I was lying on a gurney with my eyes closed. Although I was drifting in and out of consciousness, I could sense that a lot was going on around me, because of me. At one point that night, I looked up and saw a man dressed almost like an astronaut, covered head-to-toe in protective equipment. He was a trauma surgeon.
Hours before, I was at my high school’s first football game of the year. This all happened a long time ago, when I was a teenager, but I can still call to mind the sound of the school bands and cheerleaders. Shortly after the game, a fight broke out in a nearby park. I turned, and saw flashes of light. That’s what I remember about the moment I was shot: flashes of light. Time seemed to slow down. People were screaming and running around me. My white shirt was covered in blood. My friends, frantic, implored me to lie down. My mouth filled with blood, and I began to choke. As I discovered later, the .38-caliber bullet had ripped a hole in my windpipe and injured my carotid artery. I was bleeding into my airway.
The trauma surgeon was named Robert Ahmed. He saved my life that night by punching a hole in my windpipe, a procedure known as a tracheostomy. Dipankar Mukherjee, a vascular surgeon, made an incision in my left leg and removed a piece of vein to form a patch for the hole in my carotid artery.
I spent more than a month in the hospital, figuring out basics such as how to talk with a paralyzed left vocal cord. But long after I recovered, the experience of getting shot stayed with me—and I don’t just mean in the shape of the scars on my neck or in the sound of my voice. It’s not overly dramatic to say that it changed the whole course of my life: That night led to me becoming a trauma surgeon.