Las Vegas Doctors Recount the Startling 'Magnitude' of Patients After Concert Massacre: 'It Was a Bad, Bad Night'
Doctors tell PEOPLE about the chaos and humanity they experienced on Sunday night as they treated patients injured at the Route 91 Harvest festival
Amid the chaos and bloodshed following the deadly shooting attack on the Route 91 Harvest music festival in Las Vegas over the weekend, doctors at the nearby hospitals are recalling moments of humanity.
“I remember that there was someone who wasn’t shot and managed to come in with someone who was shot,” says Dr. Deborah Kuhls, the trauma surgeon and medical director of the trauma and intensive care unit at the University Medical Center in Vegas.
She continues, “I don’t know if it was a friend or relative, but they had their finger in the [other person’s] bullet hole. I asked, ‘Is she bleeding a lot?’ And she said, ‘I don’t know, I just felt I needed to keep my finger in the bullet hole.’ ”
“It wasn’t a particularly devastating injury but because of that human connection, she was afraid to take her finger out,” Kuhls tells PEOPLE, noting that the patient survived.
Kuhls says her team saw around 105 patients that night and that there are still several dozen hospitalized. Luckily, she shares, “Our patients are getting better — no one is getting worse.”
At least 58 people were killed and another 527 injured after gunman Stephen Paddock, 64, fired on the gathered crowd from the 32nd floor of the nearby Mandalay Bay hotel and casino. He killed himself as authorities closed in.
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It was just after 10 p.m. on Sunday that Dr. Kuhls says the UMC’s trauma center received a call that victims of a shooting were en route to the hospital. “We literally had cars pulling up to the trauma center,” she says. “People were loaded up in pickup trucks.”
Reflecting on the “magnitude” of incoming patients, Kuhls says, “This far surpassed anything I have seen clinically here and in my training.”
Four of the patients brought to the UMC later died.
“A huge percentage of people came in had no identification,” she says. “Their loved ones had no idea where they went initially, so they were calling the hospital and if we didn’t know their name, we couldn’t tell them if they were there or not. The patients were quickly treated, but family and friends looking for loved ones were really distraught.”
Some patients had been shot two or three times, according to Kuhls, with injuries including “everything from devastating brain injuries, to people shot in the chest and abdomen and their extremities.”
“It was like a war zone,” she says.
Multiple military surgeons were called in as part of the Air Force Medical Service’s SMART program, she says. “Some were in charge of the military facilities in Iraq and Afghanistan, and they were unbelievably helpful.”
Through it all, Kuhls says, it was important for physicians to “keep our composure.”
She explains, “If we fell apart we couldn’t do anything to help people” — even when tackling what she calls the “saddest part of the job”: “telling people we never met before that their loved one had died.”
At the trauma center at Dignity Health–St. Rose Dominican Hospital’s Siena campus in nearby Henderson, Nevada, Dr. Sean Dort says they treated 71 victims.
Dort, the general and trauma surgeon and medical director at the trauma center, says that eight patients are still hospitalized, four of whom remain in critical condition.
“Our team has been working round the clock. We try to give each other sleep breaks,” he says. “Everybody worked late that night and Monday and then tried to get our team resuscitated a little bit. But we’re more worried about the people we’re taking care of rather than ourselves.”
On Sunday night, Dort says, “events quickly unfolded” and all available hospital staff quickly came into the hospital to lend a hand.
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“We saw numbers we have never seen before,” he says of the victims. “We saw the entire spectrum. We had several people with gunshot wounds go home.”
He also explains of the rising injured numbers, “People will call and say, ‘I got shot and it wasn’t serious but can someone take the bullet out?’ ”
“There were a few people who had life-changing injuries, but we had no deceased,” he says.
Of the entire experience, he says, “You really don’t have time to think at all. You just focus on what’s at hand in front of you.”
“It was,” he says, “a bad, bad night.”