Met with the Best of Humanity
It wasn’t until the morning after the Oct. 1 shooting at the Route 91 Harvest festival that Toni Mullan finally cried.
The UMC trauma nurse had been “in the moment” since around 10:12 p.m, when she picked up her phone at home to news of mass casualties. By 10:40 p.m. she arrived at the Level I trauma center, and it was “all hands on deck” as healthcare workers treated 104 victims from the shooting until well past 5 a.m.
Later that morning, Mullan noticed truckloads of donations pouring into the hospital for the victims, their families, and the staff. That’s when the Clinical Nurse Supervisor admits, “I couldn’t hold back the tears.” The generous outpouring from individuals and businesses all over the greater Las Vegas valley dropped the nurse to her knees. “We’re told this isn’t a tight knit community,” says Mullan. “Well, that has been proven wrong.”
As a nurse for 30 years, 11 in Las Vegas, Mullan has worked several high-volume traumas in the past, even treating nine gunshot wounds in five minutes. Like most of her colleagues, she has been trained for a night like this, but never actually worked a disaster of this proportion, until now. The country’s largest mass shooting by an individual claimed 58 lives and caused more than 500 injuries.
“You don’t think about it in the moment,” she explains. “You just do what you do every day, but on a much bigger scale.”
UMC Trauma Surgeon Dr. Syed Saquib, who also treated the October 1 victims, had a similar experience. “I was aware of the tragedy and magnitude,” he says, “but for that initial moment, I had to focus on patient care.”
It wasn’t until a few days later that the reality set in for Saquib.
“When it really hit me was when I was watching CNN and Anderson Cooper was doing a special on those who lost their lives,” remembers the surgeon. “He went over them one by one, each person with their name, their picture and testimonials from their loved ones on who these individuals were, and that’s when it began sinking in and when it became personal on that level.”
While saddened by the tragedy, Saquib and his colleagues are also amazed and impressed by the overall response.
“I’m never going to forget the tragedy itself,” he says, “but I’m also going to remember how we came together that night … not just what we did at the hospital, but also on the field, the first responders and all the concert goers. Strangers helping strangers, being good Samaritans … and everyone else who was there helping out and bringing our city closer together. People banding together as a community has really warmed my heart.”
At Valley Hospital Medical Center, Dr. Jeff Davidson, Medical Director of the Emergency Department, feels a “sense of togetherness” among the hospital staff. As he thinks back on that night, he also recalls the remarkably cooperative nature of the injured patients and their families, many of whom waited long hours until some of the more seriously injured were stabilized.
“There was a gentleman, a young man in the hallway…he looked horrible because he had this big bandage on his head with blood staining it, and he was right out there in the middle of everything,” recalls Davidson. “That young man sat there for probably five hours because…and he just sat there quietly, he never complained, he never asked anything that was unreasonable. What an incredible young man.”
Valley Health System’s six hospitals saw 232 injured patients from the shooting. Like UMC, the hospitals received a surge of donations the next day. By noon on Monday, Oct. 2, hundreds of cars were lined up outside Valley Hospital to drop off food, drinks, and non-perishable items.
“I’ve been in this town since the early ‘90s and I’ve never seen anything like that,” says Davidson. “It was crazy. Every local restaurant, every local service, everything you can imagine, and it went on for days.”
Donations and support weren’t just local. The attack resonated with people across the country and the response was wide spread. Survivors and mourners even received comfort from emotional support dogs, deployed by an animal group in Washington.
Makeshift memorials popped up throughout the valley, including a community garden downtown and memorial crosses at the Welcome to Las Vegas sign.
As of mid-October, only four patients remained at UMC. The two 32nd-floor windows from the shooter’s suite at Mandalay Bay were boarded up. And the memorial crosses are set to move to the Clark County Museum in mid-November.
Still, Mullan admits, she isn’t entirely ready to move forward emotionally.
“I’m experiencing emotions I didn’t know I had,” she says. “It’s very raw.”
And it’s not just hitting those who worked the night of the shooting. Some doctors, nurses, and other staff, who weren’t called in to help, are now feeling survivor’s guilt, according to both Mullan and Davidson.
LeAnn Thieman, author of the “Chicken Soup for the Nurse’s Soul” series, compares what Las Vegas hospital staff faced Oct. 1 to working in a war zone. Thieman worked as a nurse in an actual war zone at the end of the Vietnam War and believes these circumstances take a toll on healthcare workers, potentially leading to Compassion Fatigue and Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder.
“They are trained to work in those conditions and they do and valiantly so,” she says, “but the same compassioned hearts that calls them to this profession, those are the same compassioned hearts that are broken with this kind of loss.”
She recommends that healthcare workers, particularly those in trauma and emergency situations, take time every single day “to nurture their bodies minds and spirits” even if it’s just for 15 minutes.
“I literally nag them,” she says. “We can’t give from an empty well and we can’t give what we don’t have inside.”
Thieman is in contact with UMC and has offered to speak with local staff about self-care for healthcare workers. The hospital, and others in the valley, have been providing ample therapists, counselors, and psychiatric services to patients, their families, and hospital employees since the incident.
“I am confident we will be well taken care of,” says Mullan.
Dr. Davidson, meanwhile, is trying to focus on the positive. In particular, he recalls one patient, a woman, who suffered a gunshot injury to her face. His team was able to bring in an ear-nose-and-throat doctor “in the nick of time.” Together they stabilized her and treated her cosmetically.
When the woman was discharged in early October, her husband brought her back through the emergency room. She and her husband stopped and took pictures with Dr. Davidson, and personally thanked him.
“That was an amazing moment for me, an incredible moment,” he says. “It was such a tragic event, but for that moment, for that patient, my team had a positive effect on her.”
Saquib heartily agrees: “We really met the worst of humanity with the best of humanity.”
Donated bag meals for on duty hospital staff.
Preparing for the next patient.