Dr. Hassan Masri is still processing the shock of being on call at Royal University Hospital when the Humboldt Broncos’ team bus collided with a semi-truck.
“No training out there would have prepared me for the emotional rollercoaster of last night,” Masri said.
The hospital was on high alert after 15 members of the organization were killed and 14 were injured in a fatal crash near Saskatchewan’s Highway 335 Friday night.
Masri says the call came in at around 8 p.m. CST, warning staff that a mass casualty would be coming their way — known in the medical world as a Code Orange — and requesting that anyone who had their car parked anywhere near the emergency department move it immediately.
“There were the early signs of organized chaos,” Masri said.
“There were nurses standing in line, assembling into teams. I can’t even tell you how many physicians were there.”
Physicians were wearing red vests to tell them apart from the nurses, who sported yellow gowns.
Doctors, nurses and therapists organized themselves into teams, and everyone working in the hospital had slapped a name tag on the top corner of their chest.
Masri, a Saskatoon-based ICU doctor, believes the first patient arrived at around 10 p.m.
“Honestly, I don’t remember what time it was at that point when the first patient arrived,” he said. “Very quickly after that, patients started to arrive one after the other in very critical conditions.”
Of the 29 people on the bus, headed to a game against the Nipwan Hawkes, 14 were killed in the crash, and 15 were sent to the hospital with a variety of injuries.
The RCMP described three passengers’ injuries as “critical.” While a complete list of fatalities and injuries has not been released, family members of Broncos players have since posted images on social media of players recovering at Royal University.
Roy Patter, for example, posted an image of his son, Derek Patter, and two fellow teammates recovering from their injuries while in hospital.
Among those killed in the accident include team captain Logan Schatz, head coach Darcy Haugan and Broncos play-by-play announcer Tyler Bieber.
The accident has drawn an outpouring of support on social media from politicians, hockey fans and onlookers from Canada and around the world.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, U.S. President Donald Trump and the NHL, were among those offering condolences in wake of the tragedy.
Broncos president Kevin Garinger also made a statement, saying, “We are heartbroken and completely devastated by the tragedy that occurred yesterday.”
In the midst of everything, Masri and the rest of the hospital staff had no time to focus on any of the headlines. “People are just working non-stop,” he explained.
Teams comprised of two physicians, two nurses and one or two therapists received player after player with severe injuries.
While most medical staff didn’t know each other very well — many had likely never met before — it was hard to tell by the way they worked so well together, Masri said.
“The emergency department was so loud — and yet so quiet,” he said.
In a note Masri posted on Facebook early Saturday morning, he thanked hospital staff for coming together, but described Friday night as the “worst and most tragic night of my career.”
Masri, whose parents are from Syria, volunteered with other doctors for two weeks in the war-torn country in 2011. That experience likely helped prepare him for the bus crash, he said. He learned to control his emotions and focus on the task at hand.
Despite the adrenaline in any hospital during an emergency, Masri said it’s impossible to ignore the families on the sidelines, waiting for news about their children.
“We’re talking about really young people who were going to play hockey. You expect them to come back home,” he said.
He said the scene was dismal yet hopeful. One young boy attempted to cuddle his wounded older brother as he lay in a stretcher, Masri said, while parents deferred updates on their loved ones so doctors could attend to the injuries of others.
“I think the families were quite graceful and dignified in the way they understood the severity of what was going on,” he said.
In his post, Masri thanked the hospital staff and the community for making such an event “a little less tragic.”
Medical staff returned to the hospital to help out — so many, in fact, that volunteers eventually had to be turned away.
“This is a testament to the type of people in the Humbolt community,” Masri said.
The Saskatchewan Health Authority said in a post on Facebook that many Saskatoon residents had offered their help, and asked those interested in contributing to direct their efforts towards community support instead.
“We would like to thank those individuals who have approached hospital staff in Saskatoon to offer their help (and even food) to those affected by the tragic accident involving the Humboldt Broncos yesterday. Your generosity is a very Saskatchewan response and it is amazing,” read the post.
Masri notes that community spirit makes a tragedy such as the bus crash very “personal for people.”
“It’s not just somebody’s son. It’s the town’s son.”