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Dear Forrest City Medical Center,

Last night I had a nightmare. I, along with my husband and two-year old daughter, Addison, was in your Emergency Room. We had barricaded ourselves inside our treatment room because there was a madman 10 feet outside our door threatening to kill everyone inside the hospital. For what seemed like forever, we heard him scream and threaten a hallway full of people. We prayed for salvation from the tiny room which provided no way of escape, no window, no vents. We were trapped. Sitting ducks waiting for the psycho with a gun to find. This nightmare ended the way they all do, with a scream and jolt that yanks me back to reality.

I have been having them occasionally since my visit to your facility back in October. Addison had been suffering from cold symptoms for about a day before her breathing became erratic and shallow. Considering I have two sons who are plagued with asthma, I decided to call in to work to accompany my husband to the ER. I wanted to make sure the right questions were asked and I understood completely the answers that were given.

We arrived around 8:15 am on a Monday morning. The lobby was fairly empty and it took less than 10 minutes to get us signed in, through triage, and into an exam room. The doctor joined us shortly thereafter and after a quick check-up, decided an x-ray to rule out Whooping Cough was in order. My husband and I didn’t think it was Whooping Cough, but yielded to the doctor’s expertise. Before the he left, a nurse stuck her head into the door. “Oh, you’re in here?” she asked.

“Yes.” The physician responded seemingly annoyed at the question.  She nodded, smiled at us, and then shut the door. The doctor followed after her with promises to send someone back for Addison.

Less than a minute after his departure from the room, there was a shuffling in the hall. The sound was full of fear and intensity. It was the sound of running, but it wasn’t just running, someone was being chased. Then, the hospital’s intercom system announced a lock down.

“Get on the ground! Don’t you move or I’ll blow your head off! Call the police! Someone call the police!” My mind quickly tried to process the situation. A “bad guy” had entered the hospital, possibly armed, and the security officer had chased him down, caught him, and was now calling for the police. Someone had tried to hurt us, but the “good guy” had saved us.

My husband moved my daughter and me away from the door and onto the floor. He attempted to secure the exam room door, but the interesting thing about them is that they have no locks. Something I never noticed until I needed to lock mine. The authoritative voice continued, “This man killed my brother and y’all are trying to save him! What is that noise?” referring to a dull, continuous drone that had accompanied the call for lock down.

“Oxygen.” a staff member answered.

“Turn it off! Get on the wall. Everybody! On the wall!” he ordered.

I had imagined the situation wrong. The “good guy” had been on the floor. The “bad guy” had the gun. Oh. My. God.   My husband turned off the lights and joined us on the floor. He warned me to turn off my cell while he used his to dial 9-1-1. I fumbled through my coat pockets frantically searching for my phone. “9-1-1. What’s your emergency?”

“There’s a hostage situation at Forrest City Medical Center. Please send someone.” My husband breathed into the phone before powering it down. My daughter began to whimper. She itched and tore at her medical bracelet; she whined for the potty. She seemed to make so much noise in her misery, I wondered for a split second if our survival depended upon her consciousness or lack thereof. I wondered if I were able to successfully incapacitate my toddler so that we would all see “tomorrow”.

That is one of the questions the gunman asked the hostages. “Do you want to see tomorrow? Do you want to see your kids? Don’t look at me!” I did want to see tomorrow. I did want to see my kids. And for the first time, I stood face-to-face with the possibility of not. I prayed to God that he would save us. I prayed fervently and more intensely than I had ever prayed in my life. He was the only one who could help. There was no way out and even if the police were outside, I’d seen enough hostage movies to know that they didn’t just rush in; it was a waiting game. And so we waited. For saving, for relief, for an end to this game. For five excruciating minutes we wondered if we would ever get out of that room alive.

And then it was over.  A pretty, blonde nurse opened our door and stuck her head in. “Hey. It’s just a drill. Are you guys okay?” I curled over in relief tears flooding my eyes, half of them devoted to gratefulness and the other half released the anxiety that had stored up in muscles. I am writing this letter to tell you that no, I am not okay. I have nightmares where I relive that day over and over. I am afraid of hospitals. I am afraid of tiny rooms with no windows. I am afraid of malls where a terrorist might get a sick idea. I am afraid of the sound of running. The sound of chasing. Every day I am afraid that someone is going to try and take my life.

One of the hospital executives came to our room to explain what had happened. What we had experienced was a crisis drill. The “gunman” was an Emergency Medical Technician and, in my opinion, a great actor. Someone was supposed to warn us which is why the nurse stuck her head in the first time. She assumed the doctor had already told us. He didn’t tell us and was most likely preoccupied with…being a doctor. So, no one told us.

According to the executive, a brown-haired woman in her late forties to early fifties, the crisis drills served an important role in keeping the hospital safe. Workplace violence has increased substantially over the last few decades with hospital emergency rooms topping the list. Forrest City Medical Center, I appreciate your commitment to safety, I’d just rather not be a part of it.

The executive escorted us to the hospital’s gift shop and allowed Addison to choose whatever she wanted. She continued to apologize for the oversight and even promised to send us a dinner voucher as a way to say, “We’re sorry.” Even though a dinner courtesy of Forrest City Medical Center could never take away the trauma of the experience, I appreciated the gesture. At least you all cared enough to do something. To at least say, “Sorry.”

Three months later, nothing has come: no gift card, no greeting card, no “sorry”. It’s like being slapped in the face. We were not important enough to be warned in the first place and now, we are not important enough to be pacified afterwards. We have been overlooked, again.

According to your Patient Rights and Responsibilities, I have the right to “Receive care in a safe environment, free from all forms of abuse, neglect, harassment and/or exploitation” You also credit “openly sharing information with our patients” as what makes providing a safe environment possible. I believe you all truly feel this way. Unfortunately, we were left out of this plan.

Honestly, I don’t know what I hope to gain from this letter. Clearly, at this point, anything you offer us would no longer seem as a sincere gesture to correct a mistake. I just want you to know how your decisions have affected our lives. I want you to be more careful in the future. I imagine an elderly man visiting your facility because of heart issues. Could that event have cost him his life? Or what if my husband was armed and wanted to play “hero”. This situation could have gone so much worse. I want to encourage you to be more diligent in your efforts at promoting safety. Thanks to you all, no where feels “safe” anymore. I am sure this was not your goal, but sadly, it has been your impact.