Another Friday night in your local emergency department and it looks like it’s going to be a doozy! The waiting room is packed, a third of our rooms are occupied by “boarders” and the trauma bay is already hopping. I’ve drawn the short straw – Charge Nurse – so I get to be the leader of this three ring circus.
I make my first rounds and realize tonight holds a lot of pluses. First, I’m surrounded by an A-team of staff. Our three senior nurses possess 90 years of experience between them, most of the staff are trauma trained and talented Emergency Medicine physicians are at the helm. Second, my nursing shift supervisor is one of the best. She’s a straightforward ally that gets the things out of my control, under control. She’s got my back! Third, bed assignments are getting made. This enables me to get my sickest patients out the door and out of the waiting room. Three hours pass quickly and maybe this Friday night isn’t going to be that bad…
…and that’s when everything goes right into the crapper. “An officer down call just went out”, says the police officer assigned to our department. This news mobilizes my team to do what we were born to do. “Trauma Tom”, our ace-in-the-sleeve clerk, is already activating our trauma system. I grab two young buck nurses to assist me in extracting our patient from the police car transporting her. Sara – our wise trauma paramedic guru – joins me at my side. She gives me a trauma bay status update and informs me the team is ready. I keep her with me knowing she and I work like hand in glove. Three police officers stand with us. The constant crackling from their radios is loud voices intermixed with gunfire. It is sobering knowing that an all out gun battle is underway. We’re jolted back to our mission when additional casualties are called over the radio. I step back through the ambulance doors and tell Tom to activate for a second trauma.
The ominous Whoop-Whoop of a police siren tells me my patient is coming. I say a silent prayer as the police car comes into view. It ascends our driveway like it’s going to go through the door, straight to the trauma bay. The expert driver stops on a dime at the side of the waiting stretcher. My boys pull the officer out and lay her on the bed. I’m at the head so it’s my job to drive the stretcher the rest of the way. She is mine and I tell her this. “I will not leave your side”, I add. Her eyes are locked on mine and she winces a “thank you”. Her bravery touches me. I’d cry but I’ve got a job to do, a promise to keep. I move through the trauma bay doors as I hear Tom announce two more trauma activations; one is another police officer.
This is not my first time serving and protecting those sworn to protect and serve. My bond to my brothers and sisters in blue is ironclad from my past experience. Additionally, there’s just a natural connection between police and those of us working in emergency departments. The commonalities include the people we meet, the hours we keep and the false-impressions drawn from Hollywood portrayals. We share similar senses of humor, poor eating habits and unique appreciation for life. We never know what a shift will bring, who we’ll meet or how much our spirits will break each time we put on our respective uniforms.
The one thing we don’t share — I know I’m going home at sunrise. For less pay, less recognition and less respect, police wear the uniform that evil sees as a target. Sometimes evil is mere words. Sometimes evil is a gesture. At its worst, evil looks like tonight. I am not distracted by this evil in this moment. Instead, I focus my energy and God-given talents on this life put in my charge. I will defend her, pursue her well-being and not rest until I hand over my responsibilities to a colleague that shares my commitment. This officer would do this for me and I know this because of the shield covering her heart.
We lose one innocent civilian on this tragic night — it is devastating and only tempered by the potential worst outcome not realized – five victims are saved. The remainder of the night is quiet by Friday night standards. Huddles of physicians, nurses, paramedics, police, clerks, chaplains, technicians, administrators, housekeepers, registars and security officers occur throughout the department. Each member played their role to the finest. The subjects of conversation include cherishing life, commitment to mission and, love, sisterly/brotherly love, for each other. I realize, while watching, that one man set out to terrorize, paralyze and victimize our city.
Tonight though, hate fails.