When the e-mail went around to a group of young doctors at Saint-Louis Hospital in Paris suggesting after-work drinks, it wasn’t necessary to name a location. Everyone already knew where it would be – a relaxed bar called Le Carillon at a star-shaped intersection just beyond the medical complex.
Louise Hefez, a petite 30-year-old resident in dermatology, arrived late to the gathering. About a dozen of her colleagues were already there. When she saw where they were sitting, her first reaction was disappointment: They were inside at the back of the small space, not the most desirable spot. Later, it would save their lives.
She drank red wine, while some friends ordered beer. By 9 p.m., the group had dwindled and there were only five of them left. Dr. Hefez’s friend Charlotte asked her to go outside for a cigarette, but she declined, semi-irritably, since she had recently quit smoking.
A few minutes later, there came a staccato noise that sounded like firecrackers. Then people came running back into the bar. Dr. Hefez doesn’t remember anyone saying anything, but she can still see the terrified look on Charlotte’s face.
They dove under the tables as the noises – now they knew they had to be gunshots – grew louder and closer. Dr. Hefez curled up on her back, drawing her knees to her chest, thinking that, above all, she needed to protect her torso from bullets. Beer dripped on her head. The shots kept on coming.
There was nowhere to run, no possibility for escape. The minutes ticked by. She thought of school shootings in America, of how her only option would be to pretend to be already dead. “I’m going to die now?” she remembers thinking, incredulous. “It’s so sad and stupid and unbelievable.”
Dr. Hefez is one of hundreds of survivors of the attacks that devastated Paris on Nov. 13, killing at least 130 people and wounding 350. Nearly 200 people are still in hospital, three of them in critical condition. In some ways, she and her friends were just like the victims: young, hip, out to enjoy a Friday night.
But they also experienced the attacks in a different way, not just as survivors of a traumatic event, but as physicians. For what felt like an eternity, it was only them with the wounded, the dying and the already dead. All of them are struggling with what they saw – the night when their world turned into a war zone.
When the shooting finally ended, there was a deep silence. Dr. Hefez unfolded herself from under the table and went out toward the terrace of the bar. What she saw there was “boucherie” – butchery. Many of those sitting at tables outside were killed. Those just inside were severely wounded.
Some of her friends jumped into action. They used neckties as tourniquets. Two others pressed their hands to a wound a young English man had suffered to his thorax. Another ran up the block and around the corner into Saint Louis Hospital, seeking morphine. He returned with a couple of doses, one of which he and Dr. Hefez gave to a man in incredible pain whose femur had been shattered by a bullet.
Dr. Hefez helped perform CPR on another young man, just 28, who died. His friend stayed right next to him, repeating his name over and over again: “Raphael. Raphael. Raphael.” When the ambulances arrived, they moved his body to join the others. “It was a very terrible moment,” Dr. Hefez says. “His face will haunt us.”
Fifteen people were killed at Le Carillon and Le Petit Cambodge, a popular restaurant just across the small intersection. Outside, on the pavement in front of the bar, were the bodies of two women, sisters. “I was looking, I was really looking,” Dr. Hefez says. “They were me. The same hair, the same shoes. They felt like they were me – just other girls going out for a night on the Canal Saint Martin.”
After waiting at Le Carillon and a nearby restaurant until 3 a.m., Dr. Hefez didn’t know what to do. She didn’t want to be alone and didn’t want to spend the night at a stranger’s house, although many Parisians were opening their doors to those in the vicinity of the attacks. Most of all, she was frightened.
She ended up at the apartment of a fellow resident, who was also at Le Carillon. They drank and talked until morning. It wasn’t until she woke up two hours later that she began to cry uncontrollably.
The days since have been a blur. The residents were granted special leave from their jobs. They attended two sessions with a psychologist to talk about how they were doing. The first one took place at Saint-Louis Hospital on Sunday afternoon. After it ended, Dr. Hefez headed outside – only to see hundreds of panicked people rushing toward her.
A loud bang in the Place de la République – the source remains unclear – had made many believe that another attack was under way. One woman running toward Dr. Hefez had blood running down her leg, an injury from the stampede. Dr. Hefez dashed back into the hospital, her “heart in her stomach.”
A few days later, Dr. Hefez was in constant contact with her friends who survived the attacks. All of them crave company; being alone makes many of them feel anxious and afraid. Nearly all are having trouble sleeping. Sudden loud noises are terrible.
Dr. Hefez is due to return to work this coming Friday. Le Carillon will be just around the corner. The pavement in front of the bar is now a memorial – layered with bouquets of flowers, scores of candles, wine bottles and beer cans in tribute to the happy evenings spent there. And there are personal messages to those killed, sometimes with photos. “I will miss you terribly,” reads one. “Your love of life will always be with us.”Report Typo/Error