Enoch • When Debbie Bowerman went to see a movie recently with her husband and teenage daughter, they settled into their seats, and she scanned for the emergency exits.
It’s a habit the Enoch resident repeats in many confined public places, ever since the Route 91 Harvest Festival mass shooting in Las Vegas last fall.
Know the fastest way out. Have a plan.
Bowerman wasn’t wounded in the mass shooting. Actually, she wasn’t even at the festival. Instead, she witnessed the carnage firsthand as an emergency room nurse at nearby Sunrise Hospital, which took in about 200 patients in the hours after the shooting.
Her experience since then reflects how first responders and medical professionals often face traumatic memories and other lingering impacts long after a mass shooting.
“It’s still there. It will always be there,” Bowerman said recently of that Sunday night. “It’s just not in the front; it’s tucked away a little bit.”
Bowerman’s job Oct. 1 was in the ambulance bay, the first person to assess each gunshot victim. At first, she was joined by a doctor, Kevin Menes, but he was soon needed inside.
She was on her own.
“It was just pulling bodies out of the ambulances,” she recalled, “out of the police cars, Ubers, taxicabs, pickup trucks, with four, five and six people in them.”
Bowerman struggled to sleep for days afterward. She couldn’t stop thinking about a woman in her early 20s, around the same age as one of her daughters. The woman had no pulse, and Bowerman had jumped on the gurney and started doing CPR. It was too late.
Bowerman continues to walk through escape plans in her mind when she’s at most public events. But she says it doesn’t prevent her from enjoying herself; she can walk through the plan in her mind for a moment, and then move on.
“I don’t do these things because I live in fear,” she said. “I do them because I have come face to face with the reality of: This can happen anywhere.”
That night reinforced to Bowerman that she was meant to be an ER nurse. She plans to seek out more training, on both mass casualty situations and self-healing techniques for her and her fellow hospital workers.
And she wants to share with other medical workers what she learned, even though she’s no fan of public speaking.
She recently tag-teamed a speech with Menes about their experience at an Emergency Nurses Association event in Las Vegas, to a standing ovation. For the next two talks — at hospitals in Salt Lake City and New York — she’ll be on her own.
And no doubt checking for the exits ahead of time — just in case.