May It Be Different This Time

“My name is Dr. Roy Guerrero. I am a board certified pediatrician and I was present at Uvalde Memorial Hospital the day of the massacre on May 24th, 2022 at Robb Elementary School. I was called here today as a witness. But I showed up because I am a doctor. Because how many years ago I swore an oath — An oath to do no harm.

After witnessing first hand the carnage in my hometown of Uvalde, to stay silent would have betrayed that oath. Inaction is harm. Passivity is harm. Delay is harm. So here I am. Not to plead, not to beg or to convince you of anything. But to do my job. And hope that by doing so it inspires the members of this House to do theirs.

I have lived in Uvalde my whole life. In fact, I attended Robb Elementary School myself as a kid. As often is the case with us grown ups, we remember a lot of the good and not so much of the bad. So I don’t recall homework or spelling bees, I remember how much I loved going to school and what a joyful time it was.

Back then we were able to run between classrooms with ease to visit our friends. And I remember the way the cafeteria smelled lunchtime on Hamburger Thursdays.

It was right around lunchtime on a Tuesday that a gunman entered the school through the main door without restriction, massacred 19 students and two teachers and changed the way every student at Robb and their families will remember that school, forever.

I doubt they’ll remember the smell of the cafeteria or the laughter ringing in the hallways. Instead they’ll be haunted by the memory of screams and bloodshed, panic and chaos. Police shouting, parents wailing. I know I will never forget what I saw that day.

For me, that day started like any typical Tuesday at our Pediatric clinic – moms calling for coughs, boogers, sports physicals – right before the summer rush. School was out in two days then summer camps would guarantee some grazes and ankle sprains. Injuries that could be patched up and fixed with a Mickey Mouse sticker as a reward.

Then at 12:30 business as usual stopped and with it my heart. A colleague from a San Antonio trauma center texted me a message: ‘Why are the pediatric surgeons and anesthesiologists on call for a mass shooting in Uvalde?’

I raced to the hospital to find parents outside yelling children’s names in desperation and sobbing as they begged for any news related to their child. Those mother’s cries I will never get out of my head.

As I entered the chaos of the ER, the first casualty I came across was Miah Cerrillo. She was sitting in the hallway. Her face was still, still clearly in shock, but her whole body was shaking from the adrenaline coursing through it. The white Lilo and Stitch shirt she wore was covered in blood and her shoulder was bleeding from a shrapnel injury.

Sweet Miah. I’ve known her my whole life. As a baby she survived major liver surgeries against all odds. And once again she’s here. As a survivor. Inspiring us with her story today and her bravery.

When I saw Miah sitting there, I remembered having seen her parents outside. So after quickly examining two other patients of mine in the hallway with minor injuries, I raced outside to let them know Miah was alive. I wasn’t ready for their next urgent and desperate question: ‘Where’s Elena?’

Elena, is Miah’s 8-year-old sister who was also at Robb at the time of the shooting. I had heard from some nurses that there were “two dead children” who had been moved to the surgical area of the hospital. As I made my way there, I prayed that I wouldn’t find her.

I didn’t find Elena, but what I did find was something no prayer will ever relieve.

Two children, whose bodies had been so pulverized by the bullets fired at them, decapitated, whose flesh had been so ripped apart, that the only clue as to their identities was the blood spattered cartoon clothes still clinging to them. Clinging for life and finding none.

I could only hope these two bodies were a tragic exception to the list of survivors. But as I waited there with my fellow Uvalde doctors, nurses, first responders and hospital staff for other casualties we hoped to save, they never arrived. All that remained was the bodies of 17 more children and the two teachers who cared for them, who dedicated their careers to nurturing and respecting the awesome potential of every single one. Just as we doctors do.

I’ll tell you why I became a pediatrician. Because I knew that children were the best patients. They accept the situation as it’s explained to them. You don’t have to coax them into changing their lifestyles in order to get better or plead them to modify their behavior as you do with adults.

No matter how hard you try to help an adult, their path to healing is always determined by how willing they are to take action. Adults are stubborn. We’re resistant to change even when the change will make things better for ourselves. But especially when we think we’re immune to the fallout.

Why else would there have been such little progress made in Congress to stop gun violence?

Innocent children all over the country today are dead because laws and policy allows people to buy weapons before they’re legally even old enough to buy a pack of beer. They are dead because restrictions have been allowed to lapse. They’re dead because there are no rules about where guns are kept. Because no one is paying attention to who is buying them.

The thing I can’t figure out is whether our politicians are failing us out of stubbornness, passivity or both.

I said before that as grown ups we have a convenient habit of remembering the good and forgetting the bad. Never more so than when it comes to our guns. Once the blood is rinsed away from the bodies of our loved ones, and scrubbed off the floors or the schools and supermarkets and churches, the carnage from each scene is erased from our collective conscience and we return once again to nostalgia.

To the rose tinted view of our second amendment as a perfect instrument of American life, no matter how many lives are lost.

I chose to be a pediatrician. I chose to take care of children. Keeping them safe from preventable diseases I can do. Keeping them safe from bacteria and brittle bones I can do. But making sure our children are safe from guns, that’s the job of our politicians and leaders.

In this case, you are the doctors and our country is the patient. We are lying on the operating table, riddled with bullets like the children of Robb Elementary and so many other schools. We are bleeding out and you are not there.

My oath as a doctor means that I signed up to save lives. I do my job. And I guess it turns out that I am here to plead. To beg. To please, please do yours.”

– Dr. Roy Guerrero, Pediatrician, Uvalde, TX

Loving Competition

Orange zest sourdough.
Sven is now 3.5 months old.

Claggy. Stodgy. Squidgy. Prove, not proof.

Daughter and I are learning the language of British baking by binging the wonderful Netflix show. It’s the best reality TV there is, no question.

Every season starts with 12, sometimes 13 amateur bakers from all over the UK, men and women, old and young. Each themed week (cake, biscuit, pastry, bread, and others) they undertake three challenges, one of which is conducted blind, meaning they have no idea what it is until it starts, and the judges rank the identical attempts without knowing who made which. From the beginning, we the audience can relate to the bakers as friends, coworkers, and family, thanks to fun biography videos interspersed throughout the episodes. Daughter and I choose our champions early on.

One person gets eliminated every week for nine weeks, then the final three bake their butts off for the crystal cake stand trophy in week 10. That last contest ends in a great big garden party where friends and family, as well as previously eliminated bakers, gather to celebrate an entire summer of convectionary creations they never dreamed of making before.

Despite constant tension and suspense from time constraints, mixing failures, collapsing structures and the like, there is minimal, if any, drama. No sabotage, no trash talk, no passive aggression, condescension, or ad hominem of any kind. In fact, the bakers *help* one another every single episode. They cheer enthusiastically for each other’s successes. They rush to assist stragglers to present in time. They banter with ease. And there is a lot of hugging.

Make no mistake, they are each in it to win. Their projects span cultures, geography, seasons, and all genres and media of things bakable, and their flavor, texture, and height ambitions drop our jaws every episode. And though the premise of the show is competition and winning, its ethos is grounded solidly in love. The bakers simply love baking. It is their passion. They respect and admire the judges, one another, and the art of their craft. And by the end of the season, they love one another, as evidenced by post-production coda videos of cohort members cavorting, crisscrossing the UK to hang out, cook, travel, and karaoke together.

I binge this show because it lifts my spirits. The humor, the personalities, and the creativity, ohmygod! But much more than any of that, it’s the relationships and connections that mean the most to me. Somehow the show leaders have created a culture wherein it’s okay—expected, even—to show vulnerability, to admit to fear, self-doubt, and struggle. And in so doing, the bakers form a tight tribe of safety and mutual support in the striving. While in competition, there is no conflict. I do my best and you do yours. We each show up to give it our all, and we leave it all on the table, literally. At the end of the weekend we trust that the elimination process is fair. We celebrate those who make it through to next week, and we surround the one saying so long with tears of empathy and gratitude for such a worthy rival, who elevates our own game. Group hug!

I write “we” as if I’m one of them, as if I could dream of joining this loving tribe. I wish! But don’t we all wish for this? Wouldn’t we all benefit and grow from the nudging and pushing of loving competition and rivalry, from showing one another what might be possible if we dream a little bigger, take a little more risk, and show up all and only ourselves? We have nothing to prove to anyone but our best selves, and even though only one can take home the prize, we know that that person truly earned it, and we all became better in the process. No grudges, no bitterness. Only love, growth, and friendship.

I wonder if the Olympics are like this? Higher, faster, stronger! Elite athletes. Star bakers. Regular folks.

Who pushes you by pushing themselves, leading you by this example? How do you do this for others? In the end our most important competition is the one against our former selves. We play the infinite game of growth and self-improvement alongside one another, each with our own goal posts. We ourselves may be great. But without each other, we won’t ever get far.

The Optimistic Nihilist

“The death rate from life is 100%,” my very wise patient once said.

No matter what, you and I will eventually die. 

Humans, as a species, will also die, I’m convinced.  I’ve said it before:  We are the pathogen.

I believe the current vector of collective human action points squarely toward self-induced extinction.  I’m also convinced we’ll take a good many other species with us before we’re through.  But Earth herself will outlive us, and thrive in our absence.  …Unless we figure out a better balance with nature, within and around us, as individuals and as intersecting collectives, before our spectacular self-destruction.

So assuming and accepting that our taxonomic lifespan is finite, I propose to embrace a beautiful and exhilarating paradox: As individuals at any given time, in any given place or situation, none of what we do may matter at all, and it all matters like life or death. Everything about our survival depends on how we relate—to ourselves, one another, our environment, our times—everything! How can I, myself, bend the arc of the moral universe toward justice? I grab it when it swings my way, and hang on with all my might—in all that I do. I call on my friends to grab on, too. Iterative, incremental change, a fraction of a degree at a time, nudges the vector’s direction toward something better. As I imagine sailors know: a small shift in tack here and now translates to a very different destination over a long enough distance and time. What might it look like? I think it has to be better polar reconciliation–letting go either/or and embracing both/all/and: Purpose and profit, humility and recognition, freedom and responsibility, diversity and inclusion, individual and collective health and well-being.

Every day we live is another day closer to our eventual demise.  And every day we wake, we have so many breaths, encounters, and opportunities with which to shift the vector, to bend that arc.

Until such time as humanity actually succeeds in killing ourselves, and I really think we will, we still have a chance.  We can still work to be our best, most creative, generative, communal, and symbiotic selves.

Onward, friends, ODOMOBaaT!

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