Escaping gunfire, a nurse treats her wounds and hails cab to hospital
By TIM CRAIG | The Washington Post | Published: October 4, 2017
LAS VEGAS — As a nurse at UCLA Medical Center in Los Angeles, Natalie Vanderstay is used to treating trauma victims.
On Sunday night, during Stephen Paddock's rampage at a country music festival here in Las Vegas, she had to treat herself.
In a tearful interview from her hospital room on Tuesday, Vanderstay described being near the front of the concert when Paddock began firing into the crowd. Initially, she said, most concert goers assumed the pulsating sounds came from fireworks.
But then the screaming began.
"The screams got louder and louder," Vanderstay, 43, recalled from University Medical Center of Southern Nevada.
Vanderstay dove to the ground just as the cries of "I've been hit" began all around her.
Then the stampede began.
"I just stayed to the ground, because at this point, I didn't know how many shooters there were," Vanderstay said. "I didn't want to move."
As people climbed over her trying to escape the madness, Vanderstay looked down and saw blood and realized her leg looked "flayed open."
Around the same time, a bullet slammed into her chest.
"It hurt so bad. It felt like a huge baseball - just the force of it going through my stomach," said Vanderstay. "And then I looked down and there was blood everywhere."
"Okay," she recalls quickly thinking. "I can't stay here. I am going to die or I am going to bleed out."
Recalling her medical training, Vanderstay took off her flannel shirt and wrapped it around her leg wound. She then got up - moving a few feet at a time before having to dive back to the ground with each new influx of bullets.
"I just tried to stay low but I was being trampled," she said. "Everyone was stepping on everybody and, unfortunately, I had to step on people too just to get where I needed to get to."
While taking steps toward a fenced area she believed would lead her to safety, Vanderstay remembers seeing horrific injuries, including a man who appeared to have an eye blown out.
Even as the flashing lights of ambulances started appearing, occasional bursts of gunfire stymied her movements toward the fence.
"Then it just kind of stopped," she said.
Vanderstay staggered onto the street, raising her hand to flag down a passing taxi. The taxi driver stopped, despite already having three other passengers in the backseat. The treatment she received on that five-minute ride probably saved her life.
Instead of driving her to the nearest hospital, Vanderstay said the driver insisted on taking her to University Medical Center, the only Level One trauma center in Nevada. The other passengers, who were not injured, also began treating her.
"They just kept putting pressure on my wound, because I had the leg wrapped," said Vanderstay. "And they are the ones who called my friends and family."
Before losing consciousness in the emergency room, Vanderstay recalls seeing the fearful faces of the doctors and nurses.
"They were all scared too, and said they had never dealt with anything like this before," Vanderstay said. "They were trying to find more doctors and anesthesiologists."
But when Vanderstay woke up from surgery, she was surrounded by her family and friends.
Doctors told her a bullet had lodged into her stomach, damaging her colon. A bullet also likely grazed her leg.
As she prepares for a months-long recovery, Vanderstay hopes to do one more thing in Las Vegas before she returns to Los Angeles.
She wants to find the taxi driver who saved her life.