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The physical damage from gun violence is just the beginning

MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

This week, we've been examining an issue on the minds of many American voters - gun violence. We've been looking at how it's affecting people's day-to-day lives, their politics and their kids. We're going to hear now from someone who regularly faces the effects of gun violence on young people, Dr. Mikael Petrosyan. He's a pediatric surgeon at Children's National Hospital here in Washington, D.C. As he sees it, the physical damage is just the beginning.

MIKAEL PETROSYAN: There's a lot of damage, not just physical, but psychological and emotional. I'm talking about families and people that are involved. Not only the parents, family, but also people who are treating the children, they psychologically impacted significantly.

MARTIN: Little kids aren't...

PETROSYAN: They're not supposed to be injured like that, yeah.

MARTIN: They're not supposed to be injured like that.

PETROSYAN: A lot of times, you know, they bystanders. Most of the time, they're innocent bystanders, 99.9% of the time. I'm not a politician, but we have to do better than what we have right now. It's not stable. It's not right. It's - there's something we're not doing right.

MARTIN: Most people don't go into pediatrics thinking they're going to be treating a gun violence victim.

PETROSYAN: Correct.

MARTIN: I mean, I think that's fair to say, right?

PETROSYAN: Correct.

MARTIN: So can you just talk about how it affects you and the people you work with - your colleagues, the nurses, the staff, the other doctors?

PETROSYAN: It does affect us. Operating on kids, it's a job that comes with stress, right? I have three young kids, and I go home every day, and I worry about this every day. And I text my wife, are they OK? Was the school OK? Doesn't matter where you live. Every day, I think about it. I drive here every day, I think about it. So these are things that will never leave me. I wish it did, and it causes stress on everyone. You know, people think you're a surgeon, you're tough, but there's a lot of things associated with it.

MARTIN: Is there something you particularly want people to know who don't see what you see?

PETROSYAN: It's a devastating thing to do, to lose a child for something that has been caused by guns, right? So it's not an accident. It was totally preventable in many ways, so people have to understand that we've created this problem. It wasn't there before. We've created it, so we have to do something, not just block the guns. It's not just that. It's education. It's community involvement. It's improving socioeconomic status of people, communities. We have to do better as Americans, as everyone has a family.

When you lose a child on an operating room table or in an emergency room, it's devastating. You can't even talk or eat or do anything, many days. It's devastating, and I wouldn't want to wish on anyone. And imagine, as a parent and you're losing a child, how can you say to the parent that you lost their child? It's one of the most difficult things I've done in my career. So when you go out there after the trauma resuscitation or an operation and tell the parents, I'm sorry, I couldn't save your child. It wasn't me that caused it, but I feel the responsibility that I wasn't able to save.

MARTIN: Dr. Petrosyan told me that some of his colleagues are taking on temporary work elsewhere to spend more time with their families. Others are considering a different line of work, or even retiring early. Can I ask you if you've ever thought about it, if you've ever thought, I can't do it; this has to stop?

PETROSYAN: Not yet, but it's getting there.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

MARTIN: Dr. Mikael Petrosyan is a surgeon at Children's National Hospital in Washington, D.C. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

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