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It was a war zone: Dr. Joseph Ibrahim

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Written by Richard Hack

“It was a war zone,” Dr. Joseph Ibrahim said, remembering the morning of June 12 when he was called at 2:15 am to come into work at the Orlando Health Orlando Regional Medical Center. For all the surgeons, doctors, nurses and technicians on call that morning, the mass shooting at Pulse Nightclub remains a career altering tragedy. Even more so for Dr. Ibrahim, who is the medical director of the hospital’s trauma center—for like the man who killed 49 people in the LGBT nightclub that night, Ibrahim is the son of a first generation Muslim.

Growing up in Tennessee, and graduating from East Tennessee State University, Ibrahim is not a Muslim like his father. He voice is accented not in Arabic, but rather in the gentle southern dialect that is characteristic of the country music capital. But the sadness in his voice still echoes a memory that will take decades to dim.

“We had patients in every corner,” he said. “We saw the full gamut of wounds, from wounds to extremities, wounds to the chest, wounds to abdomen and pelvis area.”

Of the 53 wounded at Pulse Nightclub, Ibrahim’s team worked on 44 patients, eight of whom died in the emergency room of the hospital and one on the way to the operating room.

“We did what we could, and then we had to move on. But you just wish you had a few more moments, or one more thing,” Ibrahim said, allowing the thought to hang in the air.

He worked 36 straight hours during the aftermath of the shooting before finally pulling himself back to his family—his wife, a physical therapist from Elizabethton, Tennessee (population 14,008) and their 11-year-old twin sons.

“Leaving that day, I drove by Lake Beauty where they have a bunch of memorial’s set up,” he told a film crew from the BBC. “Seeing the friends and family come together and crying over somebody potentially you were working on…that really tears at you.”

Yet unlike the other doctors affected by the tragedy, Ibrahim feels compelled to be a goodwill ambassador of sorts, to prove that neither names nor religions are suggestive of behavior. His late father, an ear, nose and throat doctor, had moved to Tennessee from Egypt, where he met Ibraham’s mother—a former Tennessee farm girl turned nurse.

“I have to prove to people that I am trying to do good,” he told the Los Angeles Times. “And I do want to represent, even though I am only half-Egyptian.”

Still, he hears the talk encouraged by Donald Trump about prohibiting Muslims to travel to the US. “I wouldn’t have had the honor to be here and work beside these folks who were working incredibly hard to save all the lives they could,” he said. “To think I could have missed that if my dad had not been allowed in, that’s bothersome.”

Ibrahim wondered whether the very diversity that makes Orlando great is the exact thing that attracted the mass murderer. ““Maybe we’re a target because of our diversity and tolerance,” he said. “Here you constantly see people from all over the world, and it’s wonderful.”

Ironically, the hospital, which is located just blocks from Pulse Nightclub, had practiced an “active shooter” mass casualty drill just two months before the massacre.

In the latest updates from the Orlando Regional Medical Center, of the 44 patients originally admitted, only three patients remain hospitalized—one in critical condition. All of the twelve patients that were taken to Florida Hospital, another area treatment center, have been discharged.