[sidebar]Jason Aldean on stage for Route 91 Harvest country music festival in Las Vegas on Oct. 1, 2017.[/sidebar]
On Oct. 1, 2017, attendees of the Route 91 Harvest country music festival in Las Vegas were enjoying the event’s closing performance by Jason Aldean when tragedy struck. A single gunman opened fire on the crowd from a room in the nearby Mandalay Bay Resort and Casino, injuring 851 people and killing 58. The victims were transported by private vehicle, taxi, and ambulance to nearby hospitals, including Sunrise Hospital & Medical Center, where Scott Scherr, MD, medical director of the emergency department, and his colleagues prepared to treat the injured.
ACEP Now Medical Editor in Chief Kevin Klauer, DO, EJD, FACEP, recently sat down with Dr. Scherr and Jeannine Ruggeiro, a 28-year-old social work graduate student from Sonoma County, California, who was one of the shooting victims that night, to discuss their experiences in the aftermath of the mass shooting. Here is Part 2 of their conversation. Part 1 appeared in the February issue.
KK: Jeannine, can you share with us your feeling as a person and a patient at that time when you thought you were safe, you were going to run to safety, but you weren’t safe anymore?
JR: It was like an out-of-body experience. I remember being on the ground. I felt my back, and I looked at my hand and there was blood all over it. My two girlfriends were running a little bit ahead of me at that point. They didn’t know that I had fallen. I was screaming for help, and they ran back to me. Of course, none of us knew what was going on at that point. There was no shelter. We didn’t know if it was a shooter in the field; we had no idea if it was multiple shooters. I felt like I was just watching myself, and at that point, I really thought I was going to die. It was a terrifying experience.
KK: Were you shot just in the back, or did you have other injuries?
JR: I was shot just in the back, and due to that, I had a broken rib and a collapsed lung.
KK: Tell us about your symptoms. Beyond the fear of what happened and facing your own mortality, how did you feel physically?
JR: The gunshot wound itself hurt, but it felt more like somebody had just punched me in the back. What hurt the most was I couldn’t breathe. As the moments are going on, I remember just yelling because at this point a man, a random man, had picked me up, and he was running with me. He ran out to the parking lot with me. We were behind a vacant ambulance, and I remember not being able to breathe and just saying that over and over, “I can’t breathe, I can’t breathe.” It was just so painful to breathe. I thought I was just going to die there on the concrete.
KK: I can’t imagine how scary that must have been. Did you ever reconnect with the person who carried you out of there?
JR: He was amazing. I actually was able to reconnect with him randomly on Facebook. There’s a Facebook page called “Find My LV Hero,” and I was scrolling through it about two and a half weeks later. I was home from the hospital, and I didn’t know his name, didn’t know where he lived, and knew nothing about him. All I remember was, when he got me there, we were in the back of a car—a private vehicle took us—and I just remember his big beard staring down at me. I saw this profile picture on Facebook, and I said, “Oh my God, that looks like him!” I read the story he posted looking for me, and it was the same exact memory I had of that night. I contacted him, and we’ve been in contact since.
“I felt like I was just watching myself, and at that point, I really thought I was going to die. It was a terrifying experience.” —Jeannine Ruggeiro
KK: Oh, that’s wonderful, and thank goodness for him. Tell us about your experience at the hospital. Help us understand what that’s like.
JR: There were medical providers waiting outside the door with a gurney, and they helped get me out of the back of the car. I was swept away from my friends, and I was just panicked. I was asking all the providers, “Am I going to die? Am I going to die?” And they all kept saying, “No,” but I asked, “Are you just lying to me? Am I going to die?” Seeing all the other patients, it was just scary. I felt happy to be at the hospital, but at that point we still didn’t know what was going on, so I was really worried.
KK: I can’t imagine what you went through. Can you tell us what they did to care for you?
JR: I was laying there, they started IVs, and they gave me some pain meds. Eventually, they did put a chest tube in. I remember them writing on my bed sheets, I guess my vitals or something, because I remember they threw them out and then they were frantically looking for them. The nurses and the doctors were so great, and there was one nurse in particular that really kept coming back to check on me and would just stand by my bed and talk to me, really putting me at ease throughout the night.
KK: Jeannine, I have to ask you, having put in a bunch of chest tubes, is it as bad as it seems? Emergency physicians like to do procedures, but that has always been something that I’ve never wanted to go through personally.
JR: It was so painful! It was awful! Even for the first 10 minutes after it went in I was like, “Something’s wrong! This isn’t right!” But they said, “No, no, it’s fine.”
KK: What were some of the most comforting things that somebody said or did for you that got you through the night?
JR: This one nurse, [Kathleen Millhiser], who I don’t think actually worked at Sunrise, was talking to me about her daughter. She was around my mom’s age and was talking about her daughter, who was around my age, and it was just nice to have that comfort with someone that I felt was there for me. Just that moment of peace of talking to her, because it was so frantic, put me a little bit at ease.
KK: Scott, any comments that you have in listening to Jeannine and her experiences?
SS: Pretty emotional, I think. You know, that night a lot of bravery from not only the patients but the doctors and nurses and staff was displayed. For Jeannine to have to wait in order to be cared for and for us to understand how scared these folks were is important. Also, to realize that there were so many times that we were taking care of patients and they would say, “I’m fine, go to somebody sicker,” “I’m fine, go to somebody sicker,” that allowed us to focus on the most unstable patients. It’s just moving to hear somebody from the other side of the stethoscope; it was pretty impactful for me.
KK: Jeannine, I don’t know if you’ll really sense how valuable your comments will be to other emergency physicians out there.
JR: Thank you.
SS: I think everybody’s going to come away with something to learn. I just can’t thank Jeannine enough for her time and her willingness to do this.
KK: Jeannine, how has all of this affected you?
JR: I really had a fearless, carefree attitude before, but I do feel more guarded and more aware of my surroundings now when I’m out places. Just thinking about the families that lost somebody that night and the providers that had to go through that as well, it really changed my perspective. I mean, it sounds cliché, what people say a lot of the time, but really appreciate the people that are around you. In a split second, everything changed for me.