I’ll be the first to admit, National Rifle Association, that your “stay in your lane” tweet about doctors not consulting you is correct. I did not stop to consult you the last time I had someone bleeding out from gunshot wounds on the stretcher in front of me. Before his arrival, I’d been far too preoccupied listening to the overhead alert from the emergency medical service: “Young male. Unknown age. Multiple gunshot wounds. Heavy bleeding. Becoming less responsive. Other victim on scene already pronounced dead. ETA, 3 minutes.”

I was too busy letting the blood bank know I would need to activate the massive blood transfusion protocol and alerting the trauma surgeons that they might need to open this young man’s chest in my trauma bay.

I also took a few moments to prepare myself for what I was about to see. I needed to be in control of myself if I was going to have any control of the trauma bay in front of me, the one filled with emergency physicians, surgeons, pharmacists, techs, and nurses.

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I was also busy dressing for what I anticipated would be a bloody event — just like the last patient with gunshot wounds. I grabbed one of the thin, pastel-blue plastic gowns stored at the entrance to the trauma bay. I also spent a few precious seconds putting on shoe covers, something I had neglected to do for the last gunshot victim I treated. Gunshots mean blood. And splatter. I’d learned the hard way that if you don’t cover your shoes, they won’t be spared. The last time around, I had some difficulty explaining blood-soaked sneakers to my other patients.

Then, in the few short moments before the patient arrived, I spent what time I had assigning roles to my team. I explained to each of them how we would prevent this young man’s death by cutting into his chest, putting a breathing tube in his throat, and placing an intravenous line in any vein — the bigger the better — we could find.

Even before he was in front of me, my attention was focused on the scene coming around the corner. I could hear the paramedic counting out his CPR: Five. Six. Seven. Eight. I could see the security team clearing a route to the trauma bay. I could smell the blood that I saw dripping onto the floor.

I made a mental note of the man’s brightly colored hoodie, now tattered with bullet wounds and stained with blood. He’s younger than me, I thought, and missing a pulse.

I listened to the paramedics tells us what they knew. And then I focused on the team’s descent on this patient. We cut off his belt and shoes and that brightly colored hoodie to expose him: you can’t control bleeding if you can’t see where it is.

We started his resuscitation with a scalpel: One physician made an incision on the skin over his ribs to spare the arteries and nerves under them. Through that incision, a surgeon dissected her way down through his skin and muscle and tissue and, finally, into his chest. With bloodied gloves and focused concentration, I’m sure she, too, felt regret at not being able to reach out to consult the NRA. She was too busy attempting to pull blood out of his chest from places it shouldn’t be.

All she and I and everyone in that room wanted was for our patient to regain a pulse. Regardless of the presence or absence of belief in a God, we all silently prayed that he wouldn’t die in front of us. But his pulse didn’t return.

Despite the hot and nauseating smell of blood and despair, we made a final attempt. Accompanied by the gleam of metal and the sound of cracking bone, we were more aggressive about opening our patient’s chest this time. We exposed his heart and lungs to search for the bullets. All we found was an inert heart.

But despite the finality of this young man’s death, it was not over. And if I could do this case again, this is where I would consult the NRA: After I’d pulled off my bloodied gown and gloves and wiped the sweat from my face and the tears from my eyes, you and I would stand at the opening of the trauma bay and look at the floor around us. Littered with blood and tubes and our failed attempt at bringing this young man back to life, we would — and should — force ourselves to never forget what we saw in front of us. Something we both know has been seen countless times before and what, unfortunately, will be seen countless times again.

Your tweet about a position paper by the American College of Physicians on reducing firearm injuries and deaths said, “Someone should tell self-important anti-gun doctors to stay in their lane.” You’re wrong there. The NRA and I both know that this is doctors’ lane. Treating gunshot wounds has always been our lane. Sadly, without better ways to control access to firearms, it always will be.

Christopher Lee Bennett, M.D., is an emergency medicine resident at Massachusetts General Hospital and Brigham and Women’s Hospital, both in Boston.

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  • Beautifully written. Thank you for your clarity and your courage. It has been decades since I was an anesthesiology resident participating in the same process at the same hospital! Nothing much has changed with guns, but it is now much harder for my patients to fill their prescriptions. It is much easier to obtain weapons of mass destruction than it is to obtain pain medicine. This despite the fact that epidemic of mass shootings has expanded even more rapidly than that of opioids. Difficult to compare, but there is no question that both are public health crises and must be managed as such if we are to be safe in our homes and public venues.

    This IS your lane and mine and all other caregivers and first responders who can see past the lies and distortions of the entrenched stakeholders and their lackeys in the congress.

    • What hogwash.

      There is no “epidemic of mass shootings.”

      Look at the numbers. Mass shooting deaths represented less than 2 percent of all gun deaths in the US every year. If you want to focus your energy on something important, don’t let the mass shooting “epidemic” distract you.

  • Spare us the rants and do the repairs necessary. This republic would not remain a republic if the left had its collective way to disallow guns. We are surrounded by globalists intent upon controlling everything, including medicine. Soon it will all be controlled unless we stand up for citizen rights, which rights include iwning a weapon. Get over yourself.

  • The NRA is a despicable, brash, money-lusting, completely immoral outfit, that bullies anyone who speaks against them. There should be no high-powered guns in the hands of loose canons on drugs or with violent characters. Period. But as long as the NRA can buy politicians’s support, this will rattle around for another decade in the USA. Keep fighting the blood-thirsty NRA, for sure when indeed shooting victims ARE in your lane.

  • Christopher, thank you for telling your story. telling MDs to stay in their lane is both an attempt to intimidate and condescending. gun violence is clearly, unarguably a public health crisis in the US. the ban on spending public money to study and document it is a disgraceful stain on our nation. I applaud your courage writing this story Christopher. Don’t let the bullies — starting with the people writing comments here — stop you from standing up and speaking the truth. Gun violence is right down the middle of the road for physicians.

  • First I’ll state I’d be fine if the Second Amendment were repealed. At the same time I know the overwhelming majority of gun owners are law-abiding citizens who will never shoot anyone.
    The ACP reviewed evidence and made recommendations for both clinical practice and policy to remedy a very serious public health problem. I think they were well within our lane.
    I hold the NRA in very low esteem with their political tactics and their outcry at almost any reform of gun laws.
    Comparison to other developed countries leads me to suspect gun restrictions would decrease gun injuries and deaths. So many guns are in circulation it might take a while.
    I’ve encountered a couple of pro-gun advocates who make good points that over time gun laws haven’t had a great effect. Points that gun crimes continue in locales where laws are stricter are also made.
    I believe both sides want to see gun injuries and deaths reduced. I’d like to see the NRA and gun advocates prioritize this and get rid of the rigid stand. And I’d like anti-gun people to look at the whole picture objectively. Is there something different about our culture that leads to more violence?

    • What seems to you like the NRA fighting common sense gun control seems to the NRA like blatant attempts to use tragedy to eliminate guns entirely. Their tactics are pretty much identical to the abortion lobby, about who’s excesses physicians remain strangely silent.

      That elimination of guns is the end game here cannot be seriously argued. A huge percentage of gun crimes are preceded by gun acquisition crimes. Instead of calling for enforcement of laws that could have prevented deaths, the outcry is always for new broadly sweeping laws which strike primarily at the innocent. In fact, the innocent gun owner is the only person who could be affected.

  • Your lane is treating injured people. I gather from your article that your lane is not thinking clearly about gun policy. You have the right to say whatever you want about gun policy and I have the right to say you should demonstrate some evidence of thought on the subject before you speak. Gunshot wounds are bad. So are wounds from vehicle crashes; and they are much more numerous, even in Chicago. People seem to have no trouble understanding that cars aren’t responsible for vehicle deaths, do why should a reasonably intelligent person not understand that about guns.

    • A reasonably intelligent and informed person would know that gunshot injuries have gotten much worse with the mass marketing of guns designed for war.

  • Maybe they should demand that the nightly news show the horrific injuries that firearms inflict on human flesh. That kind of thing has been censored, because it is bad for the gun industry.

  • Well, Dr, with likely 30 more years of experience practicing IN MY LANE I would suggest you save all if us the pedantics. The reasons underlying the bulletfest that you shamelessly politicize are clearly too complex for you and certainly transcend a Tweet from the NRA. Good grief, man, get over your sheltered high horse. Spend a weekend in Laramie or Sheridan or Rapid City. Lots of guns, few shootings. London…no guns lots of beatings and knife murders. Chicago…strictest gun laws in America. Try to see the cause! It is not the NRA! Oops, you’re a surgeon not an internist. Forget it.

  • This all came about because the ACP released a policy statement without consulting any firearms policy experts.

    If they had consulted anybody who knew anything about firearms, they would know that their advocacy of banning semi-auto weapons (which would include most handguns) is not feasible in the US, nor widely supported by the public.

    All the handringing by some physicians about their feelings being hurt (re: NRA’s “stay in your lane” comment) is by people who probably didn’t read or understand the ACP policy statement.

  • USA wake up. The gun lobby is controlling your country. They don’t care about your safety, just your $$$. Gun regulation won’t take your rights away, just make sure that people who have a license are stable and respectful individuals.

    • Oh please. Just like Chicago, huh? And that would mean denying gun ownership to all Democrats.