We began gathering the families at ORMC before dawn on Sunday and were with them throughout the day while they waited, hoping and praying for miracles and staying connected constantly to their cell phones. We provided nourishment, emotional support and blankets, and gave away so many cell phone chargers that we eventually cleaned out the entire supply from our gift shops.
They all wanted to know one thing ... where their loved ones were. Were they in the ORMC emergency room or were they among the 49 victims who lost their lives at Pulse? We worked diligently to comfort them and keep them informed, all the while knowing that many of them would receive the most devastating news of their lives before it was over. And among those whose loved ones were in fact at ORMC, even the BEST news they would receive was that their loved ones had been shot and traumatized. I'll never forget the desperation, anguish and raw agony I saw and heard that Sunday and Monday.
While we cared for the families and loved ones, great efforts were going on behind the scenes to identify the patients brought to our trauma center. In the first wave, we took in 36 patients in 36 minutes that morning, so it was extremely busy in the emergency room. Some patients could self-identify, some had legitimate IDs, some didn’t have identification, some were unconscious and some had fake IDs.
Meanwhile back in the family room, we asked those gathered to send us a current picture of who they were looking for, and we worked with the FBI to match up those photos with the victims at both ORMC and at Pulse. It took the FBI several hours to ID and clear everyone. During those hours, we learned that instead of 20 victims originally reported dead at Pulse, there were in fact 49, and the tension and resignation of the 250 people in the family room was intense.
Around 11:00 am, one of our trauma surgeons came into the room and read a list of names and conditions of the patients we had at ORMC and a list of those at another local hospital. After the list was read, we took families out to be reunited with their loved ones, and told the group left that we still had four patients we had not yet identified. That’s when everyone realized we had many of the families of the 49 victims who died at Pulse. Days later when we went back and reviewed the log of who we had in the room, we discovered that we had cared for the families of 48 of the 49 victims who died.
We continued to care for this group while local officials organized their family center. During that time, I was given a list with five names – all were victims transported to the trauma center who hadn’t survived their injuries – and I was asked to gather their families. These were families we had cared for all day, and we had built trusting relationships with them. The FBI wanted to begin notifying those families who were there. The agency has a notification protocol that they follow in circumstances like this and it didn’t include us. However, we felt very strongly that if the notifications were to happen at the hospital, we needed to be involved. We insisted that as a Level One Trauma Center, our team is, sadly, quite adept at giving that type of news in a compassionate and caring way. They eventually agreed, and over the next two hours, I brought the families in, one at a time, to the ORMC boardroom, where our chief operating officer, Dr. Jamal Hakim, and the FBI agents told them that their sons, husbands, brothers and friends had in fact passed away at Pulse that morning.
We cared for the rest of the families until around 3:30 pm, when we walked them to the community family room set up at a hotel near the hospital. And we said goodbye to them.