It's been a week. A week since our collective souls were shattered. Seven days, almost to the minute. None of us will ever be the same. Children. Teachers. Educators. Lost forever. My heart still breaks.
Since then, our country has been debating. Arguing gun control. Should guns be allowed? What purpose does an assault rifle serve in the average suburban home? Is the second amendment still relevant? We've also been talking about mental health. Do we do enough for those among us with mental illness? How can we prevent another atrocity from occurring?
All of those questions are good. I enjoy the conversation. But what I want to bring up is the health of those that responded that day. The police officers. The firefighters. The paramedics. They saw death and devastation that day that no one should ever have to see.
Yes, it's what they do. "They're trained for it," you say. But no amount of training could ever prepare someone to see twenty children whose lives have been snuffed. To see the bodies of the educators who gave their lives to save the children entrusted to their care. I'm sure they did a critical incident debriefing. But here's the problem. It's not enough.
First responders are, by definition, the ones who are on the front lines. On a daily basis, they're out there, seeing blood and guts, literally, observing human drama at its most raw. And they're expected to. No one questions whether or not they're capable. Sure, they're trained. But how do you train the emotions not to respond? No amount of training can stop the nightmares. The panic attacks. The memories.
One physician lost fourteen patients that day. He is devastated, wondering how he's going to comfort the families left behind without losing his composure. Doctors all over the world are offering advice. Some say "Stay strong." Others say "Cry with them." It underscores the fact that first responders and physicians aren't immune to the questions that arise from incidents like Newtown. They're not always sure how to react. They act on instinct, on training, at the scene. But what about when they go home to their own families? They're strong when they pull the bodies from the wreckage, but that strength all to often fades into silent, hidden tears.
I have gone to visitations, to funerals, of the patients whose lives I've briefly touched. I've cried when I've learned that the baby I pulled back from the brink has passed on. I've spent sleepless nights, wondering what else I could have done.
I know I'm not alone.
When you think of, pray for, those whose lives were taken, remember those that tried to save them. If you see a police officer, a firefighter, a nurse, or a paramedic, thank them for their service. It may not be much, but every little bit helps.