By Tracey B. Long (BS ’86) PhD, RN, MS, CDE, CNE, CCRN
Angels are thought of as having wings. But on Sunday, October 1, 2017, after a mass shooting at the Route 91 Harvest festival with 2,200 country music lovers at the Mandalay Bay Hotel, dozens of angels without wings known as nurses descended on Las Vegas wearing scrubs and went into full action.
The two busy trauma centers of Las Vegas are Sunrise Hospital and University Medical Center Hospital. Both typically receive 20 trauma patients each day. However, after the call of “shots fired” was announced, each center treated over 250 patients with gunshot wounds and other surgical needs, totaling 527 wounded and 59 fatalities.
That Sunday evening, the two hospitals called in their off-duty surgeons, anesthesiologists, and nursing surgical teams and activated all their training and creative thinking to deal with the sheer volume of people flooding into their emergency departments. More than 100 physicians and nurses arrived, like angels swooping down to bring help and healing.
“We get these types of patients regularly, but maybe two at a time at most,” says Rhonda Davis, Sunrise Hospital trauma nurse. “All at once we had dozens of people who needed life-saving critical interventions at the same time. We went patient to patient as quickly as possible, trying to help save them. I wasn’t thinking; you just do.”
Teams usually have space in a completely stocked surgical room for trauma cases, but in this case many were processed in hallways with makeshift supplies stretched thin for the hundreds being treated.
“It wasn’t an ER of screaming. There was calmness because people were being taken care of,” says Dorita Sondereker, RN, director of emergency services for Sunrise Hospital. “The patients kept rolling in, and we were just trying to find placement for everybody.”
The angels even included the patients themselves, who were seen holding each other’s hands and declining care for themselves, saying, “Take care of those who are hurt worse. I’m good.”
Thea Parish, a junior nursing student from Nevada State College, was working at the time as a pharmacy technician. “Ever since I started nursing school, the human race has been declining and hating on each other,” says Parish. “I was debating whether I wanted to be a nurse, but when I looked around, I was like, this is what it’s about: saving people. We were the helpers. That was the most memorable moment. Yeah, there was a lot of trauma happening, but at the same moment humanity was happening, and it was amazing.”
Sometimes the angel nurses were there to heal and save lives, and sometimes they were there to bring news to grieving families of a fallen loved one. Nurses heal on both sides of the veil of mortality.
One of the first fatalities in the shooting was a nurse, Sonny Melton, who sacrificed his own life as he protected his wife from gunshots. Other nurses not related to the trauma centers, including dozens of nursing students, responded the next morning by standing in line for four hours to donate blood.
“I felt helpless not being able to assist in the hospitals where the victims were, but I could help other people in my corner of the world,” said a nurse working at another hospital. “We’re all connected, and if people are hurting, that’s where nurses want to be to help them heal.”
There is more good in the world than any one evil man. There are more angels among us than we recognize, and that brings peace. Not all angels have wings; many wear gloves and a stethoscope.