Looking back 25 years at the OKC Bombing

“I was a nursing student on my labor and delivery rotation at St. Anthony’s in Oklahoma City, the hospital nearest to the blast.  We had been at work about 3 hours since we usually arrived an hour before shift change for report.  I was near the nurse’s station and the blast nearly knocked me down.  All sorts of rumors flew about what it might have been until we saw the smoke from the building direction and turned on the news.  Extremely quickly, we knew where it was, but not what or who had caused it.  No one imagined domestic terrorism. 

Once word of the enormity of the situation reached the hospital, any of us they could spare were sent out to set up mobile triage sites.  We had IV poles hung in parking lots with bags primed, ready to help as victims wandered away from the site of the blast.  The hospitals were expected to be quickly overwhelmed and we were ready.  There were numerous times another bomb was suspected and we were pushed back further from ground zero, many times sprinting in fear.  When we were cleared to go back closer, we would move back toward the site. We waited and waited for patients.  The one person I was able to help was a man whose shoes had been blown off; I picked glass from his feet.  The stark reality was, there was no one else to help. Unfortunately, far too many were deceased to need our mobile triage sites.

For a nurse, having no one to help is devastating.  I left that day absolutely exhausted, sunburnt, and broken.  In my mind, my job was to do something…to help anyone in any way I possibly could.  I gave blood the next morning.  Following that, it all runs together.  Nursing school shut down for a couple weeks other than for a debriefing about what we had been through with counselors to help us work through it.  During that time, we were busy doing what we could to help the situation.  I spent many days at First Christian Church where the families were awaiting notification about their loved ones.  I sat with families while they waited and I babysat their children when they were getting news little ears didn’t need to hear.  Eventually, I became a Red Cross volunteer and answered the phone to take descriptions of callers’ missing loved ones.  I volunteered long hours anywhere I could find to help.  When I wasn’t volunteering, I was glued to the television watching the search and rescue efforts long after they became search and recovery efforts.  I attended a prayer vigil at that same church with the families.  I attended the nationally televised memorial ceremony and sat on the floor with the families and the true heroes. At that ceremony, I heard Ernestine Dillard sing “God Bless America” which moved everyone in earshot to tears. I heard the President try to comfort those families, first responders, medical professionals, and our nation.

Ten years ago, we planted a sapling from The Survivor Tree planted on my parents’ property I got when I attended the 15th anniversary memorial ceremony.  I still have my Red Cross picture badge from that time.  I still have those same labor and delivery scrubs…unwashed.  I have an entire box of magazines and papers and things that bring that day and the following days back for me.  I don’t open it often.  That day changed my life.  From the moment I didn’t have anyone to help to this day, I have given away as much of my time volunteering as I can possibly spare.  I believe I will forever seek to fill the void that day left for me.”

By Dr. Jandra Korb

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