How Does It Feel: To Treat Mass Shooting Victims

Dr. David Margolis (Photo by Aaron Bristol)

In the latest installment of our ongoing series, locals open up about their dramatic life experiences, from swimming with sharks to leaving Earth’s atmosphere to dodging ghosts.


Name: David Margolis, trauma surgeon

Valentine’s Day 2018 began as a festive morning at Broward Health North in Deerfield Beach. Employees were looking forward to date nights with their loved ones, once they completed their shifts. Most of those plans would be postponed: Feb. 14 was the afternoon of the mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School. Broward Health North would receive eight patients from the massacre. David Margolis, a trauma surgeon at Broward Health for more than 25 years, was on duty that day. While HIPAA and confidentiality laws prevented Margolis from discussing details about specific patients, he spoke to us about how his team managed to keep calm and save lives on one of South Florida’s darkest days.

“The day of the Marjory Stoneman Douglas shooting, I was in the building.

At Broward Health North, we have a board-certified trauma surgeon here seven days a week. There’s always two of us on call: One who’s physically here in the building, and one who’s available to be called in as needed. As it turned out, the day of the Parkland shooting, I was the one here in the hospital. We received a Code Green, which means mass casualties. It doesn’t happen very often, and you have no idea how many. We have meetings and drills during the year to plan for mass casualties. The problem is that no two mass casualty events are the same—it could be a plane crash, it could be terrorism-related, it could be anything. The plan you put in place never ends up being executed quite the way you anticipated, because the circumstances are always different. You can never guess what’s going to happen. But the planning makes you better able to come up with a new plan at the time.

Patients didn’t arrive evenly spaced; sometimes they were five minutes apart, sometimes 10 minutes apart. Three patients that day sustained minor injuries. Some were from bullets that had ricocheted, and did not strike them directly. We had to proceed really rapidly to figure out what was wrong. And each case still requires the same thorough evaluation: You have to do all the physical examinations, get the labs drawn, do any preliminary X-rays, do a CT scan, do all the imaging, and you need to do that fairly quickly in this situation.

We had three major, more serious injuries that likely would have been fatal had we not intervened. And we had two that passed away. You’re remarkably focused when these things happen. There’s very little emotion. You’re just doing everything you’re trained to do every day. You’re completely on adrenaline, just managing one case after the other. You’d see one, take care of them, move on to the next one. If things calm down for a few minutes, you make a run around the ER and see how everyone else is doing.

I think I put in 24 hours that day, maybe 35. The emergency department was completely full of people who wanted to help. Doctors in the hospital doing other things came down to the ER. Everybody was even more focused than they typically are. It was like a machine; considering the gravity of the situation, it went smoothly.

Afterwards, that’s when it hits you: My goodness, all these nice, good kids. They’re not the patients you typically see on the trauma service. Frequently the people who are brought here were doing dangerous things before they were injured. In this case they were completely innocent victims.”


This story comes from our November 2018 issue of Boca magazine. For more content like this, subscribe to the magazine.