It was the night July 4th, the day of independence to celebrate America’s prosperity. I remember leaving my house to head to the hospital and seeing acts of patriotism strike the city: from backyard BBQ’s, to family and friend’s gathering, to the beautiful fireworks in the sky. People expressed their love and appreciation for the United States of America.
It was 10pm as I made my way to the Emergency Room. I began to search for Dr. RG, an Emergency medicine physician. I found him in the Critical Care Trauma unit, where he happened to be working that night. I went to the lounge put on scrubs and placed my Brown credentials in my left pocket. I was ready to begin shadowing Dr. RG on his overnight shift in the Critical Care Trauma unit.
At approximately 10:45 pm, the red phone rang and the resident on call at the hospital answered. As she hung up the phone she yelled, “GSW, stable, 5 minutes.” Dr. RG kept handling work on his computer, as if the announcement didn’t have much effect on him. Nurses began setting up a room for the incoming patient. A few minutes later the red phone rang again. Dr. RG turned to me and said, “Are you ready for tonight?”
Multiple gunshot wounds began pouring into the emergency room, there were patients in the hallway who did not have rooms available for them and there was a shortage in staff. The trauma team came down and there was a drastic shift in energy– – it was getting intense. I was standing in the corner in a crowded room trying to get a good look at the patient. The patient was a 23 year old black male who was shot in the abdomen and came in under cardiac arrest. There was blood everywhere, from his face to his feet –– the patient was covered in his own blood. The EMT’S lifted the patient off the stretcher and onto the bed, and the residents began moving quickly. They began to try to revive him and start his heart. Unfortunately, his heart did not start back up. Dr. RG told the residents, “move on to the young lady, time of death 11:20 pm,” and they began to stabilize another GSW who was a black 16 year old female. I was in shock in and did not know how to feel in that moment.
As patients continued to pour in from car accidents, stabbings, gunshot wounds, and other traumas, families also began to pour in. Family and friends of the 23-year-old deceased patient had arrived and were anxious to hear any news. It was time to deliver the first death notification of the night. Dr. RG and I had an officer accompany us as we headed to see the family and friends. There were more than a dozen family and friends in the waiting room. Dr. RG spoke to them as a whole and said, “…came in under cardiac arrest and we tried our best to restart his heart, but I’m sorry… he is dead.” He was very direct and honest and the response was more intense than what I expected.
“What do you mean? He’s what?” The mom began to cry.
A close friend began screaming at Dr. RG and even began to be confrontational, to the point where the officer had to intervene. Dr. RG stayed calm and allowed the young man to cool down. He then told him to step outside to talk to him. Dr. RG told him, “I know you’re hurting and I am terribly sorry for your loss. I know you are angry and I am here to help you in any way that I can. I can let you see him … if you’d like.” He then hugged him.
To be the emergency physician that I envision, I have to become better at being a shoulder to lean on. My biggest weakness with the work that I hope to accomplish, is being able to console family and friends of patients especially during death notifications. I’m hoping to get better in time by learning to express and communicate my own emotions, which will allow me to further understand how to handle being that leaning shoulder.
My night in the ER got intense far quicker than I anticipated. On the night of celebrating American freedom and potential for prosperity, the emergency room was flooded with victims of violence incapable of experiencing this same victory. I was trying to wrap my head around the atrocities that I witnessed in a matter of hours.
From that night on, I knew without a doubt why I want to do medicine, I knew that I wanted be involved far more than just in the ER but also in the community at large via non-profit work- that takes preventive measures through mentorship and scholarship to address and lessen the occurrence of violence in impoverished communities.
On the day of independence, liberation, and unity of one the greatest countries in the world, violence and deprivation of life has never been more commonplace.
By Ahmed Elsayed, MD’22