LEWISTON, Maine – Dr. Richard King was driving home from the Central Maine Medical Center on Wednesday night when he received an urgent call from a fellow trauma surgeon alerting him that victims of a mass casualty event were flooding the hospital.
King, the trauma medical director, immediately turned around and sped through Lewiston’s streets with his hazard lights flashing, arriving to discover what he later described in an interview as a nightmarish scene. The emergency room was overflowing with wounded and bleeding patients, casualties of the latest mass shooting to hit an American city.
Within minutes, King went to work performing a “damage control” surgery on one gunshot victim to stop their bleeding and save their life before hustling into a different operating room to begin work on another.
“It was a situation of organized chaos,” King said. “It was really quite surreal. We read about these events all too frequently, and then to be a part of one …”
The staff of Central Maine Medical Center on Wednesday joined a growing list of fellow doctors, nurses, orderlies and technicians working in cities from Colorado Springs, Colorado to Highland Park, Illinois and El Paso, Texas, who have seen their hospitals upended by incessant mass shootings in recent years.
King told Reuters by phone from inside the heavily guarded hospital that the 250-bed medical center had never seen anything resembling the fallout from the Lewiston shooting, which left 18 people dead and more than a dozen wounded.
Lewiston, a former textile hub, is home to only about 38,000 people, but still stands as the second largest city in Maine, the state ranked by the FBI as the least violent in the nation.
The number of those killed on Wednesday was only slightly below the average number of homicides in Maine for an entire year.
But King said the medical center’s staff has undergone mass casualty event training and that it felt like “the entire hospital” rushed into the facility to help out. Eight shooting victims, including five who are stable and three in critical condition, remained in the hospital on Thursday.
“We really just did what we would normally do, just at maximum capacity and with maximum effort,” King said. “It was inspiring to see how all our staff responded, how everybody stepped up to the plate.”
While there is one on-call after hours surgeon, upward of 30 surgeons were on site within minutes of the first ambulances arriving at the hospital, King said.
As one victim after another was rushed into the emergency room – more than a dozen gunshot victims eventually arrived – doctors grew concerned that the medical center’s blood supply would not hold out. That forced King and other surgeons to do everything medically possible to stem the loss of blood among patients.
Supplies held out, King said, in large part due to work by the medical center’s trauma program manager, Tammy Lachance, to quickly secure extra blood from nearby hospitals.
In the aftermath of the shooting, King said the most difficult thing for him and other staff members, some of whom had family and loved ones who were killed, is coming to terms with the loss of life and tragedy that befell Lewiston, especially as the adrenaline of treating victims wears off.
With the shooter still at large on Thursday, law enforcement officers outside the hospital carrying long guns and wearing bulletproof vests were seen guarding entrances and keeping onlookers away.
“This is a close-knit community. Maine is fairly small, everybody knows everybody to some extent,” King said. “This shooting hits really hard in a city like Lewiston and a state like Maine.” REUTERS
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