The longest night: Inside the ED after the Aurora shooting

Paramedic: 'You catch yourself thinking about it for no good reason'

Twenty-three patients were rushed to the University of Colorado Hospital's ED after the deadly mass shooting in Aurora last month, and staff tell the New York Times how the incident tested their skills and training—and lingers in their minds today.

Paramedic: It 'sounded like absolutely chaos'

According to hospital staff, the ED was at full capacity in the early morning of July 20 when they first heard news of a shooting.

The team was used to dealing with gunshot wounds, and ED charge nurse Becky Davis—thinking that the shooting might be gang-related—began preparing space for up to three additional patients. She did not discover until later that a lone gunman had opened fire in an Aurora movie theater during a midnight showing of "The Dark Knight Rises," wounding 71 individuals and killing 12.

At about 12:45 a.m., Davis was informed that "multiple wounded" were being transported by police cars. At the same time, Jason Kennedy—a paramedic who served with the First Armored Division in Iraq—was listening to the police scanner. "It basically sounded like absolute chaos," he says, "It sounded just like a war zone."

At 1:06 a.m., the first police car arrived at the hospital carrying wounded victims. By 1:21 a.m., nine patrol vehicles and an ambulance had brought 13 patients to the hospital, and by the end of the night, the hospital had received a total of 23 patients, one of them dead on arrival.

"I think a lot of us have seen very bad gunshot wounds before," says Comilla Sasson, one of two attending physicians in the ED that night. "But some of the pictures that I think many of us have stuck in our heads to this day are just some of the most horrible injuries." According to Kennedy, there were "crowds of people covered in blood."

Treating the wounded

The ED staff filled two trauma rooms, lined the hallway with stretchers, and transformed a storeroom into a treatment room. Meanwhile, ORs were cleared to make way for the nine surgeries performed that night, and staff quickly replenished blood units and medical supplies.

Elsewhere in the hospital, staff set up a command center and called in surgeons and more than 100 additional staff members, including radiologists and housekeepers. At the same time, staff in other departments—including ICU nurse and residents—came to the ED to help.

By 7 a.m., 22 patients were examined, triaged, and treated. All the patients survived, although one remains in critical but stable condition in the hospital.

After the tragedy

The ED staff say the morning of July 20 is one they will not forget. "You catch yourself thinking about it for no good reason," says Kennedy.

"We went into emergency medicine because we know it's crazy—you never know what's going to come through the door," says Sasson. "But the thing none of us have gotten over is, we made it through. We really, truly shined" (Goode, Times, 8/16).

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