I’ll never forget absentmindedly checking CNN’s homepage on Dec. 14, 2012, and being gutted by the image on the screen. A Connecticut state trooper, with a look of anguish on her face, was hurriedly leading a line of crying children away from the horrors happening behind them inside Sandy Hook Elementary School. On that awful day, a shooter armed with a semi-automatic rifle walked into the school and killed 20 helpless six- and seven-year-olds and six heroic staff members who tried to shield their precious students from harm.
I had trouble falling asleep that night and many that followed. A new father at the time, I’d fully realized the profound love parents have for their children and was unable to process how the moms and dads of the young victims could possibly deal with dropping their kids off at school and never seeing them again. They probably didn’t. They probably still can’t.
The Robb Elementary School shooting in May brought back those painful memories and raised new frustrations in knowing nothing had been done to curb gun violence after Sandy Hook, Blacksburg, Orlando, Las Vegas and countless other mass tragedies. Only a few days later, news outlets reported on a mass shooting at Saint Francis Health System in Tulsa. My heart sank as we learned a patient who was angry about the amount of pain he experienced after spine surgery hunted down and killed Dr. Preston Phillips, the surgeon who performed the procedure. I thought about you, the incredible surgical professionals who selflessly and continually put the well-being of patients above your own. Our editorial team talks to you every week. Many of you have become friends.
You’re in varying stages of recovery from the mental and physical stress of working at the frontlines of care during an endless pandemic. The Tulsa shooting is the latest reminder of the dangers you face while serving your communities. I’m sure you didn’t sign up for the possibly of getting shot at. I’m also certain you showed up to work the day after the shooting and every day since because of the duty ingrained in your profession to care for those in need.
That sense of duty is why Dr. Ryan Parker, associate chief medical officer at Saint Francis Health System and a practicing emergency room physician, stood behind a podium during a press conference less than 24 hours after the shooting. She talked about having lunch with her friend Dr. Phillips days before he was killed, about seeing the carnage in the ER when some of the shooting victims arrived. She apologized to their family members for not being able to do more.
I’m not naïve enough to think guns will ever be eliminated from our communities. There are too many in circulation, the pockets of the gun lobbyists are too deep and the Second Amendment advocates are too many. Yes, there are plenty of responsible gun owners across the country, but the Tulsa shooter — who was obviously suffering from some degree of mental distress — shouldn’t have been able to legally purchase a semi-automatic rifle hours before using it to gun down four innocent people.
The country is divided by a wide aisle. Both sides are entrenched in their beliefs about gun safety and entitled to their opinions, but the volume of the debates — in quantity and loudness — is tiresome and troubling.
Toward the end of the press conference, Dr. Parker told her colleagues that their jobs are to heal others, even when they have broken hearts. She asked for prayers — regardless of faith and even in the absence of religious belief — because a prayer is simply a solemn request for help, which she said the world needs right now. That’s something we can all agree on. OSM