How Do You Prepare for the Worst? Inside Baylor’s ER the Night Tragedy Struck

Dallas Police cars in front of the Baylor University Medical Center in the early hours of July 8. (Photo: Mark Kaplan/Newscom)
Dallas Police cars in front of the Baylor University Medical Center in the early hours of July 8. (Photo: Mark Kaplan/Newscom)

The Dallas police cruiser had a blown-out back tire, its side crudely splattered with crimson blood. It rambled into the emergency bay at Baylor University Medical Center just after 9 p.m. on Thursday. Two other cop cars, each pockmarked with bullets like gravel on dirt, would arrive over the next hour.

Minutes prior, Drs. Laura Bruce Petrey and Michael Foreman felt their trauma pagers vibrate, alerting them to a gunshot victim in need of resuscitation. Petrey, who was sitting within earshot of the street outside, heard the sirens. Foreman, finishing paperwork in his office, got a news alert on his iPhone: bullets had begun raining down at a rally against police brutality downtown, which was attended by somewhere around 1,000 marchers and monitored by about 100 officers.

“It didn’t take much to put that together,” says Foreman, the hospital’s medical director for trauma services.

Chaos seemed to pour out of the vehicle. Police officers soon swarmed the emergency dock, marking half of it a crime scene, striking what the Level I trauma center typically designates as an area for overflow emergency triage. On a typical night in Dallas, ambulances brought victims here. On Thursday, they came in bullet-riddled police cars, some pulling in with their metal rims scraping the concrete. Neither Foreman nor Petrey, the trauma attending physician on call, knew how many victims would stream into their ER. How much longer would this last? There was no telling—at this point, there may well have been four shooters instead of just the one. And they prepared as such.

On any given night, Baylor University Medical Center has two operating rooms ready to go, and a third is usually being readied. By 10 p.m. on Thursday, Foreman says six rooms were fully staffed and another two were being prepped. The main challenge with this approach is personnel. Do you have the surgeon, the anesthesiologist, the scrub nurse, secondary nurses, lab techs? On Thursday, Baylor’s emergency staff poured back into the hospital. Some turned their cars around after their shift had ended; others locked their homes and apartments and returned to work.

Petrey resuscitated the first victim in the emergency room and directed him to the OR, performing and directing his procedure. She continued checking on him until he was placed in the intensive care unit.

She assigned the practitioners into teams and sent them off. She then bounced between the operating rooms, helping where she could. Foreman darted about the ER, making sure the equipment was sufficient, the rooms were staffed, and the caregivers had what they needed.

“We’d actually just talked about this earlier that day, just about what would happen if a mass shooting came to the ER,” Petrey says. “Had we prepared for it? Well of course we prepared for it with drills, but how can you prepare for it in real life? You do everything you can with the drills, but you just don’t want any of this to happen to you.”

Petrey and Foreman are unsure of the exact number of patients they saw that night. It was at least five, but beyond that, as Foreman says, “it’s a blur.” In all, five officers died, another seven were wounded, and two civilians were harmed. Victims were also transported to Parkland Memorial Hospital. Neither Dallas police nor Dallas Area Rapid Transit have detailed which of their officers were treated where.

Shetamia Taylor, however, was treated at Baylor. One of two civilians wounded in the shooting, Taylor arrived in one of those battered police vehicles. She’d been downtown with four of her five children, eager to show them a peaceful protest of the mistreatment of African Americans at the hands of police. It wasn’t just the recent cases either, not only Alton Sterling, shot dead at point blank range by a police officer in a Baton Rouge convenience store parking lot. Not only Philando Castile, shot dead at point blank range by a police officer while he sat in his car pulled over in a suburb of St. Paul-Minneapolis. It was “everything before,” she said; those quiet cases that haven’t been televised.

On Thursday, she’d sat with her sons at their dinner table in Garland discussing this rash of violence. She told them to be respectful if ever approached by a police officer. She told them to comply. She told them to ask the officer to call her. And soon, a Facebook post alerted her to the rally. She asked her kids if they’d like to go; they did. And so they ventured downtown, an area wholly unfamiliar to each of them. They listened as speakers shouted for justice from the steps of City Hall. And they marched with hundreds of them after. Taylor remembers her son Jermar, 12, telling her he was excited to be part of history. But it was getting late, and Shetamia had work at 7 a.m. They started to head back to her car.

Near Main Street, she heard the first shot. She wrote it off as a firework. Then the second came, and the white cop with the broad shoulders collapsed in front of them. “He has a gun,” he shouted to them while slumping over. “Run!”

They sprinted off, Shetamia lagging behind her young sons. Andrew Humphrey—at 15-years-old he is her second oldest—was closest to her when she felt the bullet tear into the back of her leg. She fell. Andrew turned to grab her, but she got her hands on him first, pulling him down to the ground with her. She lurched her body over his and lay on him, the two trapped between a car and a curb. Soon, another officer spotted them and asked if anyone had been hit. Andrew didn’t know—“No one’s hit, no one’s hit,” he yelled. Then his mom called out, “I’m shot!” The officer fell on top of the two, and another four or five soon encircled them.

She can’t quantify how long this was. She knows she saw another officer get shot and fall to the ground. She knows she heard the prap-prap-prap of the gun echoing off the buildings that surrounded her. And she knows she saw the cop car, decorated with bullets, and felt an officer pulling her up, gently guiding her into the back of the cruiser. Andrew followed her in, and they sped off to Baylor, the rims grinding on the road.

There were no gurneys available when they arrived, so Shetamia was placed on the ground. She watched from the concrete as another cop was led in on a gurney, all the time praying that her other three kids were safe. It would be an hour—in her words, “a very long hour”—before she got confirmation. Soon, there was a gurney, and she was whisked inside and triaged. It was a serious injury, but it wasn’t life-threatening. X-Rays showed that the bullet had shattered the top of her tibia just below her knee on its way out of her calf. But it missed any nerves and arteries.

Dr. Alan Jones, the medical director of orthopedic trauma, performed her surgery. Her leg was fixed with a steel plate and metal screws, and will take three months before she can put weight on it. After surgery, she learned her children were safe. Jermar and Kavion Washington—her oldest, at 18-years-old—had hid near a parking garage and rushed inside, sliding out the back as an officer ordered them to run, providing cover fire. They sprinted all the way to Union Station, which was evacuated in the midst of fears that the shooter may have been approaching. He wasn’t. They wound up sequestered at the Hyatt Regency until 3 a.m., when their stepfather scooped them up.

Jajuan Washington, 14, got separated from all of his family but paired up with a Good Samaritan named Angie Wisener. Together, Jajuan, Wisener, and five of her family members took shelter in a stranger’s apartment, connecting with family members via SnapChat.

“Ohhh just the praise, just the praise I gave to God just for everything, because I never stopped praying,” Taylor says. “But while I was in that room, I saw an officer tell another officer that one officer didn’t make it and I’m celebrating my kids.” At this point, her voice broke and she began to weep. Her husband leaned over to rub her shoulder. “I’m celebrating my kids being alive, and I’m listening to them tell each other how an officer didn’t make it. It just hurt, you know? It hurt. Of course I’m thankful that my babies are OK, but somebody’s dad, somebody’s husband isn’t. When I think back on it, it just hurts. I’m frustrated. Why would he do that?”

Dr. Ann Marie Warren is the hospital’s psychologist. She said patients who experience a traumatic event generally undergo psychiatric evaluations at Baylor. She also offers counseling and other services to the practitioners. Too, Warren has performed studies on post-traumatic stress disorder, finding that it is common in healthcare workers, particularly those who work in trauma settings.

Sunday’s press conference, now a full 72 hours after the shootings, felt a little light at times. Foreman, smiling past his curled gray-blonde mustache, turned his phone toward the reporters in the room and joked, “I can take photos of you guys, too,” before the event started. And when a reporter asked 12-year-old Jamar to explain his experience without adding anything more specific, he stared back blankly and coyly answered, “Well, uh, what do you want to know?” The room snickered.

But Thursday still hung over that room. It hung over the interviews after. The hospital had no warning that this would be arriving at its door. The doctors still need time to process what they worked through.

“One of the things we don’t get to do is grieve until later, because we’re too busy taking care of what we have,” Foreman said.

It took about four hours until the violence ceased, after the gunman had been killed by a bomb attached to a robot. But at Baylor, it didn’t take long for the trauma pagers to vibrate again. There’d been another gunshot victim, somewhere else.

There are ways the public can help in the shooting’s wake. Baylor’s blood bank is running low, and Petrey asked that the need for donations be included here. Head here for more information on how to donate

Posted in Hospitals, News.