I remember a patient in his early 20’s gasping for breath, telling me that he was going to die. After a quick exam, I removed the large shard of glass from his back, made the clinical diagnosis of a pneumothorax (collapsed lung) and gathered supplies from wherever I could locate them to insert a thoracostomy tube in him. He was a trooper; I’ll never forget his courage. He allowed me to do this without any local anesthetic since none could be found. With his life threatening injuries I knew he was running out of time, and it had to be done. Quickly. Imagine my relief when I heard a big rush of air, and breath sounds again; fortunately, I was able to get him transported out. I immediately moved on to the next patient, an asthmatic in status asthmaticus. We didn’t even have the option of trying a nebulizer treatment or steroids, but I was able to get him intubated using a flashlight that I held in my mouth. A small child of approximately 3-4 years of age was crying; he had a large avulsion of skin to his neck and spine. The gaping wound revealed his cervical spine and upper thoracic spine bones. I could actually count his vertebrae with my fingers.
...As I finished up what I could do at St John’s, I walked with two RN’s to a makeshift MASH center that was being set up miles away at Memorial Hall. We walked where flourishing neighborhoods once stood, astonished to see only the disastrous remains of flattened homes, body parts, and dead people everywhere. I saw a small dog just wimpering in circles over his master who was dead, unaware that his master would not ever play with him again. At one point we tended to a young woman who just stood crying over her dead mother who was crushed by her own home. The young woman covered her mother up with a blanket and then asked all of us, “What should I do?” We had no answer for her, but silence and tears.
Monday, May 30, 2011
ER Stories describes what it was like to be in the Joplin hospital during and after the tornado::