When I heard the news of the Pulse shootings on June 12 my heart literally skipped a beat. How could this horrific act of violence happen so close to home? I live just outside of Orlando, yet most times when I'm asked where I live my response is "Orlando, FL."
Seeing the faces and learning the ages of the victims really brought this tragedy closer to my own reality. My children are 36 and 32. So many of the men and women lost in that massive shooting were so young, just starting their lives. They were out sharing an evening of what was supposed to be creating lifetime memories and making new friends. Instead, 49 individuals died while many others were wounded. Not only would there be physical wounds to be dealt with, the emotional scars were only just beginning. As someone who has faced both physical and psychological pain, I immediately knew that anyone who was at Pulse that night, those who had to respond to the emergency or the professionals who would be providing care for those injured -- the events of that night would create long lasting damages beyond the obvious gunshot wounds or broken bones. I could feel the pain. I understood that there were families who had last a loved one -- husband, father, wife, mother, brother, sister, son, daughter, uncle, aunt, cousin, significant other, dear friend. There were others left fighting for their lives, taken to area hospitals including a place I often refer to as my "second home." Orlando Regional Medical Center, part of Orlando Health, is the major trauma center in the region. That evening, the center became ground zero for many of the victims -- some being transported via personal trucks or vans since rescue vehicles could not reach the scene. ORMC was only a few blocks away from the nightclub. (Per members of the medical staff who spoke to the media, the hospital's proximity helped some of the seriously wounded individuals reach emergency care faster.)
Since Dec. 2000 I have been a cancer patient. While my care was initially provided by M.D. Anderson Cancer Center Orlando, I am now associated with UF Health Cancer Center, Orlando Health. (To me, it's all semantics. I have the same doctors, nurses, etc.) The buildings where I go for treatment, testing or doctor visits are located just off of Orange Ave. While there was a name change, fortunately for me and other patients, the care has remained consistent, compassionate and professional. The cancer center building is linked to ORMC via several passageways. I often go between the two buildings, visiting the gift shop or cafeteria. Depending upon what my oncologist orders, I may also have some testing done at ORMC's radiology department. I have also been taken to ORMC's ER after several auto accidents.
Why am I mentioning this after my reference to the Pulse mass shootings? It was ORMC that made headlines around the world when it took in most of the victims that night. (The main campus of Florida Hospital also received patients from this tragedy, offering its ER and surgical services as well. I've been a patient at FL Hospital and must add that the care was excellent.) When I realized many of the Pulse victims were now at ORMC receiving treatment in the ER or heading off to surgery, I also knew that they were in good hands. Highly skilled surgical teams were prepared to make a difference.
Having grown up in Philadelphia, PA I was used to having multiple major medical centers not only close to one another but also offering ER/trauma care. For some reason, Florida has different regulations allowing for only one Level 1 trauma center in each region. Central Florida has ORMC. That means it serves from the Atlantic to the Gulf Coast. Anyone who is classified as a trauma victim is supposed to be transported to ORMC even if another hospital ER is closer. Since I am not a politician or an expert in emergency/trauma care, I may not be the right person to comment. However, on the evening of June 12 ORMC's Level 1 Trauma Center was truly overwhelmed with patients. The staff did an outstanding job. No one is doubting that it performed to the highest standards. But, is that the right solution for Orlando which aspires to grow into a major cosmopolitan city? Why there only one Level 1 trauma unit for such a large population and after the Pulse shootings, maybe it is time to re-think ER/trauma care throughout Florida?
I am extremely proud when I tell others that I am a patient at Orlando Health and its affiliates. I call the care I receive at the cancer center... one stop shopping. I have access to anything I need from spiritual to mental health counseling, dietary to pharmacy services, a library with computers, books and information that is safe to read and informative. My doctors and nurses are the best; many are considered experts in their fields and are respected throughout Orlando, Florida and the nation. The men and women who found themselves at ORMC the night of June 12 were placed into capable hands. Their care was top notch in every aspect.
I have had my own challenges over the years, from dealing with chronic pain to financial matters. Those who witnessed the mass execution of individuals that night will have major challenges and struggles ahead. Is is even possible to relate a cancer patient's journey to that of a trauma victim? On some levels it is. Of course, I can't begin to imagine how terrifying it was for those men and women to see others being shot dead before their eyes and wondering if they would get out alive. Or, being shot multiple times and then dragged over broken glass in order to be saved. I hate pain and when I heard some of the survivors speaking about their ordeals I did feel a relationship to them. I could understand the physical pain they had to endure. I also understood the emotional pain they were experiencing. The tie between this current event and my own cancer journey seemed a bit of a stretch at first but as I began to listen to the survivors, I did feel a common denominator.
Chronic pain is difficult to live with and for many Pulse victims this may be a part of their future. (I hope it's not.) Depression develops slowly in most cases and once it takes hold it can last months or years. (Counseling is essential as is learning to relax and meditate.) Cancer survivors or anyone who has faced a major health issue can relate to physical and psychological pain. I can.
The current climate of violence overtaking our nation is alarming. Finding myself able to relate to the Pulse victims and their families is another small step towards a better understanding of what I went through and continue to endure. It's also learning how my challenges and struggles relate to others. It is what makes us human, the ability to understand our compassion for one another and how we are all truly the same.