JOINT BASE SAN ANTONIO-FORT SAM HOUSTON, Texas —
I was shocked and horrified when I heard the news about the Sutherland Springs shooting on the TV screen mounted on the wall at the gym. The initial reports were varied and confusing, but there was no doubt that lives had been lost and many injured.
My cellphone blew up with calls. Still in workout clothes, I raced out of the gym and into work at Brooke Army Medical Center. As one of two hospitals in the city with the highest level of trauma care, I knew patients from the shooting would be on their way.
We received eight of the 20 injured victims that Sunday afternoon – six adults and two minors. The days that followed were filled with a torrential barrage of media calls and condition requests. As I fielded calls, my heart broke as I watched the news: 26 people killed, including eight members of a family spanning three generations.
However, as is often the case after tragedy, I was inspired and uplifted by our nation’s outpouring of love and support for the victims and their families. With this tragedy so close to home, I was also privileged to witness an outpouring of support for our community’s first responders and the staff here at BAMC.
Last week, I received a call from a colleague at the Sunrise Hospital and Medical Center. Sunrise was the closest hospital to the Oct. 1 shooting at the Las Vegas Strip that left 58 people dead and 546 injured – the deadliest mass shooting by an individual in the U.S. The hospital received more than 200 victims.
My colleague told me the Sunrise hospital staff wanted to show their support to our hospital in the wake of this tragedy, dissimilar in scope but alike in a pain that can’t be measured. She was mailing a banner, she said, signed by the hospital staff and intended for BAMC staff caring for Sutherland Springs victims and their families. I was touched by this thoughtful gift, as were my leaders. We plan to display it a week at a time in each ward where patients have been treated.
Another call came from Capts. John Arroyo and Katie Blanchard, who asked to speak with the recovering victims. As survivors of unspeakable violence, both can relate to the journey that lies ahead for these patients and their families.
In 2014, a fellow Soldier walked up to Arroyo in a parking lot at Fort Hood, Texas, and shot him at close range in the neck. The shooter killed three Soldiers and wounded 14 others. Blanchard had been doused in gasoline and her face lit on fire by a former employee at her post in Kansas in 2016.
They are still recovering, and perhaps struggling to understand what led to those attacks, yet both feel compelled to share a message of hope.
Perhaps the most touching conversation I’ve had this week was with the charge nurse who was on duty that Sunday afternoon when we received eight of the 20 wounded from the shooting.
Air Force Maj. Belinda Kelley took the initial call that patients from a mass shooting were on their way. The staff sprang into action, opening up 15 trauma bays to accommodate a larger number of patients.
More than two dozen trauma surgeons heard the news and showed up to work, not to observe, but to assist. This was a number more than matched by nurses, medics, pharmacists and countless other staff members.
Kelley coordinated the teams and ensured everything needed was on hand. Later that evening the gravity of the events struck her.
“As a nurse, this is a very emotional place,” she said, her eyes filling with tears, “especially when I pick up the phone and someone is looking for a loved one.”
“If I walk out of here and can’t cry, then I can’t come back,” she said, “because that means I don’t care anymore. Caring is what I do.”
Sadly, there are some who will always seek to cause tremendous harm and pain. But, there are countless others, like the Sunrise Hospital staff, whose abundant acts of love will always triumph over unfathomable hate.
(Note: BAMC continues to care for five victims of the shooting. Three have been discharged.)