What can physicians do about mass shootings?

I am an emergency medicine physician. I started my career in an ER that saw a significant amount of walk-in trauma. Eventually, I left that department and moved on and now primarily see medical emergencies. For a while, I truly missed being involved in treating trauma patients. I missed the adrenaline, excitement, and fervor that ensues after a penetrating trauma is dropped off in the ER driveway.

But I just don’t feel that way anymore. There’s no single reason for this I imagine: Non-clinical interests? Burnout? Aging? Motherhood?

Mass shootings? This. Definitely this.

No, this is not an article about my thoughts on gun control. For today, I’ll keep that to myself. I know better than to believe that my written opinions on gun control will change anyone’s minds. This is an article full of questions. This is an article about physicians, our humanity, our hearts, our families, our children and the communities we serve.

I know so many of my colleagues out there on the front lines at trauma centers have born witness to horrific scenes. Even more are out there wondering if it will be their turn next. Today our colleagues are crying in Florida. Before this, our colleagues shed tears in Nevada, Texas, California, South Carolina, Connecticut; the list goes on and on.

I cannot imagine how unbearable it would be to witness such tragedy. How did you do it? How did you handle watching the soul of a child being ripped away from their body? How did you formulate words to say that would forever destroy lives? How do you put one foot forward? How do you sleep, eat or laugh after what you’ve seen?

Every few days that I learn of another mass shooting, I grow less and less nostalgic of my days seeing trauma patients. But whether I like it or not, my decision to walk away from working at a trauma center will not protect me if a mass shooting comes to my town. I know that this is my specialty’s new reality. It could be any one of us, any day, at any time that is shoved onto that front line.

Despite all my reasoning about this new reality, I cannot seem to reconcile what I know with what I feel. I just don’t want to think about it. I don’t want to come to terms with it. I don’t want to be prepared. I don’t want more disaster drill training.

I don’t want to be terrified anymore.

If the “conversations” on social media are any indication, we will not agree on guns anytime soon. The current dialogues are exasperating. They accomplish nothing outside of creating unproductive arguments that go round and round without any resolution, agreement or plan of action to work towards stopping this madness. So what things, whether gun advocate or gun hater, what can we as physicians and healers agree on? What CAN we start to do to help? I just feel so desperately that something needs to budge. I want to move on to a conversation that works so that instead of arguing in circles we can finally start towards something, anything, that produces change.

Is it fair to assume, as a group, that we believe an increase in mass shootings is occurring in our society? That we believe in science? That we believe mass shootings are a public health emergency? That we need more research on this?

That we do not want to see masses of mothers, fathers, and children dying on our doorsteps?

So if we can agree on those points, where can we start?

Is it to find the means and funding to start real research into this matter? Is it to advocate for emotional education? Is it to tell our true stories to every news outlet that will listen, exposing the lack of resources available for the mentally ill? Is it collaboration with our pediatric and psychiatry colleagues to advocate for increased mental health care funding? Is it to implore our states for help our schools support children and parents in need? Is it to increase awareness of physical and cyberbullying? Is it to find better ways to identify at-risk patients who come through our door?

And then, what do we need to do for ourselves? Do we need to create better support systems for our colleagues who are involved in treating victims of mass shootings? Should we be trained on recognizing PTSD in our own colleagues and staff?

Where in that list should we start? And most importantly, when can we finally stop arguing and start talking like a civilization that deserves better than terror?

I hope if we can start somewhere with civility and some success, then maybe we can finally talk about the AR-15 elephant in the room.

I write this article of questions because — frankly — I don’t know the answers myself. But I hope as a group of people that should be leaders in society, we can discuss and finally do something.

“Dr. M.S.” is a physician who can be reached on Twitter @msmemesha.

Image credit: Shutterstock.com

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