Speaking to a rapt audience of their peers in a packed room at the San Diego Convention Center, Las Vegas trauma surgeons described what it was like to deal with the aftermath of the nation’s deadliest mass shooting which killed 59 people and injured 550 during a country music festival on Oct. 1.
Vegas hospitals, they said, have been planning for such an event alongside the city’s first responders ever since a deadly fire engulfed the MGM Grand Hotel & Casino in 1980.
That preparation was key in building the kind of system flexible enough to see and treat hundreds of patients with so many traumatic injuries that there simply are not enough paramedics and emergency medical technicians to keep up with demand.
In most cases, people with gunshot wounds are taken to just a handful of certified trauma centers which have the extra equipment and training necessary to handle the kind of penetrating injuries caused by car accidents, industrial mishaps and intentional or accidental shootings.
However, as occurred at the MGM Grand in 1980, the music festival shooting was so devastating that victims were left to try and save themselves and others around them when the bullets were shot into a closely-packed crowd of more than 20,000 country music fans.
Some got rides to the nearest hospital crammed into the beds of borrowed pick-up trucks while others arrived in the back seats of taxis and Uber ride-sharing sedans because ambulances were overwhelmed.
Dr. John Fildes, trauma director at University Medical Center Las Vegas, said those taxi and Uber drivers showed an impressive understanding of their city’s medical system on that day.
“They actually knew where the trauma centers were. They would look in the back seat and, depending on how the patient looked, would decide where they were going to drop them off,” Fildes said.