The Pulse tragedy identified that no matter how much you prepare, you can never be truly prepared mentally for an incident of this magnitude. This is why it is so important that we do prepare and practice. Practicing creates muscle memory for these very moments when our brains struggle to process. I vividly remember a conversation with the supervisor who was in charge of the department that early morning. He said that he immediately went back to our drills. Assemble the team, take direction from the trauma surgeon in charge and focus on the task at hand by providing the care each patient needed at that moment in time. There was no time to think and reflect during the initial hours of the disaster. They had to rely on the muscle memory developed from preparing and practicing. We learned that while drills are disruptive to our day, and we never have enough staff to pull people out of assignments for a drill, they are vital to saving lives. We learned that we need to take them even more seriously than we had in the past. We learned that in order to mitigate the horrific results of such a tragedy, we have to drill like it is real.
We also learned that performing drills during the day are beneficial to the day-time staff, but this incident didn’t occur on a weekday during day shift. We recognized the need to provide the night shift and weekend staff with the same level of preparation as we do the day shift.
Probably more than anything, we learned the emotional toll taken on the team members who worked the incident. Symptoms of post-traumatic stress affected our team for more than a year. While they are trained professionals able to care for these types of patients every day, the sheer volume of devastating injuries is something that you cannot possibly prepare your mind for. We have found that our team members have needed emotional support and mental health resources to pave the way for their healing.