Learning from a Shooting Victim: What Comes After Trauma?

What followed was a remarkable few days, and months, of recovery and restoration that I chronicled in a recent article. I aimed to provide a glimpse at what it looks like to survive a mass shooting — and what it takes in the months after to reckon with the fact that although you’re still alive, the only life you knew was taken from you.

What is often neglected in stories about shooting victims is the period of time months afterward, when loneliness and isolation set in more dramatically, and when friends and acquaintances often wrongly assume that the patient has returned to a kind of normalcy. There are no more surgeries, fewer doctors’ checkups and hours of physical therapy, and not as many well-wishers worried about your condition. It is this period, as Mr. Mika helped me understand, when the ravages of gun violence can be most unnerving.

The resources that go into saving the life of someone shot by an assault rifle are staggering. I spent a December afternoon in a high-tech ambulance with the paramedic who saved Mr. Mika’s life, Chad Shade, as he showed me the needles and fabrics and liquids he used just to give Mr. Mika a small chance of living. In essence, Mr. Shade was showing me how to perform trauma surgery in a moving car. Many of the tools he uses are common to war medics.

I spent time with Mr. Mika’s trauma surgeon at the hospital, Libby Schroeder, who is still haunted by what she saw that day. The night of the shooting, she went on a run to try to process what she had seen and done, and she found herself late at night at the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial on the National Mall, unsure how she ended up there.

I also discovered the surprises that can occur in the chaos and confusion of a shooting. Dr. Babak Sarani, the director of trauma surgery at George Washington, operated that morning on James T. Hodgkinson, the gunman. But because he had only heard rumors of what had happened at the field, he believed the whole time that he was…

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