From a Little Ball to Standing Up

I’ll never forget that blood curdling scream of the nurse as she sprinted full steam out of the Mercy Hospital Emergency Room on November 19, 2018. A second and then third healthcare personnel rifled through the double doors of the triage/intake area, where patients are first seen when they arrive to the hospital to receive care. Everyone was yelling, “RUN, RUN, RUN!!!!”

I was a third-year medical student seeing a surgical consult with my resident while gunshots were fired in the room next door. As a medical student, we learn to follow the residents like ducklings follow their mother. When my resident started to walk, then jog, and then sprint; I followed step by step.

We hid in the team office near the operating rooms on the first floor, one of the only areas that required badge access to get into. There was no door to the office, so we began to barricade the door frame with chairs, desks, and a couch. We shut off all the lights and everyone took cover against a wall behind the remaining furniture. I inhaled and kept silent. I could see the silhouettes of everyone’s faces as they ferociously texted their loved ones that they loved them.

It’s an eerie feeling to have your mind and heart racing, while time itself seems to be moving slower than ever. Does a bullet hurt as it pierces flesh? Did I live a life worth living? Was all the studying and sacrifice worth falling short of the dreams I would never achieve? Is it a failure to die? Will anyone miss me? Meanwhile, my neurotic brain scoured the news for any morsel of information about what was happening around me.

Eventually, we heard some rustling followed by loud footsteps, and I felt everyone in the room tense up. I curled up into a ball and pushed myself against the wall. Luckily, the police found us before the shooter and had us run a set path that led to the semi-secure area outside of the hospital. The sharp November air had never tasted sweeter.

Once the situation was deemed under control, I walked past the numerous police barricades to my car. I opened the door, threw my backpack in, and turned on the ignition. My hands pressed against the heater, hoping that the heat would thaw the numbness of my soul. I finally exhaled.

I’ll never forgot how my brother and one of my best friends came over that night with a box of pizza and spent the rest of that evening with me to prove to me I was not alone. A few days later, I went home to celebrate Thanksgiving, going through the motions and trying to convince everyone, including myself, that I was fine. But we all knew I wasn’t. How could I be?

I’m still processing these events all this time later. Each time I hear a shooting on the news, my mind takes me back the scenes of that fateful day, especially the moment I curled myself into a little ball as I thought about those anxiety ridden questions. Then I think about how the victims and survivors of the most recent shootings probably thought some of the same questions. I just happened to be one of the “lucky ones”.

I was twenty-four when this happened to me. The children at Sandy Hook were six and seven. The children at Parkland were as young as fourteen. The children at Uvalde were ages nine through eleven. I cannot fathom the questions that these children were thinking. If thinking these questions broke me, what did it do to these children?

I was offered ‘thoughts and prayers’ by various Facebook friends, government officials, and the city of Chicago. I was hurt, angry, shellshocked, numb, amongst other feelings that surround trauma. These ‘thoughts and prayers’ were empty words that did absolutely nothing to make me feel better.

Over the years, I tried to retrain my brain from asking existential questions about death to questions on how to solve this problem. After the most recent shooting, I decided to ask my oldest friend, who happens to be an elementary teacher, what his thoughts are. His answer: education.

The short-term solution are the solutions that I hear in the news from the likes of Steve Kerr, Beto O’Rourke, President Joseph Biden and various others center around gun control (ie universal background checks, limiting the number of assault rifles in circulation, safe storage laws, red flag laws, etc.). These are great ideas for right now to hopefully temporize the problem, but I think the American people know that if someone wants a gun in this country, they will find a way to get it. The other frustrating aspect is the politicization of this issue leading to our elected officials largely voting along party lines, leading to a standstill as the number of shootings continue to skyrocket. How do we bring about positive, lasting change?

The long-term solution, in my opinion, is education. My personal answer is to increase public school funding to attract smart, dedicated people to become teachers. I want to live in a world the people from the best colleges compete to be teachers just as they currently compete for the best jobs in consulting, finance, medicine, and technology. This Key and Peele sketch outlines my dream world. With the increased funding, we attract better teachers and simultaneously lower the student teacher ratio. Then we let the teachers do what they love to do — help these children learn, grow, and most importantly, feel loved. We can hire counselors and require students to have regular check-ups (akin to a yearly sports physical) to help identify students at risk for mental health issues. The overall hope is to prevent the shooter’s mindset from ever being born. I don’t want to oversimplify the solution as there is work that needs to be done to decrease income inequality, eliminate generational poverty, increase access to healthcare (among many other systemic issues), but I am a firm believer that increasing access to quality education can begin to address the many problems that plague our country.

I’m tired of thoughts and prayers. I’m tired of a lack of action. I’m tired of thinking that shootings are the new normal. I’m tired of reliving November 19th, 2018 in my head. Since I began writing this piece, there was as a shooting at a hospital in Tulsa. It is crystal clear that our current strategies are not working.

It has taken years for me to be able to share this trauma and to start thinking of solutions. My soul has become a little less numb. Maybe one day I’ll consider myself healed, but until that day, my brain will keep thinking of those pesky questions I thought of curled up in a little ball as I inevitably read the next headline related to a shooting.

One day, in the distant future, I’ll have the courage to run for a position of power and change the world so that no one must experience what I and other victims have gone through. Until then, this essay is my attempt to stand up for something that I believe in.

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