When news of the tragedy in Newtown, Connecticut started to trickle into the hospital where I work on Friday, patients, staff and providers all walked around in a haze of disbelief, as we heard details of yet another horrific, mass shooting — this time targeting the youngest of children.
On Saturday, media debates about how something like this could happen focused mainly on disproportionate access to guns compared with mental health care. But in my world, among friends and coworkers at the hospital, the only things people were discussing were shock, grief, fear and holding our children and loved ones a little closer.
Anxiety on the ward was amplified by a domestic dispute that occurred between a patient and her partner as I was making rounds. The patient asked the nurses not to let the father back in to see her and her new baby, expressing true fear that he might be armed. Hospital security and the police were immediately involved. Fortunately, the situation ended peacefully and without incident.
In the face of such recent violence, everyone was shaken up and on edge. My heart stopped each time the unit doors opened. Hours later, I read about a hospital shooting in Alabama. It is still unclear at this point why that armed man was in the hospital.
Sadly it seems no town, institution or security system is immune to gun violence and disturbed individuals. Everyone seems to have a solution to offer to prevent tragedies like this in the future — better gun control, increased access to mental health care, or instituting armed guards at every school. But there is another problem — the culture of violence that’s becoming more prevalent each passing year in this country.
Violent video games, television and movies glorify murder and chaos. Athletes in sports like football, hockey and mixed martial arts fighting are often paid higher salaries than professions that truly benefit society, like teachers, nurses, firefighters and police officers.
We are bombarded by news at all hours of the day, much of it about war, guns, murder and terrorism. News about random acts of kindness and happy, feel-good stories are reserved for the last few moments of a broadcast, but never seem to grab the headlines.
Personally, I have seen an increase in violence among my youngest teenage patients. Many have been expelled from school for fighting or have spent time in jail for violent behavior toward family or peers. Sometimes there are mental health issues at play, but more often people see violence as a way to get through life.
Although I am unsure exactly how to go about it, brutal and horrific tragedies like the one in Newton will not stop until we begin to address the growing prevalence of anger and violence among our citizens.
Robyn Carlisle, MSN, CNM, WHNP, works as a full-scope midwife at University Doctors and Kennedy University Hospital in Sewell, N.J.