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The Daily Tar Heel

Op-ed: When we become too tired to ‘run, hide, fight’


Content Warning: This article mentions gun violence and death. 

As the hospital cafeteria buzzed with noon traffic, our trauma team pagers rang out.

"17-year-old male gunshot wound to the head, blood pressure 70/30, heart rate 110, ETA 5 minutes."

We jumped up and hurried to the resuscitation bay at Los Angeles General Medical Center, the largest county hospital in Los Angeles. 

ER physicians, surgeons, nurses and techs talked nervously, in hushed tones. In rushed a young boy strapped to a stretcher, with blood-soaked gauze wrapped against his forehead.

The paramedic yelled out, “Two gunshot wounds to the head, reported misfire of a pistol at a friend’s house.”

Coordinated commotion began: IV lines in, blood drawn, vital signs taken, wounds packed. We wheeled him to the CT scanner, pushing medications to stabilize his blood pressure while starting a blood transfusion. 

The CT scan showed what we knew to be true: a devastating injury. Memories shattered, lost to blood and gunmetal. I whispered a small prayer.

As we faded from the room, our pagers erupted, reminding us our job wasn’t finished.

"18-year-old female gunshot wound to the chest and head, blood pressure 50/30, heart rate 140, ETA now."

We turned to see a paramedic on a gurney giving chest compressions. This time our team had to open the chest to find and fix the damage. Tissue cut, ribs splayed and heart delivered into hands.

Finding a dime-sized hole on the right ventricle, we frantically sewed to stem bleeding. The heart remained lifeless. Forty minutes later, we conceded. We were silent once again. 

I slumped down in a surgical resident call room, mind reeling. I pulled out my phone, desperate to escape. The evening news read, "Faculty member fatally shot in University of North Carolina building."

As a surgical resident at one of the country’s busiest trauma centers, I am unfortunately no stranger to gun violence. In fact, many of us came here to serve those most at risk of violence. But what happens when even those who run to help are too exhausted to walk through the door?

We are in the midst of a gun violence epidemic. If we do nothing, we are destined for more blood, agony, and pain. I will never unhear the guttural screams of a mother losing a child or unsee life fade from a person’s eyes. Many of us in healthcare know that another trauma activation is just around the corner.

Those of us trained at UNC School of Medicine were attracted to the public health work that our university leads. We hoped to contribute not only to the treatment, but prevention of disease. We saw gun violence as something that may impact our university and began the Stop the Bleed program, installing hemorrhage control first aid kits throughout campus.

But we are exhausted. Without legislative leadership, we cannot stem the tides of gun violence. As a public health problem, gun violence needs public health solutions. Until then, needless life will be lost until we are too tired to "run, hide, fight.”

- Sean Donohue, UNC Medical School Graduate 

Editor's note: Clinical information in this article has been altered to protect the health information of patients at the LA General Medical Center.

@dthopinion |

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