When she got home at 8 a.m. Monday, Debbie Bowerman scrubbed the blood off her white gold wedding band with a toothbrush.
Her watch, with its gray leather band, was just high enough on her wrist to not be covered by the rubber gloves she had worn throughout the night before. So she could understand how that was now coated in what looked like rusty red paint.
But the diamond insets of her ring? It didn’t make sense.
It wasn’t easy to make much sense of anything that had happened during her shift.
7 p.m. Sunday
Bowerman joined the huddle of emergency room employees at Sunrise Hospital and got her assignment: ambulance check-in. Perfect.
The 50-year-old nurse moved to the small southern Utah town of Enoch a little over a year ago and had taken a two-hour bus ride earlier that day to get to her job at the Las Vegas medical center. Updating the drivers and EMTs should’ve been simple enough.
Three hours in, and the only assignment Bowerman had given was one room, to a pedestrian hit by a car. He wasn’t in critical condition — some scratches and bruising. Still, a metro police officer came to the hospital to gather information for a report.
As the officer stood at the front desk, Bowerman picked up on the chatter from the radio clipped to his shoulder.
“We have shots fired. We have multiple shots fired.”
“Shots fired at Mandalay Bay. We have multiple shots fired.”
Then she heard the gunshots through the radio. Pop-pop-pop.
Bowerman pulled the first victim out of a dark, four-door car.
“Where are you hit?” she asked the man.
The blood pooling at his stomach was her answer. She gave him a red tag — meant for patients who need immediate attention — and sent him into the emergency room on a gurney.
Bowerman stood in the ambulance bay with the senior doctor on duty and steadied her breath. When she looked up, a row of ambulance lights dotted the roadway leading to the hospital. It was the first time she saw some sign of the scope of the mass shooting that had rained down on a country music concert 5 miles from the driveway where she paced.
Then, two minutes later, another car. Another man. Another stretcher.
“Where are you hit?” she repeated. “Are you stable?”
For a while, the only tally of the impact that Bowerman had was the vehicles — 10 ambulances, one taxi with four victims, a limo, a hotel SUV, 20 pickup trucks with people lying across the back, one Uber ride, a police cruiser.
“What do you mean you have to go?” Bowerman asked as Kevin Menes headed toward the doors.
“You’ve been watching me do this, right?” the doctor responded. “I need you to do exactly what I was doing.”
The two had seen about 150 patients in 40 minutes. Now Menes was needed to assist inside.
Bowerman hesitantly took over, triaging victims with just 12 seconds to assess each person’s condition. She quickly looked for where a bullet had pierced them, how much blood was on them and how conscious they were. Then she tagged them by how serious the injury was.
Red patients needed immediate attention. Yellow were stable but serious. Green were “walking wounded” and were expected to survive.
“What if I make the wrong decision?” Bowerman thought, anxiety coursing through her as she carried through with the routine. “What if I send this patient to the yellow section when they should be in red?”
Sometimes making the call was more obvious.
Bowerman loaded a woman who had no pulse onto a gurney. Her thick brown hair was matted with blood, and her face was bruised. She was young, maybe 25.
The nurse jumped on top of the cart as it was rolled into the trauma bay and started chest compressions. Her hands rested on the woman’s plaid shirt, tied at the waist, which made Bowerman think of her 21-year-old daughter.
“[She] loves country music. She could have been at that festival.”
As she reflected, the stretcher bumped into a wall in the crowded emergency room hallway, nearly sending Bowerman to the ground.
“There’s nothing else you can do,” Menes yelled at her. “Go back and get another patient.”
As she ran outside, people called out to her:
“Please don’t let me die.”
“Call my mom.”
“I know my girlfriend is dead. I just need you to find her.”
Bowerman didn’t have time to answer the pleas.
3:30 a.m. Monday
During the five frantic hours, the hospital attended to about 200 patients. Twelve had been dead on arrival. Four more died inside.
The blue, white and green linoleum floors were coated in blood. Bowerman, too, had blood on the skin of her arms, the gray pocket on her scrubs where she kept extra gloves and the bottom of her pants that had dragged on the tiles.
When she finally took a second to stop, she responded to text messages from her husband and missed calls from her mom. She was OK, Bowerman told them.
Then she went back to holding gauze over the bullet wound in a man’s head and placing plastic breathing tubes into patients lying in the hallways. The mounds of stretchers and wheelchairs she had helped stockpile during the 20 minutes between hearing the shots over the police radio and when the first patient arrived were all used. The 70 rooms in the ER were packed.
About half of the people she attended to were red patients.
When Bowerman left at the end of her shift, she found her car in the parking garage and, sitting there in the driver’s seat, cried.
Bowerman stays in Las Vegas with her parents on Sundays, Mondays and Tuesdays, the three days she works at Sunrise Hospital. On the 20-minute drive to their house, she called her husband.
Shawn Bowerman, 200 miles away in Utah, asked what he always did: “How are you?” This time he meant to capture more than the individual words could.
Bowerman wasn’t sure how to answer. The special ring that he had given her to wear to work in the hospital was splattered with blood, and the faces of victims flashed across her mind.
Did the first man she helped survive? Did she do all that she could? What about the woman who died? What would her family think?
Bowerman got maybe two hours of sleep. She washed her clothes and read articles online about the shooter. Utahns, she learned, were among the 58 victims.
“When it’s really, really quiet, I’m hearing gunshots.”
This was Bowerman’s first time assigning red, yellow and green cards outside of a training exercise. It was her first mass shooting as a nurse after five years in the ER and nearly 20 years at Sunrise Hospital.
She never wants it to happen again. She worries it may.
Still, less than 12 hours after leaving, Bowerman walked back into the ambulance bay for another shift. The patients had been moved to different parts of the hospital, and the floors were cleaned.
She put on another pair of gloves and got to work.