors of the shooting):
"They've become a part of me. It's in me. I feel like I have to carry that reminder with me as long as [those patients] are still under my care. So this is a tangible reminder that the work's not done. That there's still a long way to go"
Later I read the NY Times' "Orlando Medical Examiner: ‘Take a Typical Homicide Scene, Multiply It by 50
" which was just amazing (for lack of a better word)--in less than 48 hours
they were able to identify all 49 victims and in less than 72 hours
autopsies were done on every single one of them. That's a logistical accomplishment and an emotional....quagmire. I cannot imagine being a part of that. I cannot imagine how hard that must have been. What exceptional work-- bringing confirmation to each of the 49 families and countless loved ones involved.
But wow, logistics aside--consider for a moment about the pathologists and technicians who did this work, who painstakingly photographed each victim, prepared them for transport to the morgue, the pathologist/assistants who later performed the autopsies, cleaned the bodies--these are the unrecognized people behind the scenes in such catastrophic events. How are they
doing this week? How are the police officers? The crime scene technicians? Are they ok
? How do people that witness such awful mass casualties cope?
So that got me thinking (this is how my ADHD brain works, one topic to another, bouncing along)...WE deal with some really difficult stuff. Not mass casualties (I don't think most of us do, anyway) but day to day casualties of life. Car accidents. People losing limbs. Diabetes, heart attacks, cancer, strokes. Kids dying. Homicides, suicides, accidents. Alcoholism. Lung cancer. New diagnoses of leukemia (surprise! you didn't just "have the flu"!). Homelessness. Stillbirths. Domestic violence. And so on. It's a lot to deal with.
How do you deal with the anger, death, violence, despair, stress, grief in your job? Sometimes it isn't even the death that's so hard, it's the sorrow, the daily witnessing of human distress. Death is a separate entity, and varies in it's impact on me--some deaths leave me with a sense of calm, some break my heart and I swear I never want to go back to work again (but I keep showing up.). Some don't seem to affect me emotionally much at all, and that's ok too. Every one is different.
As I walked around the oncology ICU recently, several rooms were empty-- and I realized as I walked around that I associate almost every room with a patient I have cared for in that room--and who has since died. I often think of them as I pass by (Oh, that's J's room...oh, that was D's room...etc).
As I walked down the long hallway to grab lunch, I thought:
- M's room-she was my age--she died in that room over there, overlooking the water. She and her husband were avid skiers and mountaineers and he shared incredible pictures of their adventures together. I swallowed back tears during rounds that day; that was the second time I'd cried that day. M died of relapsed leukemia and candidemia.
- D's room-she coded suddenly, and died before her daughter could make it in. The chaplain put her daughter on speaker phone so she could say goodbye to her mom as her mom underwent CPR ("Tell her she was a good mom....tell her I love her....tell her she was a good grandma"). D died of advanced lung cancer.
- M's room-an older woman with AML, the same age as my mom. Wonderful family, with a toddler grandchild who liked to sit on the bed and who was fascinated by the sat probe on grandma's finger. That boy lit up the room. M died of a disseminated fungal infection.
And so on. I remember many.
We carry our patients in our hearts and in our minds--they are with us/in us, year after year. And sometimes memories of them/their deaths are comforting while at times they are heart breaking and hard to revisit--even years later. Some patients/deaths I look back on and I feel peace, and I smile at the memories that surface. Some patients/deaths I think back on and tears still come to my eyes-and the deaths were years ago. Some I look back on and my heart rate increases--because their deaths were so awful that I still have an emotional/visceral response.
So I wonder. I wonder how the nurses, doctors, EMTs, police, pathologists-how everyone that helped victims of the Orlando massacres is doing. And I hope they're ok. And I'm grateful they were there to face such horror, to run into a scene that hopefully none of us will ever have to face. And I hope now that they've taken care of so many others, that others are taking care of them.
And last but most certainly not least, may we never forget these 49 people, almost entirely queer people of color, murdered en masse for being...themselves.
June 12, 2016.
Stanley Almodovar III, 23 years old
Amanda Alvear, 25 years old
Oscar A Aracena-Montero, 26 years old
Rodolfo Ayala-Ayala, 33 years old
Antonio Davon Brown, 29 years old
Darryl Roman Burt II, 29 years old
Angel L. Candelario-Padro, 28 years old
Juan Chevez-Martinez, 25 years old
Luis Daniel Conde, 39 years old
Cory James Connell, 21 years old
Tevin Eugene Crosby, 25 years old
Deonka Deidra Drayton, 32 years old
Simon Adrian Carrillo Fernandez, 31 years old
Leroy Valentin Fernandez, 25 years old
Mercedez Marisol Flores, 26 years old
Peter O. Gonzalez-Cruz, 22 years old
Juan Ramon Guerrero, 22 years old
Paul Terrell Henry, 41 years old
Frank Hernandez, 27 years old
Miguel Angel Honorato, 30 years old
Javier Jorge-Reyes, 40 years old
Jason Benjamin Josaphat, 19 years old
Eddie Jamoldroy Justice, 30 years old
Anthony Luis Laureanodisla, 25 years old
Christopher Andrew Leinonen, 32 years old
Alejandro Barrios Martinez, 21 years old
Brenda Lee Marquez McCool, 49 years old
Gilberto Ramon Silva Menendez, 25 years old
Kimberly Morris, 37 years old
Akyra Monet Murray, 18 years old
Luis Omar Ocasio-Capo, 20 years old
Geraldo A. Ortiz-Jimenez, 25 years old
Eric Ivan Ortiz-Rivera, 36 years old
Joel Rayon Paniagua, 32 years old
Jean Carlos Mendez Perez, 35 years old
Enrique L. Rios, Jr., 25 years old
Jean C. Nives Rodriguez, 27 years old
Xavier Emmanuel Serrano Rosado, 35 years old
Christopher Joseph Sanfeliz, 24 years old
Yilmary Rodriguez Solivan, 24 years old
Edward Sotomayor Jr., 34 years old
Shane Evan Tomlinson, 33 years old
Martin Benitez Torres, 33 years old
Jonathan Antonio Camuy Vega, 24 years old
Juan P. Rivera Velazquez, 37 years old
Luis S. Vielma, 22 years old
Franky Jimmy Dejesus Velazquez, 50 years old
Luis Daniel Wilson-Leon, 37 years old
Jerald Arthur Wright, 31 years old