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ER Nurse Kellen Squire: Feelings of Futility and Anger at the Mass Shooting in Charlottesville Today

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by Kellen Squire, who is an ER nurse:

WARNING: THIS STORY CONTAINS A GRAPHIC IMAGE OF AN ER TRAUMA BAY THAT WILL SHOCK AND DISTURB MANY.

There is a complete futility I can feel in my heart and soul about what I’m writing here. Really, about any tragedy, but for one that hits so close to home it’s only magnified about a thousand times.

This isn’t the first or second mass shooting we’ve had in our area recently. One involved a two year-old! But we’re so desensitized as a country by these kinds of things that the first response I saw from too many damn people was, “Oh, only three people died? Eh, not really much of a mass shooting, is it?”

And there’s always time for those people. The smug declarations that “Now is not the time for histrionics”, that any emotional response proves that I’m not thinking reasonably. That we need to “focus on the victims” or “not bring politics into this”. That it’s too soon to ask why students are sheltering in place in basements and dorm rooms, that schools are closed here and parents have to have conversations with children too young to understand that this is a fear our leaders have consigned them to live with forever. That we need “thoughts and prayers”. That only the cold, machine logic can be the response in the face of a tragedy such as what happened in our community; maybe conduct a study, but surely nothing too hasty.

Always time.

And a coil of anger just creaks ever slowly tighter in my soul every time I hear that.

It’s righteous anger. There’s always time for them, always time for all of them because we’re the ones who hold the line so they can take their time. We’re the ones who get the broken bodies, we’re the ones who have to tell the families, we’re the ones who have to make that work AND still see and take care of everyone we have to, still hold our community’s safety net together.

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This is NOT a picture from last night’s events. It’s from a similar tragedy years ago, of an ER Trauma bay, showing the aftermath of a trauma case from several years ago. There is an ER stretcher with a backboard on it. Blood has soaked into the sheets and mattress and spilled onto the floor. Code carts are broken open and torn through. Blood covers several other parts of the floor, along with PPE gowns. However, no providers are present in the picture seemingly because their efforts to save the patient’s life were in vain and the trauma team took a moment to grieve or, more likely, were called away before they were able to stay and clean the room up.

Everyone else gets to look away, to pretend. But we don’t. We don’t get to look away. We don’t get to forget. Not the victims. Not the survivors, whose bodies are broken and often never recover fully. We get to see it all.

And in the social media age, you can watch in real-time as family members realize their loved ones aren’t responding to phone calls and texts. Watching them break down in real time, wondering, praying desperately that it’s not their child, not their family member… while you already know their worst fears have been realized.

That’s why I posted the picture to the right. That picture is from a similar trauma that occurred years ago. And I know how much it hurts to see. I know all of the stories that picture represents. Desperately trying to stop the bleeding. Trying to get an IV in around three other people doing their jobs. Forgoing the IV pump and priming a bag of o-negative blood and, once attached to the IV line, squeezing it between your hands as you watch blood drain onto the floor faster than you can get it into the patient. The doc and the respiratory therapist trying desperate to get a breathing tube in the patient. The gurgling and choking sounds. And, if you’re particularly unlucky, the screaming of the family just audible in the distance, screaming and begging and pleading

I want everyone here to see even a muted example of what we go through. What gun violence does to people. What we have to go through to try and get these people back- and the lifetime of pain and suffering they often have to endure when we DO get them back.

But even more so for all the stories of the patient who died. The thousands of stories that made up their life- the stories that make up all of our lives, that lead us to where we are, that define us- snuffed out in an instant. Gone.

Gone. But not forgotten.

To not have an emotional response, to not, deep in their guts… to not feel the NEED to do something… tells me more about them than it does about the rest of us.

Give me people who feel the pain of what happened here, who know the pain in their bones, over those who say they feel nothing. We deserve better than those who feel nothing when our children lie bleeding. I won’t apologize for hurting in moments like this, and I will own my anger, knowing it connects us to each other, even when it feels like all we can do is feel that pain.

It is a choice. It is our choice to let it continue. What are we doing?

We deserve better.

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