ORLANDO, Fla. - Angel Colon says he was hugging friends goodbye early Sunday morning after “a great night,” when the shooting began inside the Pulse nightclub in Orlando. He tried to run, but was shot three times in the leg. A few harrowing minutes later, the gunman stood over him, determined, Colon says, to finish the job.
"I look over and he shoots the girl next to me,” Colon says. “And I'm just trying, I'm gone, I'm dead. So, I don't know how, but by the Glory of God, he shoots towards my head, but it hits my hand. And then he shoots me again and it hits the side of my body."
Angel Colon says a police officer dragged him to safety, as the horror left 49 dead unfolded just a few blocks away from Orlando Regional Medical Center’s level one trauma center, where Dr. Kathryn Bondani was working.
At first, Bondani says, she wasn’t alarmed.
"Our first patient was relatively stable, awake and talking, and we thought, 'Maybe they are all going to be like this," she says.
But the next patient -- was critical. Then there were four or five more close behind him.
"The patients just kept coming,” says trauma surgeon Dr. Chadwick Smith. “One came and another came and another came."
They came without warning, or paramedics to stabilize them and help the doctors and nurses assess their injuries.
"They were being dropped off in truckloads and ambulance loads,” says Dr. Bondani. “Our amazing nurses and techs were putting them on stretchers and rolling them into us and telling us, 'Another patient is here, another patient is here, another patient is here.'"
Overwhelmed, Dr. Smith began calling colleagues, asking them to help.
"I said, 'This is not a drill, this is not a joke! We have 20+ gunshot wounds coming in and I need you here as soon as possible,” Dr. Chadwick says. “Every time, the answer I got was, 'I'll be right there.’"
As staffers rushed in, Trauma Medical Director Dr. Joseph Ibrahim says it looked "like a war scene" in the trauma area.
“We had patients in every corner,” Dr. Ibrahim says. “We saw the full gamut of wounds, from wounds to extremities, wounds to the chest, wounds to abdomen and pelvis area."
Then, as the first patients were rushed into surgery, a lull, as the gunman barricaded himself. Then another wave, of at least 20 more patients.
In all, the team would treat more than 40 patients, losing only 9 that first night.
27 patients remain hospitalized, 6 in critical condition. Doctors describe 1 or 2 of the survivors as “profoundly ill.”
“It was the worst night of my career, and the best night,” said one staffer, describing how the trauma team rose to the challenge in the aftermath of the attack.
Orlando Regional has made counselors available to hospital staffers who might need to talk about what they experienced.
"I was on call again last night,” says Dr. Smith, his voice cracking. “I was walking out of the hospital, and as I was walking out, I saw team members walking in and they were crying. I just couldn't express, it's hard to express how you feel. But, they know how we feel."
Angel Colon, surrounded by the team who saved his life, says he is grateful.
"The way that you guys have taken care of us, this hospital is amazing,” Colon says. “If it wasn't for you guys, I definitely would not be here."