I was sitting in class on Tuesday, October 6, when one of my friends showed me a link about a local college that was under lockdown, as we often do with current events. But this time, after seeing the message, I felt my stomach sink. My heart was in my throat. My mind instantly flooded with thoughts. Did my mom go to work this morning? Was she teaching today? I hadn’t heard from her since last night. The school was the Community College of Philadelphia (CCP).
CCP was on lockdown under suspicion of an armed individual on campus. All sources pointed to no active shooter, but my mind immediately ran through the worst possibilities. What if she hadn’t heard the lockdown message? What if she had left campus to get food and was coming back? What if she was in a meeting and her phone was in her purse? What if her battery had died? What if … I took a deep breath and grabbed my phone.
“Are you ok??” I sent. It was all I had the energy to type.
“Yes. No worry,” she typed back, barely a minute later.
“Ok good close all the windows. Shut the lights off.”
“Done,” she replied.
“Good save ur phone battery,” I quickly typed back.
“Ok. Have 63 percent,” she said.
“Be safe mom. Do you have a charger?” I asked.
“Don’t worry. I love you guys and will be safe.” She always has this way of thinking about us even when the person in question was her!
“Love you too. Can you push a desk against the door?”
“Ammu go study. Don’t worry like this,” she told me, as though I would be able to focus when I feared imminent danger for my mom.
“Ok close all your apps and save battery,” I said.
And then she responded: “ok dear.”
For the remainder of the lecture I tried to honor my mom’s request, learning about fetal well-being, decelerations and everything in between. But, my brain wasn’t there. I quickly texted my mom back — “any updates?” — but did not receive a response.
Class ended, and I was scheduled to give a tour. Okay, put your brave face on, I told myself, and went to the admissions office to meet the prospective students. Don’t cry. Don’t panic, she’s going to be fine. During the tour, I found myself talking about how accommodating student affairs is and how they are letting me go to India for my engagement ceremony next month so my whole family can be there. But then, my thoughts drifted to my mom. Why is my phone in my backpack? I could not count down the minutes any faster, wishing and wondering if the police had cleared the scene for her to go home. The moment my tour ended, I rushed to my backpack in the library and checked my phone: “left the bldg … Just called to tell u I am okay. On my way home.”
And in that moment, an infinite weight was lifted off of my chest. But the truth is, for so many people around the world, the story does not always have this wonderful ending. Week after week, we are bombarded with images of lives ended too soon in the face of senseless violence. I won’t delve into personal politics here, but I have a question for all of us as future clinicians. What kind of world do we live in if it’s impossible to go about our daily lives without fear for the ones we love? I am an anxious person, but the possibility of actual harm coming to my family never crossed my mind until today, and it was a harrowing experience.
I would urge all future clinicians, myself included, to consider what we can do to make a difference in violence prevention. Tonight, we should all take a moment to review the ways in which clinicians can talk to their patients about safety, specifically with regards to weapons in the home. The connection between gun violence and health is clear: it costs the U.S. health care system approximately $645 per gun, measured in work hours lost, decreased quality of life, insurance claims and employer-related expenses. Not to mention, each fatality costs approximately $5.1 million, and each hospital admission, nearly $443,000. Further, this does not incorporate the immense emotional toll gun violence has upon families, mothers and daughters.
We may not be politicians, but we have the chance to not only engage in this debate, but to also change peoples’ minds. So, take a moment to share your thoughts with your congressperson, no matter your opinion. Encourage them to invest in research on gun violence and its etiologies, so we can create evidence-based policies with broad based support. Take a moment to understand how gun violence really is a public health problem, and consider reasonable solutions. And, when you get a chance, hug your loved ones. I know I will.