Parkland Hospital staff recalls life-saving efforts

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The night started out like any other at Parkland Hospital. But within hours, it would change everyone involved.

“The night that went down, I knew we were seeing history, that it was historic,” said Dallas County Hospital Police Capt. Dan Birbeck.

After the first shots were fired downtown, the calls at Parkland started coming in.

“The page went out that there was a gunshot victim was coming in,” recalled Dr. Brian H. Williams, a Parkland trauma surgeon.

“That officer was brought in by another officer,” recalled Nurse Jorie Klein. “Very quickly, another officer arrived.”

As events unfolded quickly downtown, the hospital staff also quickly mobilized, unsure if more officers or even the hospital itself would be targeted next.

“I turned around and looked at them and said, ‘You need to lock this place down!’” Klein recalled.

“It was certainly a very surreal scene to see police officers walking around armed with AR-15s,” Williams said.

As the medical team worked on the wounded officers, two of their colleagues were downtown: Dr. Alexander Eastman, a lieutenant and deputy medical director with Dallas police, and Dr. Jeffrey Metzger, medical director and sworn Dallas police officer who was working with SWAT at El Centro that night.

“You don't have the time to take an emotional inventory of yourself,” Eastman said. “You have to fall back on your training and just focus on the task at hand.”

After working through the night with Dallas police, both returned to Parkland to check on their team there.

“Imagine walking in and finding everyone you love and care about devastated. Devastated at what had happened, physically devastated, tired, sweaty, hungry and just completely raw from what we all had just experienced,” Eastman said. “It was like nothing I've ever seen before, and I hope to not see it again.”

By the end of the night, the team had treated seven officers. Three of them died. Dr. Williams was charged with notifying one of the families.

“As I walked out of the room, and I hear them crying. That's when the gravity of what happened became apparent to me,” Williams recalled. “I actually was on the floor, sitting on the floor with my hands on my head crying, thinking about how did this all happen? Why is this happening?”

It was then up to Dallas County Hospital District Police to escort the fallen officers through a makeshift honor guard.

“It's one of the most unfortunate tasks I've ever had was to lead the three fallen officers out of this building,” said Capt. Birbeck. “I was reading the faces. I could see the grief, the anger, the frustration, everything. I remember that night like it was yesterday.”

Since then, it’s been a year of healing, reflection and change.

“I still think about these families every day and I wonder how they're doing,” Williams said. “Do they have support like I have support? Are they getting by?”

“I think over the past year, there's been a lot of healing,” Metzger said. “I think when that date comes up, we'll see that we need more.”

Procedurally, changes have been made to how the hospital stores blood to handle mass casualties. And the hospital is now fully staffed with Hospital District Police during marches and protests. Still, a lot of more beyond that has to be done.

“This didn't happen in a vacuum. A lot of things contributed to this prior to that event,” Williams said. “And we need to address those on a societal basis.”

“It reminds you, a stark reminder, of why it's important for us to be here every day no matter what,” Eastman said. “Ready for whatever, whenever.”