Vicky Long, a registered polysomnographic technologist, had just gone to bed last Oct. 1 when her cell phone rang.
“I looked over and saw it was my son – I always answer for my kids no matter when it is.” She heard a tone in her son’s voice that “a Mom knows is not a good thing,” she recalled.
Her instincts were correct. The next words she heard from her 22-year-old son, Ryan, gripped her with fear. “Mom, I’m hurt,” he said. “I need you to come and take me to the hospital.”
The call launched a sequence of harrowing events that left Vicky, a second-generation employee of Roane Medical Center, not only proud of her hometown hospital but also thankful for a family of friends and coworkers who opened their hearts – and pocketbooks via Covenant Health’s WeCare Employee Giving Campaign – to her family during a time of crisis.
“When I asked him, ‘What’s wrong?’ he just said, ‘I’m hurt,’” she said. “When I asked him again, he stopped responding. I don’t know if that’s when he passed out or not.”
What Vicky did not know – and would not learn until she and her husband Richard were driving frantically to her son’s house – was that Ryan, an avid gun collector, had accidentally shot himself.
“The gun was in my pocket. I was emptying my pockets and I set it on my dresser. It fell on the floor and landed just the right way to go off,” Ryan explained. “I didn’t really hear it as much as I felt it. My first instinct was, ‘Oh my God, that gun went off!’ Then, everything just went gray and just dark … and I’m like, ‘Oh my God, I’ve been shot.’ That’s when I hit the floor for a second. The next memory is pulling myself up by my dresser. The adrenaline set in and I called my mom.”
It took less than five minutes for Vicky and her husband to make the 10-minute drive to their son’s house. As she drove, Richard continued calling Ryan’s cell. “About halfway there he answered again, and his dad just looked at me and said, ‘It’s a gunshot wound to the abdomen,’” she recalled.
“I can’t even describe that feeling – but we got to his house, and in our minds, he was going to be lying somewhere in a pool of blood. When we pulled up, he was actually standing up outside waiting for us.”
With Roane Medical Center just five minutes away, the Longs decided to drive instead of waiting for an ambulance. They called ahead to the emergency department to alert them that they were bringing their son in with a gunshot wound to the abdomen.
“They did a great job that night,” said Richard, a private duty nurse. “They were on top of all his vital signs, taking care of his breathing as well. There was a nurse making sure that this respiration and blood pressure were OK. All I could do is stand back and watch them work. The thing was, nobody panicked. They came in calmly, saying ‘This is what we’re going to do, this is what is going to happen.’”
“It was like watching a dance,” said Vicky. “They knew their jobs so well!”
Within minutes of his arrival, Ryan underwent a CT scan to determine the extent of his injury. The verdict: the bullet entered his right side just below the belt and traveled diagonally across his abdomen, nicking his bowel and his colon before lodging in muscle just below his arm pit on his left side.
There was no time to waste. Because of the severity and nature of Ryan’s injuries, a helicopter was called to transport him to the nearest Level 1 Trauma Center, where he underwent emergency surgery to repair the bowel and colon. Cut from his sternum to his pubic bone, it took 40 staples to close the incision.
Six days later, he was discharged. But the ordeal was far from over. Exactly a week to the day he was shot, Ryan was again being rushed to the emergency department at Roane Medical Center.
“He had a major infection in two places,” said Vicky. “His whole stomach was pouring drainage. The doctor took one look, immediately started IV antibiotics and said, ‘Let’s get you back to the surgeons in case they need to open you back up.’
Ryan was transported back to the trauma center, where surgeons re-opened his wounds, draining and repacking them to clear up the infection. Over the next few months the Longs’ master bedroom was converted into a hospital room, and Vicky often spent her lunch hours rushing home to change Ryan’s bandages.
“My coworkers and my supervisor picked up my slack so that I could focus on him. It was just incredible,” she said. Covenant Health’s WeCare Employee Giving Campaign also provided monetary support to help the Longs pay for some of their expenses.
It’s the kind of caring that Vicky Long says she sees every day throughout Roane Medical Center. “I love Roane Medical Center because I work there,” she said. “But I am highly impressed with the way they handled themselves the night Ryan was shot. The ER was spotless, it was clean, the nurses were nice, they were efficient, and the doctors were on top of it.”
“I don’t feel that we got special treatment because I work there – it’s just how we are at Roane Medical Center,” she said, adding that she, like all Covenant Health employees, has signed a “Pledge of Excellence” to always put the patient first and to always do her best to provide excellence.
“It almost seemed redundant – because that is how we do things [at Roane Medical Center],” she said. She takes pride in knowing that she’s a part of that pledge, which was so evident the night Ryan was shot.
“It was a blessing how they treated us. It was just incredible. The care and the training, the nurses. . . every employee, the housekeepers, the nurse’s aides, the lady at the front desk . . . . They are all to be commended because they did what they were supposed to do and they did it well and efficiently and quickly.
Her son Ryan concurs. Roane Medical Center, he says simply, is “the best medical center I’ve been in.”
As this grateful mother puts it, “There is no doubt in my mind that they helped save Ryan’s life – their training is why he is here today.”