Jefferson community pen powerful personal essays on this epidemic’s toll.
After deliberating the topic for the second annual Drs. Theresa and Charles Yeo Writing Prize, Jefferson’s Eakins Writers Council knew they couldn’t look away from a subject that has occupied the minds of people across the city and nation.
“That issue—that epidemic—is gun violence,” says Kyle Conner, part of the Eakins Writers Council. “It’s an ugly hydra of a creature that has a voracious appetite for indiscriminate human destruction. We realized we had a moral obligation to choose this as the topic for the next writing prize.”
The contest invites people to engage in the empowering act of writing. As members of a university and large health system, the Jefferson community has a unique opportunity to witness and be a part of incredible stories every day, says Conner, associate director of the Office of Human Research. “The prize is a call to share those stories and recognize their impact.”
The Eakins Writers Council is comprised of a diverse group of faculty, staff and students with a common interest in the humanities, and in particular, the promotion of and advocacy for writing, he notes.
“We hoped that the writing prompts we created would evoke powerful narratives from our essayists, and we weren’t disappointed,” Connor says. “We also hope that the essays can enact some healing for the essayists, as well as for those who read and hear them.”
Read excerpts of the winning essays below and their full pieces here.
First Place: “It Was Only One Bullet …” by Mark Chilutti, assistant vice president of development
I was hoping that my willingness to cooperate would work. It did for a few minutes. The guy with the gun took me to the back of the store, keeping his gun pointed at me, while he took jewelry and cash out of the safe. He also started taking the jewelry that I was wearing, while he gave orders to the guy who came into the store with him. “Tape him up. Tie him up. Break the cases and take the jewelry,” he yelled.
Surprisingly, each of these commands was met with, “I’m not going to do that.” These answers seemed to anger him, and, at that point, he turned around and shot me.
For the next several minutes, I laid on the ground, while I heard him go to the front of the store and break a few cases, take some jewelry and eventually leave. I was bleeding but was awake, alive and conscious. I tried to get up, and I couldn’t. It was at that point that I knew something was wrong with my body.
Rather than lay still, I managed to pull myself into the next room and pulled a panic button to alert the police that I was in trouble. I stayed there, yelling for help, while the waiting began. It seemed like forever, but, in reality, it was only about a minute or two until I heard a familiar voice. It was Charlie, the bike cop, who routinely patrolled the avenue.
It was only one bullet. But as I would learn later, it went into my chest, in and out of my lungs and severed my spinal cord, leaving me paralyzed from the chest down.
Second Place (tie): “Your Last Shot” by Dr. Keyur Patel, general surgery resident
The loudest moment of the night was not the police sirens or the clangs of instrument trays opening. Not the cries for blood and supplies. Not the heroic effort to save a life. Not even the shots that were fired. It was the silence. The silence after the pronouncement of death. The acknowledgment of life lost.
I met you minutes before you were dead. With no warning, the police pulled up in an SUV. I was told signs of life. Life but fleeting. I went outside to find you. There, in the back of the SUV, you were covered in your own blood. Dried. But breathing.
Chaos ensued as we brought you from your world to ours. Into the operating room. We did the dance. You were intubated and breathed for. You were coded. Your chest was opened. Your heart was beating for you. All your visceral organs were starved of blood as we tried to get your heart and brain perfused. We said we’d deal with the consequences later. We tried to identify holes and trajectories to put together this puzzle that was you.
But it didn’t work. We couldn’t catch up to your injury. We had lost too much blood that your heart did not know what to do with itself. Each piece of you that we found missing was more and more vital. Even finding a bullet wouldn’t do us any good. We couldn’t solve you.
Second Place (tie): “One Surgeon’s Story of Gun Violence” by Dr. Adam Frank, associate professor of transplant surgery
I can save him, I remember thinking. We had seen his whole body by now, and he definitely had come in alive. All that was visible was that small wound on the lateral left chest. It seemed so small. “I can fix this!” I thought. “With that small of a wound, perhaps he just has tamponade, and then when that’s relieved, we will get him back!”
I proceeded with the well-versed physical steps of a procedure that I had probably done 10 or so times previously. Soon, I was in his left chest. A moment later, the descending aorta was clamped. And then I opened the pericardium, which was bulging. “Don’t hit the phrenic!” I thought. But it wouldn’t have mattered. So much blood! The hole in his skin was so small. How could there be so much bleeding? We had good intravenous access, and the blood was running in. But the blood was coming out so much faster. I extended the thoracotomy to the right fracturing his sternum. Suction was there. I had help, but it didn’t matter.
I was too slow. I couldn’t find the bleeding, and his life literally raced around my fingers pouring out of his heart as I desperately lifted it praying that I could find the wound. Almost immediately, his heart had no fill. The blood darkened and then darkened further and then it even slowed down as my inadequacy became more and more evident. I could not figure out where the blood was coming from other than from the back of his heart.
After some time, I looked up and saw the ER resident, who was still valiantly trying to clear the field with suction, crying. Her disappointment in our failure was so apparent and so painful. We desperately continued to search for the bleeding source, but by now, it became so much less meaningful. As his blood passed out of his body, so did his life. He was dead. I finally found the injury, but by the time I did, it was pathetically academic.
Third Place: “One Lucky Day” by Dr. Margaret Kreher, associate professor of family and community medicine
“Excuse me, do you know what time it is?” My back stiffened. I knew he didn’t want to know the time. It had been a long day of office hours and hospital rounding. I was still adjusting to the pace of work after the birth of my third child. I was feeling guilty about being late getting home. It was closing in on 8 p.m., the end of hospital visiting hours.
I gripped the car keys in my hand. A large red pickup truck with fat muddy tires was parked next to my car and blocked the full view of me from the sidewalk and street. I turned around to see a young man with a baggy shirt and shorts standing between the back of the truck and the back of my car. He pulled a gun from his belt and pointed it at my abdomen. My throat became instantly dry. I opened my mouth, but I could make no sound.
I was at once both participant and observer. All surroundings were in hyper-focus. He was talking to me. I was meeting his gaze. He had a soft hairless face and doe-like eyes. I was struck by how young he was. I opened my bag. It contained billing cards, a diaper, wipes, a lollipop and no money.
I meekly offered my credit cards. He didn’t want them. He was talking with anger. I tried to listen to what he was saying, but I was seeing and hearing everything around me with intense, loud clarity. I could see over the truck bed. Visitors were leaving the hospital and going to their cars across the street. I could not speak, and no one looked my way. I watched as an elderly woman folded a walker and put it in the trunk of her car. She got in her car and drove away. It was a normal evening at the hospital.