Trauma Surgeon Reflects On The Time She Spent In An ICU Following A Mass Shooting — And Calls For Change

"I thought it would be the most horrific thing I ever witnessed. It wasn’t.”

Though Reema Kar wasn't present at the recent mass shooting in Las Vegas, the trauma surgeon from Pennsylvania wants others to have a better understanding of what it's like being a medical professional on the front lines of these atrocities. That's why she shared an impactful Facebook post alongside a photo of her bloodied "trauma sneakers."


The post begins with Kar recounting her personal experience with the 2006 shooting at an Amish schoolhouse in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania that lead to the deaths of 5 young girls. At the time, she was a medical student working in a local hospital.

"11 years ago, when I watched the Pediatric ICU at the Hershey Medical Center treat victims of a shooting at an Amish schoolhouse, I thought it would be the most horrific thing I ever witnessed," she wrote. "It wasn't."

Though Kar writes that she hoped the schoolhouse shooting would mark a shift in how the United States regulates the sale and use of firearms, more mass shootings followed over the years. Kar says they gave her flashbacks to her time on the ICU floor.

Kar uses her perspective as a trauma surgeon to explain the damage, both emotional and physical, inflicted by guns. "It takes seconds for a single bullet to carve a path of destruction. It can take me hours in the OR to find and fix the injuries, if I even can," she wrote. "It may take a lifetime for a patient and his family to recover from the trauma. Not all scars are visible, and not all damage can be undone."

Calling the tragedy in Las Vegas incomparable, Kar added, "One gunshot victim is a challenge. Two are stressful. Three are overwhelming. 59? Incapacitating. Unfathomable. Inhuman."

In conclusion, she calls for an end to the rampant gun violence and encourages others to "raise awareness for the needless loss of life due to gun violence in Las Vegas, and in all the other places we thought would be the last time."

In an email to A Plus, Kar expanded on that sentiment, writing, "I hope that my words help reveal what trauma surgeons do and who we are. Not many people realize that we are in the hospital 24 hours a day, waiting for these tragedies to happen, ready at a moment's notice to intervene in a crisis. Not many people know the things we see on a daily basis, and the things we can never stop seeing even when our eyes are closed."

"My hope is that people realize this loss of life is unnecessary," she added. "Automatic weapons do not belong in the hands of civilians, much less people who would take them to a movie theater, or a nightclub, or a school, or a concert on the Las Vegas strip. I want everyone to support gun safety and strict regulation of firearms."

Whether or not a real conversation between lawmakers and others will take place remains to be seen, but there's no doubt Kar's poignant post has resonated with many. Calling the response to the post "unbelievable," Kar tells A Plus that many readers have reached out to her. 

Reema Kar

"People I don't know have showered me with love and thanks and support," she says. "Activists, reporters, and organizers have contacted me. I have found other surgeons and healthcare workers who have had similar experiences. It has been absolutely incredible."

Reema Kar is a trauma surgeon at Johns Hopkins in Baltimore. Follow her @DrReemaKar.  The views expressed in this commentary are strictly her own and do not represent those of Johns Hopkins Medicine.


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