POMPANO BEACH, Fla. — Maddy Wilford tied a surgical mask around her face and scraped the dirt from beneath her fingernails. She scrubbed her hands and arms, allowing frothy yellow iodine to wash over the thick scar on her right arm — a physical reminder that she had nearly died six months ago at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla.
Ms. Wilford was shot multiple times that day, the bullets piercing her arm and torso, and arrived at Broward Health North in shock and need of surgery. Now she was volunteering as an intern at the same hospital, learning about medicine from the doctors who saved her life.
“With my injuries, I would have been dead,” said Ms. Wilford, 17. “The work they performed on me, and how quickly I recovered, it made me become more interested.”
Seventeen people were killed during the gunman’s rampage at Ms. Wilford’s high school last February, but she is part of another group: The 17 who were shot and survived and are now finding their way forward.
Ms. Wilford’s physical wounds have healed, but she still gets tired faster than she used to. School started again last week, but reminders of the massacre remain amid the lockers and lunch periods. Gun laws in Florida have changed, and some of Ms. Wilford’s classmates have become nationally known activists, though she has stayed out of the spotlight.
“I’m focusing on medicine,” said Ms. Wilford, who is a senior this year, “because that’s what I understand.”
This summer, Ms. Wilford returned to the hospital where she was treated to consider whether she still wants to become a doctor, an ambition of hers before the shooting. During her internship, she saw a man die of stab wounds and watched with fascination as doctors performed one of the surgeries that had saved her life. She snipped excess thread from sutures and learned how to identify a patient’s veins on an ultrasound.
“Some people would go through what she went through and never want to set foot in a hospital again,” said her father, David Wilford. But for Ms. Wilford, returning to the hospital has only buttressed her interest in medicine. And, her father said, the summer experience seemed to be helping her heal, by showing her how to allay the pain of violence and illness.
Some of the 17 people who were shot but survived have had quick physical recoveries. Isabel Chequer, who was grazed by bullets, left the hospital the same day as the shooting and returned to school to work on the yearbook. For others, the wounds were deeper and the healing slower. Anthony Borges, who was shot multiple times, spent seven weeks in the hospital and decided not to return to school this year.
Those who have returned have come back to a school that feels different. It is being repainted, and there are now more security gates on campus and a new 12-foot fence around the building where the shooting took place. Teachers know they may have to pare down their curriculums for distracted or anxious students. Melissa Falkowski, an 11th grade English teacher, said she would not be teaching “The Crucible” or “The Things They Carried” this year because both pieces of literature depict graphic violence.
Her students, she said, seemed ready to dig into their lessons, but everyone remains on edge. A fire alarm that went off on the second day of school left some students in tears.
“Everyone in my class, they froze,” Ms. Falkowski said.
For Ms. Wilford, the fire alarm caused a panic attack. And the first day of school brought another complication: She has a service dog, but her English teacher was allergic, so she had to switch classes. And she has found it difficult to stay focused, which makes high school requirements that would stress out any student — standardized tests, college applications — feel even harder.
“I want to get it together so I can be able to focus,” said Ms. Wilford. “I really want to handle this school year well.”
Six months ago, she was in Room 1213 for an A.P. psychology class, happy because it was Valentine’s Day and, for the first time, she had a boyfriend with whom to share it. She remembers hearing gunshots in the hallway, crawling underneath the desks and squeezing herself into a spot near her teacher’s desk amid a crush of classmates.
Several students in the room were shot. One of them, Carmen Schentrup, was killed.
“All of a sudden, I felt myself get shot in the chest,” Ms. Wilford said. She looked around for someone who could help her, but all she saw was blood. She saw no one and thought, “I’m going to die.”
When the emergency medical workers arrived, she was so weak, they thought she was dead. She was bleeding from her lungs, had broken ribs and injuries to tendons and muscles in her arms, said Dr. Igor Nichiporenko, the chief of trauma at Broward Health North. She needed five surgeries in two days.
But in the hospital this summer, Ms. Wilford appeared transformed. After she scrubbed in last week, she peered at the patient whose arm was outstretched on the operating table. She watched as a vascular surgeon grafted a floppy bovine artery to one of the patient’s veins and tunneled it underneath her skin.
At one point, blood soaked the blanket covering the patient’s body, but Ms. Wilford was unfazed. She held the patient’s skin taut as a surgical assistant placed a row of staples into the patient’s arm.
As she bent over the patient, Ms. Wilford nurtured her dreams of practicing the kind of medicine that helped her survive.
“It’s better to get through it now,” she said. “Go back to the hospital, go back to the school, and deal with it now, rather than push it aside and deal with it later in life.”