Tomorrow I’m participating in the Oklahoma City Memorial Marathon.
I wanted to share a story about a doctor I got to know, who was there shortly after the domestic terrorist bomb attack on that happened at 9:02 a.m., at the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in downtown Oklahoma City.
In Dr. David Tuggle’s own words, here’s the story:
Wednesday, April 19, 1995, OU Children’s Medical Center, Oklahoma City
Wednesday is my traditional operating day. This is like, every Wednesday, I had hernias. Every day, for 26 years. I was doing a hernia with the intern, and, it’s interesting, I remember it, because, it was such a shock. I do really have a good recollection of that day.
The nurse stuck her head in the door, and said Rita – Rita was my secretary – called and said
“Do you know where you’re supposed to be?”
I said, I’m operating on this hernia. This is where I’m supposed to be. The nurse said, “OK.” It was maybe 9:15. It was the second case.
We’re moving along. I think we’re closing the skin, and, she sticks her head in the door and says,
“A bomb went off downtown. And that’s what she’s calling about.”
“In a building? What? In a building?”
So, she said,
Yes, the bomb went off.
I said, “Really?”
Back then, we had disaster drills, twice a year. It was required by every hospital. Our disaster drills were almost always on a Wednesday in April. We’ve been doing that since the 80s. That’s just was what we did.Wednesday morning – it was a disaster drill.
I walked out.
It wasn’t a drill.
I went to the front desk of the OR and said “Stop every elective operation. Send all the patients home who are here to have elective operations. If somebody argues with you, tell me, I will come personally talk to them, but, we’ve got to stop.”
I went down to the ER, we had this little bitty ER-it’s much nicer now-and there were 200 doctors and nurses crammed into a small space.
We were all just waiting. And waiting, and waiting.
We got nine kids or something like that, I can’t remember. Three of them were sent right to the OR.
I stayed and did triage in the ER, and I sent the patients up so my partners and residents could operate on them. One kid had brain injuries. That’s all documented.
Some of them (the kids) were from the street, some from the daycare.
The guy that was the chief of pediatric orthopedics, his name is Andy Sullivan.
We could hear what the command, their walkie talkies at the time, and we kept hearing them talking about kids in a daycare center. Kids in the daycare center. And, that it was really jammed. There was a big traffic jam of ambulances, and, it was just crazy.
A lot of walking wounded went to St. Anthony’s, and it was damaged, but, they took care of a lot off patients.
We decided we’d gotten everything we were going to get. And, that there were kids there (at the bombing) that still needed help. We agreed I would go to the site with the police captain, and he would stay there.
I had one of those gigantic Motorola hand-held cellphones with me. It was like a brick.
10:30 a.m., downtown Oklahoma City
There were a lot of people who were going there as volunteers. I saw a gastroenterologist in a three – piece suit, in the building. I saw my dermatologist, in the building, trying to help. There were a lot of volunteer helpers.
They (police) took me to the back, to the south side, so, all the stuff was still kind of falling down. I said, “Stop, everybody here needs a hard hat. You need to go to the closest construction site and get everybody in a hard hat.”
The smoke was billowing. There’s no telling what kind of fumes were there. Half the building was gone. You could see the profiles of dead people who were still in the building. I went around the back.
We put hard hats on and went in. At that time, there were three people being extricated.
A woman was down in a hole whose left arm and leg were trapped.
This is an hour or a half or two hours afterwards.
Then they took me to the down to see Daina, who was in the basement, who had one of the cement support pillars on her leg.
She was in a pool of water, and she was getting cold.
There was one other girl they were working on the other side. She ended up coming out at about 12 hours, the last one out. I operated her for a spleen injury later, she did fine.
Daina was trapped. I looked at that and said,
“So, we need the jaws off life.”
The engineer’s down there, and he’s going,
“No. The whole building comes down if you move that.”
There was a giant support pillar that was angling down and she was in a hole. She was in the hole.
As I walked around the corner as we went down in the basement, there was a guy just standing there, just leaning there, with his hand against the pillar, leaning on it.
“What, you takin’ a break?”
“No, I’m monitoring for vibrations. If this pillar moves, we have to evacuate the building.”
“I was like, OK. Keep doing that. Please.”
Everyone else had gloves on. He was the only one who didn’t have gloves on.
To really get down to her, we had to go head down, feet up.
I checked her pulse. There were paramedics down there.
I called Andy and said, I think you need to bring an amputation set, some morphine, and some Versed.
You can’t check out IV narcotics, but, he did.
Andy gathered up the stuff.
We met up. We went down together, looked at it, and strategized on it.
Can’t bring the building down. We talked over how to go at it. He’s a little shorter than me. He would fit better. I would be his circulator. I’d get the stuff he needed, and drag him out if he needed dragging out.
I tried to start an IV. She was so cold and clamped down we couldn’t get anything in.
I was able to give her Versed, but I didn’t give her morphine.
I was pretty sure she had low blood pressure. And I didn’t want her to crash. Doing CPR in that whole would have been awful.
I gave her a little Versed, and, we put a tourniquet on her and really cranked it down.
She was in shock. She felt better, a lot better, less shock after the Versed.
She was not perfectly coherent. She could answer yes or no to us appropriately.
Andy told her,
“I’m going to have to take your leg off to get you out of here.”
She would ask for help. We’d give her drinks of water. She mostly, would just lay there. She would rouse and talk to you when you needed to talk to her.
During the amputation on Daina Bradley’s right knee, the scalpels kept breaking. Sullivan finished the job with a pocket knife. At one point, the doctors were ordered out of the building when bomb sniffing dogs found a false alarm.
He did a through-the-knee amputation. We had just a tourniquet on to stop the bleeding.
He let it on for 10 or 20 minutes.
Sullivan was the chief of pediatric orthopedic surgery at the time.
He finished the amputation.
It’s tendon, and blood vessel. He didn’t have to go through bone. He went through the joint.
He was exhausted. I pulled her out. Once I got her up to where the firemen could help me, they put her up on a gurney, and I started clamping her blood vessels.
Dr. Tuggle told Daina Bradley, “We’re going to get you out of here.” He oversaw her ambulance transport and continued to try to help other victims who needed medical attention on the site.
After we got back, I was just making rounds and stuff. I was on call.
I called my wife, Judy.
I said, “How you doing honey?”
She said, “I’m fine, how are you doing?”
“I said, fine. It’s been a busy day at work.”
She goes, “Yeah, a bomb went off at the federal building.”
The bomb rattled windows at Judy’s office 20 miles away.
I said, “Yeah, I ruined my socks. I was down there.”
“You went down there?”
“Yeah, I went down there.”
“What did you go down there for?”
Dr. Tuggle didn’t tell his wife what he’d been up to at the bombing site until he got home.
“She’d have freaked.”
I said, “I’ll be a little late.”
He got home that day around 11 p.m.
The amputee victim, Daina Bradley, 20, and her sister, Felicia Bradley, 23, survived the bombing. But the blast killed the Bradleys’ mother, Cheryl Bradley Hammons, 44, and Dana Bradley’s children, 3-month-old Gabreon Bruce and 3-year-old Peachlyn Bradley.
Daina Bradley had been visiting the Social Security office to order a card for her infant son when the bomb went off.
Her children and mother were among 168 claimed by the bombing and its aftermath. Also among the victims, a nurse who rushed to the building to help. She was killed by fallen debris.
Twenty two years after the attack, Dr. Tuggle, a pediatric surgeon, saved Eli’s life. My son was born with a blocked bowel, a condition that could have killed him.
Tuggle patched up his guts and helped scrape me off the floor when he told me he’d have to operate. Today, at 1, Eli is growing fat and wild. Little buddy has cystic fibrosis, but, he’s doing great.
Tuggle, after performing an estimated 20,000 surgeries at OU Children’s in Oklahoma City, has retired to Austin, Texas.
I signed up for the Oklahoma City Memorial Marathon six months ago.
I’ve got a sore knee, and tomorrow morning, it could be more like a 50 yard dash, for me.
That’s really OK.
I’m going to show up, have a moment of silence to honor the victims, like Bradley’s children, who did not deserve what they got.
I’m running for myself, too, and for Eli – I’m going to be training him like a race horse later in life, so I might as well get myself in shape. OK, fine – I also used this as an excuse for two at-odds goals: weight loss and baked goods consumption. I actually achieved both.
Through posts like this, I’d like to spread awareness for our cause – Raising money to fund a cure for my son’s deadly disease, cystic fibrosis.
Please consider a donation! How about a dollar a mile?
In the marathon tomorrow, I’m going to line up, bum knee and all. It doesn’t matter to me how far I get.
Me, and my little family — we’re all just happy to be here.