I write this on behalf of all of the first responders who had to endure living through the incident at Sandy Hook Elementary School. Because, you see, they can’t write about it. They won’t be able to talk about it, except they will, to a select few people like their coworkers and spouses. But they won’t be able to get on Facebook and set straight the misconceptions. They won’t be able to tell anyone what they saw and what they did as they attempt to grieve and comprehend what they went through…and what they’re still going through. And because everyone knows they were there, they are going to be asked a lot of questions. That they will not answer in an attempt to keep the victim’s privacy. Other questions will be asked of them by the parents and family members of these children, and then, they will have to sort through the horror fresh in their mind in an attempt to decide what and how much to say, both legally and ethically.
You see, for all of us who have been in EMS for a while, we are that paramedic. Many people think that we have some sort of pretty existence, that we somehow know how to deal with these tragedies, or that maybe they don’t affect us like they would everyone else. But here is the truth: I have cried with the mother as I tell her what gender her stillborn baby is. I have held my breath while drilled into the bone of a baby in an attempt to give medications and fluid because we can’t get an IV in. I have remained calm as I explained to a father that his 5-year-old son might die before, but that I was going to do everything I could to give him life. I have also been the one to have to walk in and tell a family that I’m sorry, but their son or daughter didn’t make it, swallowing the lump in my throat as they begin to loudly grieve. I have been clung to as I recant the last moments of a young person’s life to their surviving family, to let them know that we tried so hard, and that we treated that person with respect and dignity.
I have taken care of the victims of murder before. I have taken care of the victims of domestic violence. I have taken care of the victims of accidents. But let me tell you, there is nothing that compares to a child victim. And there is nothing that could compare to walking into a mass murder scene. I hope, for all of us, that the rest of us will never, ever experience that. Because I know how hard this is going to be. These are the things that no one, no one, should ever have to see.
There will be a society pushing for Hollywood details, wanting us to paint a picture of the pale faces, the blood, the numbers. This will be done through the media and through our friends. What none of them realize, though, are the things that will stick in our head and that will bother us. Like how light the body was when we picked it up to put it in the body bag. The paleness of the skin. The texture of the blood, and of how we later had to wash it off of our arms because the gloves didn’t cover everything. How the irony smell of blood won’t leave our nose. We will think about the dirty clothes still left on that victim’s floor at home. We will remember the backpack with the child’s name on the classroom floor. We will remember the helpless feeling and the adrenaline making our heart stronger while we waited for the scene to be secured so that we can enter. And we will remember wanting to save the lives of every single person there…Oh, and the photos in the media? We will hate them because it is just exploiting the families who had to go through this. Enough is enough.
Most everyone will attend an incident stress debriefing, but still…Sleep will be difficult. Seeing blood might be hard. Leaving our children will be impossible. Some people will not go back and will find different careers instead. And then, because we work in a small town, we will see the parents. We will pass the memorials every day on our way to other calls. We will read the online news articles and watch the televised press releases. And we will know what those releases got right and what they got wrong…but none of it will matter, because we couldn’t give these babies and teachers back to their families, which is what we want to do.
More than anything else, I want the families of these victims to know that we weep with you. We are horrified and terrified with you. We don’t always know how to go on, either. But we will, we will always, love your baby through the tragedy, even after their last breath is gone. As we carry their bodies, they will be safe in our arms, and we will not leave any behind.