MANCHESTER, NH – It would be ironic, I thought, if the red-blood cells I left with the Red Cross only Monday, were piped into the unconscious woman in the hospital bed next to mine. She needed them direly – a gunshot wound (GSW) perforated her lower belly. Her lips were already blue from blood loss, and the sheet beneath her was stained red.
Not that I didn’t have my own problems. The emergency-room doctor had pronounced me stable, but the GSW in my lower back was a sure ticket to an operating room … provided one ever became available. Meanwhile, shooting victims of all ages continued to pour in. There are four colors on the emergency-triage tag Catholic Medical Center uses: green for a minor injury, yellow for injuries that can wait a bit, red for injuries that need to be seen immediately, and black for those destined for the morgue. Mine was red.
The woman beside me – her name was Melissa Therrien, age 39 – was pronounced dead about an hour after she was rolled in, a victim of the shooting and of a paperwork error that kept her from getting the transfusion she needed. My blood type is O+; I can safely donate to half the population.
It’s a good thing it was only a drill.
On Nov. 28, the city’s emergency personal – firefighters, police, and emergency medical services (EMS) – ran an active-shooter drill at the SNHU Arena on Elm Street. The simulated shooter, almost certainly (statistically speaking) a white male with a grudge, shot up a simulated event crowd. Police were summoned to make the scene safe and take down the bad guy. When the scene was safe enough, paramedics and Fire arrived to tend to the fallen, triage the wounded, and transport anyone who needed it to either Elliot Hospital or Catholic Medical Center. It was all just practice, an exercise in getting ready for the worst. The city does one every couple of years, as do the schools, and Manchester-Boston Regional Airport.
The day began at 7:30 a.m., with the arrival of about 75 volunteers. There were a group of young men from a local EMS program, a group of women from Easter Seals, a clutch of SNHU Arena employees … The biggest group of volunteers were teenagers, many of them bound for medical careers or work as police officers, from the Manchester School of Technology and the New Hampshire Job Corps program. Coffee was a common accessory that early in the morning, disposable cups clutched in weary hands. About half the cups held iced coffee in spite of the near freezing temperatures. Another irony.
Tricia Chappell, senior associate of the Olson Group LTD – a firm contracted by the city to help with the drill – got the volunteers lined up at the registration table, where they received ear plugs, safety glasses, a wrist band, and, courtesy of a lanyard, a randomly selected injury. Gunshot wounds and bullet grazes were common–to the head, to the face, to the chest, to the limbs, to the back, to the buttocks. Also common were crowd-crush and flight wounds–broken wrists, broken ribs, broken jaws, and broken collarbones. My lanyard declared I had a small laceration to my forehead and that I was having trouble walking. I quickly found my “wound double,” and we agreed that we felt slightly cheated. More irony.
The first nineteen people in line were pulled aside to meet with EMS educator Ed Gannon. Gannon is the local expert with “moulage,” makeup and prosthetics applied to make people appear injured. Tori Maurais, a student at the School of Technology, was one of the lucky nineteen. I was not. Maurais spotted my lanyard and asked to trade her assigned injury with mine.
“I want a really bloody face,” she said.
I gave Maurais my laceration and took a bullet for her, which is why, ironically, I ended up in the emergency room next to Therrien, watching the CMC staff fighting to make room for life-saving surgery, find the right blood types, and send scores of “shooting victims” safely home to their families. I talked to Therrian after she died. She works at the Mental Health Center of Greater Manchester, and she e-messaged pictures of her moulage to her husband and father. She’s a super-nice person, funny, and I am glad she is not really dead.
I am also relieved Ryan Young was not really shot in the leg. He’s another Manchester School of Technology student and wants to be a game warden someday. Young, a very friendly guy, is a veteran of emergency drills–he was in one this past September that the schools did–and he and his friend Morgan Gerardi hammed it up at SNHU Arena, screaming for help and moaning in pain.
“The last time I did this I was unresponsive, so I couldn’t play with it,” Young said.
I met Young on the ride to CMC. In spite of our bullet wounds, my back and his leg, we made the trip in school bus.
My first emergency-room roommate was Riley Webster, a 16-year-old at Manchester West. Webster wants to be a police officer and enjoys watching Bob Ross videos and painting to relax.
“Being in the police will be really stressful,” he said. “You gotta find ways to destress.”
I am thankful that Webster is really okay, too. He says he’s not a big risk taker, preferring video games to actual danger. But you never know when you are going to be in the wrong place at the wrong time, enjoying a Monarchs game with the family when …
Telemachus Orfanos, 27, was killed at the Borderline Bar & Grill Nov. 8, after surviving the mass shooting at the Route 91 Harvest Music Festival in Las Vegas last year. Ironic. He was an Eagle Scout and served as godfather to the daughter of a friend, according to USA Today.
My condition was still listed as stable, and the operating rooms were still full as the end of the drill neared. The ER doctor made the decision to “admit” me, which meant I was rolled into an elevator, taken upstairs for admitting, and then taken back downstairs to the emergency department to be set free. I caught the schoolbus back to SNHU Arena where I ate lunch with the other volunteers and caught up with Tricia Chappell again. She piled praise and thanks on the city’s emergency workers and the volunteers.
“We do this in hopes of never having to do this for real,” she said.
The ultimate irony.