We continue our reflection on God’s call to us through the ELCA’s “60-Day Journey Toward Justice in a Culture of Gun Violence.”
DAY 39: Caring for Gunshot Patients and Those Who Treat Them
“From a medical standpoint, traumas are always very emotionally hard for nurses, technicians, and physicians,” said Danielle Norman, director of Emergency Services and Critical Care at Saint Francis Hospital in Evanston, Ill. “Saint Francis is a ‘Level 1’ trauma center; we get a radio call when a trauma patient is on the way in, and there’s about five minutes of anticipation
of what’s coming in. There’s always a lot of anticipation of what could come in because sometimes it’s not what we’re expecting, it could be multiple gunshot victims that come or some other situation.
“When the patient comes in, it’s all about the adrenaline; it’s making sure the patient is going to survive—checking the airway, checking circulation and trying to control the bleeding. When a nurse is going through all of that, they may not feel the emotional impact it has on them initially because it’s all about the patient.
“Once we have stabilized the trauma patient, that’s when everything starts to settle down and you’re having to look at the patients from a nonbiased standpoint. We determine who the patient is or if a gunshot trauma survivor is gang-affiliated or was the perpetrator that shot someone. You have to take your bias out of it when you treat them and be mindful that your role as a nurse is to make them whole and keep them safe in that environment. That can be very traumatic in itself.”
Norman has learned firsthand that, following any serious situation such as treating a gunshot victim, if administrators don’t address the situation afterward with nurses and physicians, those caregivers can internalize the trauma and stress, and that’s when the hospital begins to see burnout. “It’s very important after these situations that we take time to debrief, talk to each other, and ask each other: ‘Are you OK? How are you handling that? Is there anything you need? Can I send you on break?’ It’s more than just about when a patient comes in, it’s also about the aftereffect it has. I think a lot about the newer nurses and how it can impact them. As an administrator, following up with them after a bad situation is a priority, otherwise you see nurses burn out trying to care for patients.”
Caring for the Patient’s Family Members
Not only are staff trained for their medical work, they are also trained to assess the emotional state and responses of the family members of patients and to care for them, sometimes taking steps to de-escalate their anxiety, anger, or other emotions.
“We try to keep the family members updated about the patient,” said Norman. “You never want them sitting in the waiting room having no idea what’s going on with their loved one. … We’re doing everything we can to let them know what’s going on, what we’re anticipating, what’s next, and to reassure them that we’re doing everything that we can to prevent any uncertainty or escalation of the situation.”
As a person of faith, Norman understands the importance of chaplains caring for and supporting the family members of patients, especially in these stressful, emotional moments. “The nursing staff and physicians are there to give quick updates, but we want someone there who can connect with family members from an emotional and personal standpoint. Having a chaplain there is extremely helpful and effective in these situations.”
Caring for the Community
“Violent crimes have a huge impact on our communities,” said Norman. “As nurses, not only are we taking care of patients and families, but there is a whole community out there that is affected by violent crimes. We have to be mindful that we are taking care of a trauma patient, but the people who were not a part of the situation, not part of the violent crime, they’re also affected.
“When we are interacting with people in the community, they are well aware of all the gun violence that is happening—violent crimes are going up. We just want to reassure the community that we are a Level 1 trauma center ready to respond, we’re here and we’re out in the community doing gun violence prevention and community service. We talk to the community
several times a year and we partner with the Evanston Fire Department as well as the Chicago Police Department on gun violence, gun safety, and gun buy-back programs.
“We are putting ourselves out there in the community—to be there with them, to let them know that we see what’s going on and that we want to change it. We’re not just here to save lives, but to also help them grow and change what’s going on in our community.”