by Kellen Squire
I’ve sat here at my keyboard staring at the blinking cursor for awhile. There’s words inside me that need to come out about what happened in our community yesterday, but… I dunno. They’re stuck there. Nothing seems right. Especially after watching everyone’s “hot take” on a community you’re from. But there’ll be time later to go over those- particularly those of the President and my Congressman. It doesn’t help either that our community isn’t out from under the specter of the Nazis who visited us- there are vigils across the country for Charlottesville, but our own vigil was canceled because of a credible threat by white supremacists to invade it and take it over.
Those of you who read my diaries here pre-rally know I had pushed for people to ignore the Nazis who invaded our community. They were here because we were a huge target for them; ranked the “happiest city in the United States”. Outspoken against the President and his policies. Very progressive, but not perfect- hell, no, we have plenty of faults. But we work through them together as a community as best we can.
And ever since I became intimately acquainted with the “alt-right” in the wake of the Y’all Qaeda nonsense in Oregon– which is almost the entire reason I’m now running for public office at all- I knew what their goal was, plain and simple: terrorism. And terrorists don’t attack folks who are already afraid. They don’t attack anyone who isn’t a threat to them. Which made our community the perfect target for them- and since they were gathering from across the country, in numbers they would unlikely be able to easily come up with again, I had an awful feeling that violence would ensue.
The whole week leading up to this felt like watching an out-of-control freight train barreling down on a car stuck on the tracks, with no way to stop it. It totally infected all of the campaign work for our run for the House of Delegates was trying to accomplish. I told my campaign volunteers and staff they were to stay away from the rally; I canceled a large canvass we’d had planned, sent our kids to grandma and grandpa’s house, and went to the place I figured I could do the most good- the emergency department.
Shenanigans started early yesterday, and not just for us; the other ER in Charlottesville, as well as some of our EMS folks, had to deal with cases of what we like to call “status dramaticus” before the sun had even risen; the Nazis had encamped everywhere, and were celebrating their torch rally to UVA. I have to be circumspect on details, but if you’ve read this article I wrote a few months ago, the motif contained within was certainly pertinent yesterday. Especially the part about how we take care of everyone, and give them the same level of care, regardless of who they are or where they come from- and no matter how hard that is to do.
We dealt with a lot of the various injuries that go on with a large protest like this. Head lacerations, concussions, etc. We had our decontamination protocol in place for people who’d been pepper sprayed, or ready for if tear gas to be deployed. We’d overstaffed on the premonition that it would be a tough day.
The warning we got was from Twitter; someone looked at it and screamed, then ran to show our charge nurse. Simultaneously, the reports came out on the EMS and Police band radios; dozens hurt. Trauma CPR in progress. Without hesitation, our charge nurse turned to alert our command center and told us to discharge what patients we could.
Everyone jumped into action doing what they could. I grabbed a wheelchair and rolled a patient being discharged out to their vehicle. It was there, waiting for the patient’s family member to bring their car around, when an ambulance came flying up. It’s lights and sirens were blaring, and it was followed by a handful of personal vehicles with hazard lights flashing.
There’s not much I can say about the rest of what happened. It was a mass casualty incident from a terrorist attack. We’re healthcare professionals. We did what we do best in the ER- work together to save lives.
We were able to come up for air as the evening was about to draw to a close. Our hospital staff held our shift over to talk to a pair of clergy and grief counselors, something none of us objected to. I know a lot of you won’t get how stunning that is, but we’re talking about ER Nurses, who are so maniacally stoic they’d rather burn themselves out than ever appear weak or ask for help. And we needed it.
I hope my brothers and sisters at the other ER in Charlottesville got that as well, along with everyone who needed it. The victims and their families, Heather’s in particular, as well as the families of the state troopers killed because they had to be in the air to keep us safe from Nazis. The ICU folks at UVA who moved heaven and earth to make sure the STBICU and ER had the resources they needed. The Fire and EMS crews that were on scene and kept this tragedy from being worse- and again, I can’t go into specifics, but it could have easily been worse if not for the aggressive and incredibly well-trained actions of the on scene medical crews.
Every single one of those folks in that entire chain are heroes, because it takes that many people to effectively manage these sorts-of situations. We don’t do it alone. I can speak to that personally, because while my role was important yesterday, it ultimately could’ve been done by any number of other well-trained ER Nurses. At our ER, it was our charge nurse who was the real hero. She didn’t flinch or demur at any point. Without her to organize, direct, and lead, we would’ve been sunk beneath the weight of the situation.
In the debriefing session, though her tone was stoic, she told us all that she’d go home and cry now; that she wasn’t sure how long it’d take for the images and thought of what had happened in the city she was born in, in the community she’d grown up in, to fade. That this would follow her around for the rest of her life now, not just from the scar it would leave on our community’s psyche, but because it was her fifth wedding anniversary, which she’d spent in the ER managing the worst medical crisis of her career.
And she did. She went home, hugged her boys, and cried to her husband, who felt the tears inside himself but wouldn’t (or couldn’t) let them out. Fell asleep with them curled up beside her. Then she woke up this morning before they even stirred, and went back to work to do it all again. But then again, I should know.
She’s my wife.