Before I was an attorney I worked in healthcare, at the bedside, and I spent a lot of time in the Emergency Room. It was high stress, high adrenaline work, and I enjoyed it most of the time. But the one thing you get to see up close and personal in nearly every Emergency Room, is the face of the Grim Reaper. He comes for all of us at some point, but no one likes to see him, even if it’s someone else’s turn.
Some people die peacefully, in their sleep. Others die leaking blood out of multiple holes, or crushed inside a car. One thing is crystal clear: witnessing death is not fun, and it’s not something you’ll enjoy, and anyone who tells you otherwise has a problem.
On several forums I have seen people post links to ISIS videos, ostensibly to show the world what kind of horror they bring to the world. I recognize that there are all manner of videos that show them stabbing, shooting, burning and decapitating individuals, but if you can say the words you understand the actions. Why would you ever want to see it? I have never understood the whole idea of the Faces of Death videos that supposedly show the last seconds of people’s lives here on earth. Where is the value in these videos? What purpose do they serve?
One of the very first deaths I ever witnessed up close and personal was a small boy who had been burned in a house fire. His clueless mother, when she discovered the fire, called the children, and told them to follow her out of the house. Four did; one did not. Firemen found him under his bed, unconscious and burned over about 40% of his body.
In the Emergency Room we intubated him to protect his airway, and called for transport to the burn center. Other than a bad sunburn, there isn’t too much a community hospital can treat in the way of burns. Before the helicopter could arrive the Angels came for him. To this day whenever I smell someone burning trash, I am reminded of that night in the ER. I have many stories like this. The point is, death is never pretty, and it is always emotional.
You’ve seen the posts on Twitter and Facebook about how this person or the other would “pop a cap” in someone, or would “blow them away.” I’ve probably been guilty of it too, even though I should know better.
Yet, the fact is that taking a human life is never what you think it will be like. In Tombstone, Kurt Russell’s character cautions his character’s brother not to be too hasty to shoot someone, because it weighs on you. Indeed, the prophecy comes true in almost the next scene.
In 1982 I was in a small community hospital in Florida when a bank robber was admitted to the Emergency Room. He had been cornered between the police forces of two different jurisdictions. He pulled a .30 caliber carbine out of his truck and started firing at the police from Jurisdiction A. A few moments later, a female cop, from Jurisdiction B, flanked him and screamed at him to drop the weapon. He didn’t even turn around (and this is important) so the police officer shot for center mass. The bullet hit the spine and traveled up to the sixth cervical vertebrae before stopping. The criminal hit the ground, paralyzed immediately from the neck down. The shootout was four blocks from a fire station, and paramedics arrived in time to restore respiration. He was transported to the hospital with nothing below the neck but memories.
Over the course of the next 16 months the criminal died piece-by-piece. He developed bed sores, urinary tract infections, and other issues and because he was on a mechanical ventilator, he stayed alert enough to suffer through all of it before sepsis claimed his life.
But the thug’s story is not the important one. The pretty young 29 year old officer who shot him came to see him twice a week. She always came after visiting hours were over because she did not want to see the man’s family. I never saw her walk away from the man’s bedside with dry eyes. She realized that even though this man was a very bad man, with multiple prior offenses, and had used a firearm in the commission of a federal felony, he was still a human, and what she had done weighed on her. It also almost cost her the position of police officer, because she wasn’t sure she could fire her weapon if she had to. In speaking with her, she was troubled because she didn’t know if the criminal had heard her command because he was firing a .30 caliber rifle, and doing so without hearing protection. I told her that if she had not shot him, someone else would have, and he likely would have died instantly. I also pointed out that, even though he was paralyzed, he still had family, and they still visited. In some respects, she gave them a lot more time, even if that had not been her intent.
Firing at a paper target, you think, yeah, I could kill someone if I had to. And indeed, if you’re threatened, yes, you likely could.
But it would change you.
And there is no training in the world that can get you ready for that.