ORLANDO, Fla. – A group of Seminole State College nursing students were on their way to a clinical shift at Orlando Regional Medical Center on June 12 when they received a text from their professor about a shooting.
The shooting, they would later learn, was at the Orlando Pulse nightclub. It was a night Elizabeth Smith, Colin Bailey, Megan Ward, Molly Stoute, and Crystal Clarke trusted their instincts and training.
"It was a trauma step-down floor. You know, we do get gunshots, you know, ORMC being a Level I trauma center we do see a variety of cases," Smith told News4Jax sister station WKMG in Orlando.
"We didn't understand the magnitude of the situation," said Stoute.
Stoute said as soon as she walked into the hospital, people began congregating in the lobby.
"I mean there were hundreds of people in that lobby, and some of them were going through things and some of them were there because their friends and family were going through waiting to find out what happened," said Ward.
The students said their first task was clearing the floor and the intensive care unit to make room for the patients who needed to get into an operating room.
"We would do an assessment on them, we'd get a report from the nurse and then he starts to wake up and he's asking questions, and so how do you answer those questions? And so the nurses are answering, and then I just remember holding a hand," said Ward. "Even when you go through surgery on a regular day anesthesia is pretty overwhelming, so to not know what happened from A to B overnight, had to be really scary, and he didn't know where his phone was, where his family was, if his friends that he was there with survived. He just remembered gunshots."
Dozens of surgeries were in progress, and families were waiting for answers.
"For me the hard part was walking through the hallways and looking at all the friends and family. You could feel their stare just looking at you,; you could tell they wanted answers but you had no answers to give them," said Bailey.
The students said they stepped up to help in as many ways as they could.
"Just the little things. 'Would you like some juice? Can I get you a blanket? Wouldyou like a hug,?'" said Ward.
Smith said she recalled the quote by .Mister Rogers,: In times of disaster, "look for the helpers."
"I felt like we were really working together, and it wasn't, 'Oh, you're the students and we're the staff,' it was, 'All hands on deck, we've got this together,'" said Smith.
The students worked together that night, and for weeks after, on the same floor.
"That was huge, to go back and see them progress, but it was also great when they healed and they were walking out the door," said Ward.
"You know you were there, you were part of that even if it was just something very minute, I think that we really did make a difference," said Clarke.