National Column: Helping to heal a shattered city’s wounds

by Paul Wells

There is satisfaction in even a grim job done well. On Tuesday, doctors at the Orlando Regional Medical Centre described for reporters the onslaught of patients from Pulse Nightclub, only a few blocks away, who filled the hospital’s trauma bay to overflowing in the early hours of Sunday morning.

Their deadpan tone, their language purged of hyperbole, did nothing to hide how harrowing the night had been. But neither were they much good at hiding their solemn pride.

Like any large American city, Orlando has been bracing for mayhem for years. The arrival of multiple gunshot wounds “is something we practise frequently,” Gary Parrish, the director of the hospital’s medical department, said at a news conference.

When it actually happened, it was “surreal,” said Will Havron, one of the surgeons. “We were just getting patient after patient after patient.” The staff stepped up to the challenge. Surgeons and nurses rushed in from home. Triage and co-ordination were superb.

Angel Colon had been a patron in the club. He described how he lay still on the floor, playing dead, while the gunman shot him in the hand and hip to make sure. He was effusive in his praise for the hospital’s staff.

Chadwick Smith had been the attending surgeon on call that night. “It was singularly the worst day of my career and the best day of my career,” he said gravely.

But there could be no resting on laurels. Eight more surgeries were scheduled for Tuesday alone. Six patients remained near death. Doctors were not sure all will survive. The punishing weight of the hospital’s burden was evident.

A few miles away, the GLBT Community Center of Central Florida was busy with other burdens.

On Sunday, the region’s largest gay community drop-in office moved next door to a larger commercial space in a hurry, to handle its vastly expanded mandate. When I visited, a uniformed security guard was letting visitors through the door in ones and twos. Volunteers were in a separate area at the back of the office, where they would not have to speak to reporters unless they wanted.

Corey Lyons is the president of Impulse Orlando, which promotes safe sex practices. Impulse was at Pulse Nightclub three weeks ago, offering vacation packages for patients who underwent HIV testing. When he woke up at 6 a.m. Sunday in his apartment two blocks from Pulse, his phone “kind of blew up” with messages from friends, and his partner was crying uncontrollably.

Since then it’s been non-stop for a large volunteer team: counselling survivors and victims’ families, raising and disbursing money for flights, funerals, car service, temporary housing. The weekend massacre was “overwhelming, very heartbreaking,” Lyons said. But it was the work of one man who decided to hate and whom to hate, he said. Orlando is replying, from the people most directly affected on out. “We’re just trying to bring people together.”

The good work of good people to comfort the bereaved and bind up a community’s wounds was inspiring to see. But I kept being distracted by the larger debate this tragedy is feeding. Including Donald Trump’s astonishing remarks on Monday, when he accused U.S. President Barack Obama of hiding something on terrorism, or pulling his punches, or screwing up, or wanting to screw up. On Tuesday Trump was still at it, calling for “extraordinary screening” against immigrants.

Obama gave his answer on Tuesday. At the Treasury Department in Washington the president left a meeting of his National Security Council on the fight against Daesh, also known as ISIS and ISIL. But fully half his remarks were about Trump.

“The Orlando killer, one of the San Bernardino killers, the Fort Hood killer – they were all U.S. citizens,” Obama said. “Are we going to start treating all Muslim Americans differently? … Are we going to start discriminating against them because of their faith?”

Why doesn’t he talk about “radical Islam” when fighting terrorists? “Groups like ISIL and Al Qaeda want to make this war a war between Islam and America, or between Islam and the West,” he said. “If we fall into the trap of painting all Muslims with a broad brush and imply that we are at war with an entire religion then we’re doing the terrorists’ work for them.”

Obama has been reluctant to engage Trump directly. Even now, he indulged a bizarre tenet of campaign rhetoric which holds that it’s somehow more proper or high-flown to refrain from calling an opponent by his name. He never once pronounced Trump’s, referring only to “the presumptive Republican nominee” and “politicians who tweet and appear on cable news shows.” And of course Obama is not the Democratic nominee this year. To some extent the race will come down to whether Hillary Clinton can fight her own fights.

But it is now clearer than ever that this election will come down to a candidate who rejects, condemns, marginalizes and denigrates, and one who advertises a preference for reaching out, reconciling and embracing. Canada’s 2015 federal election and the Quebec provincial election a year earlier suggest the less confrontational candidate, Hillary Clinton, should stand a good chance. It’ll be a nasty fight all the same.

Copyright 2016 – Torstar Syndication Services

Print Friendly, PDF & Email