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Hospital workers remember the Aurora theater shooting

10:12 PM, Aug 23, 2012   |    comments
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"My colleagues who have been in war said it's actually very similar to what you'd see in a battleground," Dr. Comilla Sasson, an emergency medicine physician at UCH, said. "All we saw was a police car show up to the ambulance bay, and then there was another one and another one."

"We had no idea what we were in store for," she said.

The first patient to arrive at the emergency room at UCH came in at 1:06 a.m.

"The fact that police brought [patients] in saved time," ER charge nurse Becky Davis said.

The disadvantage, according to many UCH employees interviewed by 9NEWS, is ER staff had no ability to know what kind of wounds they had to be ready to receive.

"We had no knowledge what was wrong with them," Davis said.

"We're used to [patients] having maybe an IV in them, and maybe some of the wounds are covered," April Koehler, UCH's emergency department manager, said.

That night, the emergency room at UCH was already technically full when the first theater shooting patient arrived.

"We were actually on divert status - meaning ambulances weren't supposed to come to our hospital unless there was trauma or any other sort of emergency," Dr. Sasson said.

Over the course of the next hour, the hospital received more gunshot-wound victims than any hospital in Colorado had ever received from a singular incident. The hospital's spokesperson says at least 15 people were treated for gunshot wounds. The number is uncertain, he says, because some of the other patients received wounds which could have come from a bullet or bullet fragment.

9NEWS interviewed seven employees at UCH about their experiences that night. All of them described a relatively-tempered scene, despite the unprecedented chaos of the night.

"You didn't hear anyone snapping at each other. There was no fighting among each other," hospital paramedic Jason Kennedy, an Iraq War veteran himself, said. "People just did what they needed to do."

All workers agreed their lives will never be the same.

"Some people want to talk about it. They need to talk about it to help them move on, and some people don't want to talk about it," Suzanne Sortman, the manager of the hospital's inpatient operating rooms, said. "I drive by that theater every day I'm working, so I think I'll always remember it."

"I almost get nervous coming into work. It's like, 'What is this day going to be like?'" Daryl Johnson, an EMT, said.

What all find great comfort in is fact that every patient who arrived at the hospital's ER with a pulse, left with a pulse. Their only patient to die that night showed up to the hospital already deceased.

"I think the process of grieving has been challenging for us in the emergency department because we're hardened folks, right? We're used to seeing anything and everything. I think that night sort of broke us in a way," Dr. Sasson said. "Yet, if things were different, if those police officers hadn't brought those patients within minutes of their injury, and if we hadn't had the amazing team response, some of those people might not be alive today."

(KUSA-TV © 2012 Multimedia Holdings Corporation)

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