THE FIGHT FOR THEIR LIVES
AT THE PRECISE MOMENT THAT GUNMAN KIMVEER GILL began his shooting rampage at Dawson College on Sept. 13, the emergency room of the Montreal General Hospital was packed with patients.
There were 40 people lying on stretchers for various ailments, some in the hallways. The waiting room was full. A cyclist who had been hit by a car was in the adjacent trauma bay being patched up by doctors. So was another patient who had taken a bad fall.
The Montreal General, an imposing complex of brick buildings overlooking downtown, has one of the city’s busiest ERs. It also doubles as a Level 3 trauma centre, specializing in saving the lives of those with the most life-threatening injuries.
Anne Thomas, the 64-year-old nurse manager of the ER, was striding through the acute-care section near the end of the lunch hour when one of her nurses called out to her.
“Urgences Santé is on the phone,” Julie Robidoux said, holding the receiver. “There’s a shooting at Dawson College. They have three patients for us now, and a possibility of five more. How many can I take?”
“Just tell them to send as many as possible,” Thomas replied, referring to the ambu- lance paramedics. “Just tell them to keep sending them.”
It was 12:57 p.m. – 16 minutes after the start of the shooting spree that would trigger the largest trauma response in the history of the Montreal General.
Thomas – a veteran of another school shooting, the 1989 École Polytechnique massacre – wanted to declare a Code Orange, signalling an external disaster. It’s the highest alert.
Hospital rules, however, dictate that only a doctor – and not an ER nurse manager – can activate a Code Orange, so the alert was not officially broadcast on loudspeakers until 1:12 p.m.
Still, Thomas didn’t let the rules get in the way of preparing for a disaster, and she declared a trauma situation. She ordered her assistant nurse manager, Caroline McDonald, to move as many patients as possible out of the ER and into rooms on the floors above. Three were transferred to the ER of the nearby Royal Victoria Hospital.
Thomas scurried over to the trauma bay, a spacious room with overhead X-ray machines hanging from the ceiling. It was designed to accommodate up to three patients. Thomas informed the nurses of the shootings.
They were in the process of moving out the two trauma patients when they heard the scream of sirens as ambulances sped up Côte des Neiges Rd.
At around 1:02 p.m. – only five minutes after Urgences Santé first called – 22-year-old Leslie Markofsky arrived by ambulance. He was unconscious, having been shot twice in the head. Orderlies shifted his body onto a hospital gurney and wheeled him into the trauma bay that had just been cleared.
Markofsky, tall and broad-shouldered, had dropped by Dawson that day for a lunchhour pizza party. He had graduated from Dawson in the spring and was studying at the John Molson School of Business at Concordia University.
Surgeon Kosar Khwaja checks on Jessica Albert.