Richard Plotts and Dr. Lee Silverman

(left) Richard Plotts and Dr. Lee Silverman

I’m pretty much against guns in general. I don’t think anyone should have one. I wish so many people didn’t want them and I wish there weren’t so many of them available. In my lifetime, I’ve seen irresponsible gun owners (legal and otherwise) devastate lives. However, recent events have hit close to home and make me rethink my stance.

There was a shootout at Mercy Fitzgerald Hospital, my doctor's office. It is a psychiatric practice where I am one of many mentally ill patients. On a recent Thursday afternoon, Richard Plotts was picked up by his case manager, Theresa Hunt to be taken to be seen by his doctor--my doctor--Lee Silverman. Hunt was one of a team of case managers who works with patients with more serious mental health issues. They are charged with picking patients up by car for appointments, keeping track of the person’s medications and visits, etc.

Judging from my visits with Dr. Silverman on Thursday afternoons, the office that he shares with two other psychiatrists was more than likely packed with about 15-20 people sitting and standing. There are patients who suffer from mental illnesses such as bipolar disorder (which I have), schizophrenia and depression, and also caseworkers scattered throughout. A door separates the doctors’ offices from the waiting room. Two secretaries sit behind a glass window behind the door, signing patients in and scheduling appointments.

I'd wager that a chipper Dr. Silverman came out to the waiting room after seeing his previous patient and called Plotts and Hunt back to his office. The appointments are generally short. Patients meet with Dr. Silverman to discuss their current state and whether or not any changes need to be made to medications. For example, when I go, I take a Risperdal shot to maintain my bipolar disorder and get other medications. Keep in mind, there is a difference between a psychiatrist and a psychologist. Psychiatrists prescribe medications and psychologists provide therapy. Dr. Silverman the former.  I don’t believe Plotts’ mental condition was revealed, but it seems likely that he'd been battling with it for a while, as he is a convicted felon with a lengthy record.

For whatever reason, Plotts pulled out a .32 revolver and killed Hunt. Dr. Silverman was grazed in the head, but saved himself with a licensed gun he kept under his desk. He hit Plotts three times. This slowed him down enough so that the other doctors could come in and tackle him to the ground.

Now, some are saying that Dr. Silverman may be in trouble for carrying a gun on a gun free campus. However, most are calling him a hero. Plotts had more bullets in his pocket and police have said that Silverman prevented the next American massacre. I can tell you, it very well could have been a bad one, with some twenty people in the immediate vicinity. Some of them have trouble moving. Also to be considered are the hundreds of other people in the building for various reasons, including elderly, immobile folks.

I know all too well that nobody is immune from mental illness. Even though Dr. Silverman was responsible with his gun use, I find it a little unsettling that he’s probably had a gun every time I’ve gone to see him. What issues might he be dealing with that we didn't know about? While the majority of the nation's mass shootings have been carried out by troubled young men, the story always goes that no one knew that they were capable of going so far. What if Dr. Silverman lost all restraint and was overwhelmed from dealing with mentally ill people all day, everyday? Most folks lack understanding of what bipolar disorder actually looks like. That doesn’t mean happy/sad, friendly/mean--that means people cycling from depression to mania, a complete disconnect with reality. Personally, I haven’t always been at my mental best in his office. What if I made a wrong move and he got threatened? 

I had to go back a few days after the shooting for my biweekly shot. It was intense. The appointments were held across the way in the hospital’s crisis center. As I entered the door, a sign on the wall ironically read, ”IF YOU HAVE ANY TYPE OF WEAPON PLEASE INFORM STAFF OR SECURITY IMEDIATELY.” Caseworkers hugged each other in the hallway. The waiting room was an enclosed space with procedure rooms across the hall. Dr. Silverman’s patients saw one of the other two doctors.

I was jittery myself. Somebody could want to pull a copycat. The absence of any visible security made things worse. I had to step out for a cigarette. I walked out of the door and stood on the ramp as I lit up. A voice came from hidden speaker and startled me. The voice said that they were security and that smoking wasn’t allowed on the ramp. I obliged and walked a little further off, breathing a little easier that there was some sort of security detail in place. I just wished they were more visible.

Americans are going to have their guns and it seems like these shootings will just happen randomly anywhere and everywhere. I don't see there being a solution to this, as there is no way to get rid of all the guns that are already in the hands of good guys and bad guys alike. Maybe we do need these responsible gun owners on the streets to clap back WHEN (not if) the next tragic shooting goes down. I'm grateful for the heroic actions of Dr.Silverman. I just hope he remains healthy enough to maintain the responsibility that comes with gun ownership.