When Will the Bullet Hit?

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I was supposed to die on March 23, 2014. The shooter intended to use 600 rounds of ammunition to murder all 52 women living in my sorority house. I left the front door fifteen minutes before he arrived. Two women died on my front lawn, but it was supposed to be me.

I was supposed to die on March 23, 2014. I would have just turned 20 years old. I wouldn’t yet have worked at a brewery, learned how to surf, or travelled to ten European countries. I wouldn’t yet have discovered my passion for medicine, graduated from college or worked as an emergency medical scribe. I wouldn’t yet have fallen deeply in love, moved across the world or completed my first year of medical school at the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland. I wouldn’t yet have had the opportunity to live, because that night it was supposed to be me.

I was supposed to die on March 23, 2014. After that night I lived in fear. Newly installed bulletproof windows, security cameras and round-the-clock police surveillance only perpetuated the unease within our community. The streets of Isla Vista, once filled with enthusiastic students walking, bicycling and skateboarding, were eerily barren. This new and unfamiliar silence, however, was consistently interrupted by the imaginary pop, pop, pop of gunfire in my head: the same gunfire that left six of my classmates dead. I dreaded walking alone at night, the deafening thud of my heartbeat against my chest, radiating up through my throat. I would quicken my pace, anxiously awaiting the bullet at my back as I ran to my next destination. I spent the past five years running from illusory gunfire, hoping it would hit, because it was supposed to be me.

I was supposed to die on March 23, 2014. With 36,383 intended gun deaths[1] and 100,120 intended gun injuries in the United States every year[2], imagine the breadth of American people reciting this same debilitating mantra every single day. This biproduct of gun violence in America is a new brand of chronic PTSD, a permanent adrenaline drip forcing us to scan every crowded space and search for exits when we gather, worship or (try to) celebrate. While there is no single way to cope with trauma, my experience propels my work in the field of gun violence prevention. And I know, gun violence is an epidemic that I will continue to battle as both an American and future emergency physician.

I was supposed to die on March 23, 2014, but I survived. My decision to leave fifteen minutes earlier not only saved my life, but has also allowed me to pursue a career where I can help save the lives of those who don’t have the same fortuitous timing as I did that night. Studying in Ireland not only physically protects me from gunfire, but it also provides a sense of security and tranquillity that allows me to focus on my education for the first time in five years. I am grateful to be at RCSI for many reasons: the incredible people; the early clinical experience; the international education; the magic of Dublin – but I am especially grateful that I am no longer constantly asking myself, when will the bullet hit?

 

References

[1] Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. National Center for Injury Prevention and Control, Web-based Injury Statistics Query and Reporting System (WISQARS) Fatal Injury Reports. A yearly average was developed using five years of most recent available data: 2013 to 2017.

[2] Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. National Center for Injury Prevention and Control, Web-based Injury Statistics Query and Reporting System (WISQARS) Nonfatal Injury Reports. A yearly average was developed using five years of most recent available data: 2013 to 2017.

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