You're in the ER, thanks to a handgun
Why you were shot with a handgun doesn't matter. As emergency physicians, we do the same things for you whether you got shot climbing in your window after locking yourself out, were feeling despondent, or being a curious kid who found the pistol in the bedroom.
The real reason is always the same: The loaded gun was available, and did the job it was designed to do, blasting a piece of metal through your body.
Most people tell us that getting shot was the worst day of their life. It's often their last day as well. In our busy emergency departments, we see lots of worst and last days. You're lucky if you see us on that day; it means you lived the 30 minutes it took to arrive at our workplace.
Handgun owners are people who admire the ability of a weapon to maim or kill from afar. ER workers are the people who stand next to your body after a gun owner's bullet enters it. The hospital stretcher supports you at our waists, as our practiced hands try to keep you alive despite what the gun owner's bullet has destroyed. We are often the first to realize that nothing can be done to save you, or let you walk again, or to see from the eye you are reading with right now.
There's little for you to do. There's no skill in surviving a gunshot wound; you can't choose where a bullet enters your body, or what path it takes after drilling through your skin. You'll look up at the big light on the ceiling and hear the beeps from the monitor. You'll feel scared and be in terrific pain. You'll remain in terrific pain until we're sure you won't bleed to death.
As emergency physicians, we are often asked questions like "what is the craziest/worst/stupidest thing you have ever seen?" The question makes us recoil, since it is mostly about entertainment rather than concern. Your privacy is important to us.
But when 20 children and six adults are easily gunned down by one layperson carrying more firepower than any police officer, it is time to talk. Not about freedom or the Constitution, but about life, and how easily it can be snuffed out by a bullet.
More than most, emergency workers see the human pain and pointless suffering caused by the proliferation and easy access to guns and ammunition. Emergency workers know the importance of preventing illness and disease, which is why we championed helmets and seat belts. People said we'd never get kids and drivers to listen; they were wrong.
It is time to help stop the shooting. We can enact sensible gun legislation such as a permanent assault weapons ban, tighter enforcement of existing laws, enhanced penalties for violations, and universal background checks with reasonable waiting periods. The paranoia of a few can no longer be tolerated as an impediment to reasonable limits on access to guns and weapons of murder. It will be a noisy and vindictive conversation for some, but it is time to make sure that Sandy Hook is the worst it could ever be.
We call on the silent majority of citizens, especially those in the health professions, to speak up, to tell your stories and prove that we can preserve Western traditions and thoughtfully legislate against this epidemic. Enough is enough.
As emergency physicians, we know the answer to the question, "What is the craziest/worst/stupidest thing you see happening in our country?" More of us need to ask that question. If you're asking us while we're at work, you're too late.
Todd Allen and Douglas Nelson are Salt Lake-area emergency room physicians.
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