Harrop: Massacres we can’t prevent, we have to clean up

In the absence of any limits on firearms, our only hope is to get better at responding to shootings.

By Froma Harrop

America woke up Monday to news of the biggest mass shooting in modern U.S. history. As of last count, 59 dead, hundreds wounded.

And you know what jumped into my head? Oh, another one. Took place in Las Vegas? Uh-huh. Horrifying? Yes. Shocking? No.

But something made this story stand out. It was the professionalism of those hired to deal with such calamities. The police who went after the gunman while managing the chaos below. The emergency medical workers removing the wounded from the carnage, not knowing whether the shooting had stopped. The hospital workers putting in multiple shifts while deftly handling the crush of causalities.

We’ll skip the usual lectures on the need to better regulate guns. Ever since the wanton slaying of schoolchildren in Newtown, Connecticut, failed to produce even modest reforms, many have given up on that possibility — at least until the current political leadership is replaced.

A country that refuses to lift a finger to curb gun violence needs a big cleanup crew to deal with it. Fortunately, there was one in Las Vegas.

And it went well beyond the frontline SWAT teams “neutralizing” the gunman and medical workers saving lives. Public safety officers patrolled the scene of butchery, watching over the dead bodies. Someone guarded the scattered phones, wallets, clothes and other possessions left behind in the panic.

The University Medical Center of Southern Nevada did an able job of quickly sorting the arrivals by severity of condition.

That UMC had a level 1 trauma unit was a good thing. Level 1 requires that surgeons, emergency doctors, anesthesiologists and nurses be on duty around the clock.

But despite its 11 trauma bays, three operating rooms, CT scanner and trauma intensive care unit, the unforeseen flood of wounded stressed the UMC facilities. Patients arrived in cars and on the backs of trucks. Hospital workers rolled gurneys outside the building to free up space.

Trauma units are prepared to deal with multiple victims of horrendous car crashes and gunshot patients, though in single digits. But now they must be prepared for mass shootings. Just recently, a doctor who had dealt with the Orlando nightclub slaughter came by to help train the Nevada staff for a similar plague.

The hopeless cases were administered comfort care. Many of the survivors will require the services of mental health professionals for some time to come.

It’s something of an insanity twofer that people not allowed to board an airliner because they are on the terrorist watchlist may still purchase guns. They can be crazy, too. One of Donald Trump’s first acts as president was to ditch a regulation preventing mentally ill people from buying firearms.

Most politicians in bed with the National Rifle Association will avoid the argument that if Stephen Paddock’s victims had carried guns, they could have taken him out. Some at the country music concert were probably armed. But then they would have had to hit someone working out of a window on the 32nd floor of a nearby building.

Republicans on the federal and state levels have stymied efforts to treat guns as a public health issue. That it’s not a health concern would surely surprise hospital workers across America.

Cleaning up after massacres is now a growth industry. America is going to need lots more level 1 trauma units. More SWAT teams. More therapists, physical and mental.

Without sensible gun regulations, a well-trained workforce able to deal with mass killing will have to do it all. Its presence in Las Vegas was the one “bright spot” in this tragedy — the horror that human concertgoers were turned into sitting ducks under the Nevada sky.

Follow Froma Harrop on Twitter @FromaHarrop. Email her at fharrop@gmail.com.

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