Emergency social worker reflects on trauma caused by Airbnb party shooting
My pager went off, alerting me to an impending trauma or serious medical emergency in the emergency department. I scrolled to see what we might get, anticipating a car crash or stroke like the previous pages of this shift. My heart sank when I read “GSW level 1” indicating that the most serious type of trauma was in progress and it was a gunshot wound [GSW]. I scrolled further and saw the age of the victim – a minor.
It was early Easter morning, April 17, and it was the start of what Pittsburgh later learned was a mass shooting at a party of mostly teenagers at an Airbnb on the North Side.
When I traveled to Trauma Bay 10, a flurry of orchestrated activity ensued to prepare for what the EMS brought us.
The trauma team divided up the tasks. Who would perform an ultrasound of the patient’s abdomen to locate or rule out internal bleeding? Who would interview the patient for their medical history?
The respiratory therapists have prepared their equipment. The page said the patient was breathing, but would be ready just in case.
The pharmacist and pharmacy students arrived ready to provide pain management, medication for traumatic cardiac arrest or anything else. Technicians prepared IV kits, blood and more. Imaging techs prepared the trauma room stretcher for real-time x-rays.
Environmental Services was just outside the trauma room, ready to disinfect the room for the next patient. The trauma charge nurse documented the arrival of each member of the care team. And then there was me, the social worker, standing in a corner of the trauma room, ready to do whatever was necessary.
As an ER Social Worker at a Level 1 Trauma Center, my job changes throughout the day, depending on the needs of each patient. I am present when all trauma, stroke alerts and internal alerts (serious medical emergencies) occur. If a patient comes in and we don’t know who they are, I take the initiative to try to determine their identity. I find family members and loved ones and let them know that their loved one is in the hospital and their condition.
I provide resources for patients: how to get an abuse protection order if you are fleeing intimate partner violence, accommodation listings for homeless or unstable patients, health insurance applications for uninsured patients, mental health resources and addiction information for anyone who wants or needs it. I provide emotional support to patients and their loved ones and am their primary point of contact. And when someone dies in the emergency department, I notify (and sometimes the attending physician or resident) the patient’s next of kin.
When I arrived at Trauma Bay 10, the nurse informed me that there was a mass shooting on the north side and we were about to be swarmed with patients. At that time, it was rumored that there were over 500 people at the event and possibly 20 shot. Over time, these numbers have declined. Our first patient arrived, and shortly thereafter the rest of the patients followed.
I’m not going to share what happened in the trauma room; who will forever stay with the people in those rooms that night. There is no need to remind those at the party and their loved ones of what was probably one of the worst nights of their lives. The healthcare workers at my hospital and others in the area need not be reminded of what we have seen.
There are numerous articles and comments online sharing various perspectives on the East Allegheny shooting that left two teenagers dead and nine others injured. There are people who pray for those affected by the event, people of all political ideologies who blame the political figure that best matches their narrative, and those who attended the party or live in the neighborhood share what happened. Very few, if any, talk about the trauma of that night and its lifelong impact.
The youngsters at the party found themselves in a life or death situation, and that night will forever be etched in their memory. Their loved ones found themselves wondering where and in what condition they would find their children, siblings, nieces or nephews, grandchildren or friends. Police, medics and firefighters wondered if they would be the next victims as they rescued and treated attendees. Nearby residents wondered if they were safe at home. Healthcare workers in hospitals strive to help the injured, both physically and emotionally.
I wish I could say there is an easy way to deal with the events of that night. There are not any. No amount of self-care can combat the consequences of the systemic failures that allow mass shootings to occur daily in this country. As a society, we must come together to support each other.
I urge you to watch what local businesses, individuals and local organizations are doing to support those affected by this tragedy. Take action Mon Valley offers free individual and group therapy to affected youth. CKV Suites donates its space for therapy and crisis circles to support young people and their loved ones. CeasefirePA organizes an advocacy day in Harrisburg to demand action on gun violence prevention.
If you have not been touched by this event, I invite you to look at how you can help. Are you a mental health professional who can volunteer your time and skills to provide free therapy? Are you an expert in safe gun handling and storage who can help encourage safe gun ownership? Do you own a space that can be used for therapy, crisis circles or memorials? Do you have the financial means to donate money to grassroots organizations providing free or low-cost mental health care?
While we weren’t at the party, the vicarious trauma of that night will stay with me and my fellow healthcare workers for the rest of our lives. We sat down with those who were injured during the shooting and during the flight. We sat with them and felt their pain: emotional, physical, spiritual. We sat down with them and offered them what little comfort could be provided in this situation: painkillers, tears wiped from their faces, a hand to hold, a shoulder to cry on, and the knowledge that their loved ones were on the way to the hospital. And we pretended that hadn’t happened when the next patient arrived that night so we could give them everything we had again.
Alyssa Lisle is an emergency social worker living in Pittsburgh. If you would like to message Alyssa, please email [email protected].
The Jewish Healthcare Foundation helped fund PublicSource’s healthcare reports.
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