There were patients in every corner. Blood on every patient. Not enough doctors or nurses and not nearly enough ambulances. This was the scene shortly after 2 a.m. Sunday in the trauma bay at Orlando Regional Medical Center, just blocks from Pulse.
That nightclub was the scene of the deadliest mass shooting incident in modern U.S. history, and the medical team working the overnight shift were quickly overwhelmed.
“We were just given patient after patient after patient,” said Trauma surgeon Dr. William Havron in front of a roomful of reporters and photographers. “We’d literally walk from that operation room to another operating room and just do it again and again.”
And it was not just the lifesaving that was hard, but the sight of so many wounded people that they say overwhelmed them.
Even the emergency room’s most hardened surgeons and nurses succumbed to tears when they confronted the sea of bleeding people quickly filling the E.R. On a normal night, they might have four or five patients in the trauma center.
Instead they were faced with dozens of victims, and not enough ambulances to get them there. Police and firefighters and civilians improvised by transporting the wounded in police cars, vans and trucks.
“They were dropped off in truckloads, in ambulance-loads,” said Dr. Kathryn Bondani. She was one of the doctors who performed triage, assigning priority to critically injured people so those whose lives were most in danger could be treated first and foremost.
And with all those patients and a skeleton staff, somebody had to make the call for reinforcements.
That duty fell to the attending trauma surgeon on call, Dr. Chadwick Smith, who woke up sleepy colleagues, telling them: “This is not a drill. This is not a joke.”
“I said, ‘please come, please come. We need your help,'” Smith said. “‘I need you as fast as I can.’ Every answer I got was, ‘I’ll be right there.'”
Others just showed up without even a call. Trauma surgeon Dr. William Havron described the scene he walked into as “surreal.” The hospital was flooded with bloody victims with severe wounds. Dr. Joseph Ibrahim described it as a “war scene.” And from their wounds, he said they could tell the gunman used both an assault rifle and a pistol.
When two operating rooms were not enough, the hospital converted four more, as surgeons performed one emergency operation after another.
Also at the news conference was Angel Colon, 26, who survived being shot three times in one leg, and suffered broken bones when clubgoers trampled him trying to escape. He said he was shot yet again in the hand and hip by the gunman, who he believes wanted to make “sure they’re dead.” And he was injured once more being dragged to safety over shards of broken glass.
But Colon was grateful to be alive. He turned to the doctors and nurses at the news conference and told them: “I will love you guys forever.”
Watch a report on the news conference below from WCBS-TV.