The surgeon whose Facebook post and bloodied shoes went viral told SBS what it was like in the ER the night of the shooting.
Orlando surgeon Joshua Corsa had been on call for 21 hours when he received a call from his consultant surgeon – an active shooter had been reported with up to three patients.
“In American cities this isn't unusual – we are used to multiple patients shot on a regular basis,” he told SBS.
As he was walking to the trauma bay he received an urgent message on his pager – TRAUMA NOW. He broke into a sprint.
When the former army medic arrived he assessed the first two patients, when he looked down the hall he saw another four victims being wheeled in on trolleys. It was then that the magnitude of the massacre hit him.
It was just past 2am on Sunday morning, he didn’t leave until later that afternoon. He spent more than 30 hours at work that shift.
“While it wasn’t quiet, it was surprisingly calm,” he says. “There were lots of people talking, but none of the yelling and screaming or chaos you'd expect.”
Orlando Regional Medical Center treated 44 victims of the shooting that night, they were the only hospital taking critically injured patients.
Dozens of surgeries were performed, nine patients died, several survivors are still recovering weeks later.
The hospital was one year into a new policy on keeping the trauma centre quiet. Doctor Corsa said it really paid off that night.
“It allows everyone to hear the paramedic and each other, and keeps us from letting our emotions get out of control,” he said.
Having space to think is important. Life and death decisions were made within a matter of seconds.
“We would spend 30 to 60 seconds with each patient initially - looking at their wounds, checking their mental status and vital signs, and getting an Xray or ultrasound of their abdomen,” he told SBS. “Based on this we decided if they needed to go straight to the OR [Operating Room] – or if they could wait while a sicker patient was taken ahead of them.”
“In triage you have to make rapid decisions with very little information, based on experience and instinct,” he said. Staff were constantly checking on patients to make sure nobody was forgotten and no injuries were missed.
While trauma bays and emergency rooms see their fair share of blood, grief and death – that night was something different. The hospital has offered counselling services to staff, many of whom have taken up the offer.
“I feel that those of us who cared for the victims are forever bonded. We are certainly closer now than ever,” he said. “When you’re faced with an emergency of this magnitude there’s nowhere to hide. You are going to revert back to your training and your true temperament will come through.”
Doctor Corsa told SBS that he wasn’t really forced to confront the emotional impact of the bloodshed until the following morning, when he woke up and saw his blood-stained shoes.
“That’s what led to the Facebook post – it was my way of starting to come to terms with my feelings about that night,” he said. “At the time you just bury your feelings as far down as you can. There’s just no time to deal with them.”
Joshua Corsa said the night was a blur for him, but there was one particular moment that stuck with him.
“In the midst of this, with all of the patients streaming in and out of the trauma bay I noticed one of our housekeepers manoeuvring between the doctors and nurses,” he said.
“She was, sweeping up the debris, mopping up the blood as everyone worked around her. It was then I noticed how much of a team effort it was – Here she was, in the midst of seeing terrible things, doing her job as fast and as well as possible,” he said.
“The folks around me are the real heroes. I'm just the guy who put something on Facebook,” he said.
Doctor Corsa is still caring for a number of patients from the shootings, he said in his viral Facebook post that he’ll keep the shoes in his office once they’re discharged, to remind him of the patients.
“As they heal their faces get a little bit lighter, they begin to smile again, and they start to look towards their future beyond this terrible tragedy,” he said.
“It’s those faces that stick with me, and give me the strength to keep going.”
Insight: First on the Scene (First Responders - Full Episode)