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Life’s Darkest Hours

Online Exclusive: How an Alliance chaplain ministered to the wounded after the Pulse nightclub shooting

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At approximately 2:30 a.m. Sunday, June 12, 2016, I received a phone call that Orlando Regional Medical Center (ORMC) had a mass casualty incident. Victims of a shooting at the Pulse nightclub about a half mile away were arriving at the hospital where I work.

As the manager of chaplains at ORMC’s Level 1 Trauma Center, I paged my team on their cell phones to report to ORMC. By 3 a.m. I had six chaplains in the center to assist in identifying the patients and notifying next of kin that we were caring for their loved one. We received 44 patients within two hours.

Emotional Support

Many patients—though in shock, pain, and deep emotional and psychological distress—were alert, awake, and could assist with providing next of kin’s phone numbers. So our first responsibility was to be the liaison to call their relatives.

Life’s Darkest Hours
Our “quiet” ambulance entrance area went from quiet to overflowing when the Pulse attack occurred.

At this early hour, we awoke people from their sleep with the most horrible call they could receive. Yet my team followed the protocols we had practiced in a recent community mass casualty drill, and many loved ones were able to speak directly to their family member who had been shot. Knowing he or she was alive was the emotional support they needed in this crisis.

Slowly, families began to understand how serious this incident was and how terrible the scene. I could hear patients say, “I have been shot, but I’m OK.” However, some were so seriously injured by being shot in the head they could not speak. These people had to be identified either by fingerprints or law enforcement because they had no picture identification on their persons.

The worst part was that 49 individuals were dead at the Pulse nightclub, but their families arrived at ORMC hopeful that their loved ones were there being treated.

Only God Knows Why

Within hours of the nightclub shooting, our center received more patients from other traumas in our city and county. We couldn’t stop receiving other patients for an extensive time. Trauma centers simply cannot go on what we call “defer” for long because other hospitals in the city and 10-county area are not equipped trauma centers with the required physicians “in house” on the campus 24/7.

Life’s Darkest Hours
Front sign of the Orlando Regional Medical Center (ORMC)

At a prayer service I held one weekend, the mother of a shooting victim of another incident asked, “Why my son? He’s a good kid; he works every day.” No one has the answer to “why,” and as chaplains we provide a ministry of presence and listening. We are the ones who represent God in the moment, but we are not God with all the answers.

Our response as a chaplain is, “Only God knows why, but even in the midst of your questions He is still there and is with you and your son.” We are the team that walks people through life’s darkest hours and the “valley of the shadow of death” (Psalm 23:4).

Pray

I am richly blessed with the chaplain team at ORMC. Please pray that we will reflect God not only to our patients and families but also to our administration.

Our health care system is not faith based; however, we are blessed with 20 chaplains on our ORMC campus and a number of chaplains at each of our six acute-care hospitals and two affiliated/joint venture hospital sites.

Pray for God’s guidance and direction as we lead and demonstrate His love in this health care system. We are involved in debriefing, prayer services, counseling sessions, and spiritual and emotional support for team members, patients, and families. We bring God’s presence daily, and we pray for His anointing to be with us.

I am extremely proud of our chaplain team that God has given us here at ORMC. It is my honor and privilege to serve with The Christian and Missionary Alliance at Orlando Health—ORMC.

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