When the head of St. Michael’s Hospital’s trauma department, Sandro Rizoli, left to speak at a trauma conference in Australia earlier this month, he put Dr. Najma Ahmed in charge as the interim head of the busy unit.
He told her ‘not to worry’ and that nothing happens when he’s gone. But days later, a gunman on Danforth Avenue fired a semi-automatic gun into crowds of residents on a warm summer Sunday evening. An 18-year-old woman and a 10-year-old girl died, and 13 people were injured.
Ahmed said she was getting ready for bed when she got a page from the hospital.
“You jump into action mode,” Ahmed said, recalling she raced downtown to the operating room.
She described the scene as “controlled chaos”. Ahmed said because the focus of the nurses and doctors was to minimize the loss of life, it wasn’t until hours later that reality hit.
“I had a sense of terrible grief and a sense a very terrible wound had been inflicted in the heart of the city,” she said.
Ahmed described that moment as heart-wrenching and scary.
“Then the questions we were all asking started to resonate and bounce of the walls,” she said.
One question in the back of her mind and in the mind of many in the city surrounds the religion of the shooter.
Ahmed said like many other Muslims, she thought to herself, ‘Please don’t be a Muslim.’
“When I did hear his name, I was devastated,” she said.
“As Muslim, I can tell you that Islam is a faith that disavows violence in all its forms … As Muslims the rest of us need to stand up and show by example what Islam is really about.”
Both Canada’s public safety minister and Toronto’s chief of police said the Danforth attack wasn’t religiously motivated.
The deaths of two young people on the Danforth adds to what has been a deadly summer in Toronto. Ahmed said she believes her city is changing.
“It’s been horrible in our operating room to see the loss of life of generally young people in terrible circumstances … and even if they survive, their lives are never the same,” she said.
“We generally see crimes not associated with public place, ordinary citizens and random violence.”
Ahmed said the Danforth attack has caused her to change how she thinks about things. Her young daughter recently asked her to go for an evening outing at around 8 p.m. in their neighbourhood.
“I had to pause and stop myself from saying no,” Ahmed said.
“It’s the first time in a long time that I had that reaction but we have to go on living our lives.”