Traumatic Incidents: Preparing for the Worst


Nursing can be one of the most rewarding professions out there – helping patients, achieving career goals, and working toward better health for the public can all really make the job worth your while. There’s good job security, the demand for nurses is growing, and healthcare is ever evolving, yet not every situation you’ll encounter is ideal. In fact, dealing with traumatic incidents is one of the most challenging aspects of nursing and healthcare as a whole.

It’s not impossible that you may find yourself in the middle of a crisis – a mass shooting, public transit disaster, or extreme weather that may have caused an almost surreal amount of damage and injury. As a nurse, you could be on the front lines of caring for those who have just experienced a series of unimaginably traumatic incidents and you have to be ready.

Regrettably, 2016 has seen quite a number of horrendous acts of violence both domestically and abroad. Incidents like the Pulse nightclub shooting, the recent Chattanooga bus crash, and acts of terrorism in France have left the world tensely evaluating these tragedies and how we can better respond to similar situations in the future.

Wayne Dominici, 23, cries on the shoulder of his aunt, Ada Dominici, at a memorial outside Pulse nightclub in Orlando on Tuesday, July 12, 2016. via Loren Elliot | Times

Wayne Dominici, 23, cries on the shoulder of his aunt, Ada Dominici, at a memorial outside Pulse nightclub
in Orlando on Tuesday, July 12, 2016. via Loren Elliot | Times

Preparing for Traumatic Incidents

For emergency rooms, events like these are extremely stressful when health care workers are already on edge and understaffed. Reports of mass shootings being on the rise have flooded the media, while gun violence remains an issue of American society. In response, many hospitals have increased their trauma drills, regular all-hospital preps, and even city-wide simulations to address such situations.

During these situations, nurses and the entire staff can experience the shock of what has transpired, making it difficult to coordinate all of the immediate needs of each victim. In the throws of all the emotion and chaos, it’s your years of training that can guide your response as an individual and team member.

In an interview with Dr. John Hick, a researcher from the National Academy of Medicine, he describes the immediate response of some hospitals and what considerations should be made for mass shootings and other tragic situations. When asked about some of the lessons he’s learned over the past few years, Hick had this to say:

“I think the main thing for me is that you really have to examine your surgical response. So just looking, you know, at the resources kind of top to bottom and figuring out from a space, from a staff, from a stuff standpoint, do I have the things that I need in place that if something like this goes down, you know, are we going to be prepared?”

Dealing with the Aftermath

Of course, even after the initial response and stabilization of these situations, the effects are far from resolved – especially in the hearts and minds of those who have treated the victims. After the media frenzy dies down, healthcare workers are still left with having to process the intense, senseless suffering they’ve witnessed. This can take years for many people to fully come to grips with their role in the situation, often times leading to guilt or depression in believing they could have done more.

As naturally empathetic beings, it’s our human response to take on the suffering of others as if it’s our own. And while we wish these horrors had never taken place, the next step is striving to process the experience and work toward ways we can help others to recover. If you or someone you know has been involved in responding to a crisis, caring for victims, or have been exposed to traumatic incidents, there are resources available through The American Psychiatric Nurses Association or The American Psychological Association.

No one should ever have to deal with acts of senseless violence or crises of any sort, yet when these things occur it’s our nurses, doctors, and hospital response teams who can really make the difference.

If you’d like to donate to the victims of the Orlando Pulse Nightclub shooting, you can head to the OneOrlando Fund for more details.

Author: Connor Smith

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