May 10

Saturday May 10, 2008 around 6:30pm

I saw the warnings on one of the televisions in the waiting room. I could see how ugly the sky was outside, how much rain was falling, the hail was just starting to form. I was on my second shift that day, 3 hours left until home time. It had been a relatively uneventful day, until about then. A few minutes after the warning on the television we started hearing the tornao sirens. Maybe it's just where I live, but usually the sirens don't bother me. I hear them and go about my business as usual, just like nearly everyone else around here. Maybe it's where I work. The building itself is pretty safe, except that it's 6 stories of glass wall.

"Attention please: Tornado warning" The operator always repeats this three times. That's my cue to round up everyone in the waiting room and ferry them to a safer location inside the hospital. Nobody ever really wants to go, they want to watch the television. Especially that Saturday, I don't blame them. A disaster report came on and we all watched; tornadoes, and lots of them. Picher was the first one hit (at first we heard it was in Baxter Springs) then Seneca. Then Katie, a girl I work with, pointed outside. I had never seen hail so big.

It was smashing on the ground and Katie had her hand over her mouth. "God, I hope my car is okay," that's all I heard before I saw them, people were starting to come through the doors. What, are these people stupid? That was all I could think. The hail was bigger than golf balls and coming in so hard it was smashing on the ground. The stuff that bounced off the cars was almost the size of my fist, and these people were outside in it. Then there she was, a woman on her cell phone heading toward the door.

"Ma'am, you can't go out there right now."

"Why not? I signed a paper, I'm not going to be treated."

"That's fine ma'am, please don't leave. There's a tornado coming and the hail is huge."

"I just live three blocks away, it won't take long to run home."

"Ma'am, this isn't a joke, please just wait until the hail is over. I'll walk you home myself after that."

I finished ferrying the rest of the lab patients and the ER visitors into a safer hallway, away from the big glass walls. It was like hearding sheep, they kept wandering around, taking wrong turns, just being slow. I had to get back to my job, that's all I could think. I left them in a hallway with one of the counselors, one of the ones that does evaluations for the psych unit. I asked him to watch out for them and to get them all into one of the empty offices, he said he would, so I went back to my post at the triage desk.

It was about 7:00 when the hail and rain stopped, it actually looked pretty outside. Sure the sky was still a bit dark from all the clouds, but maybe I'd see a rainbow (yeah, sometimes I can be a girl too). I looked at my computer and saw four rooms flash to red. Shit… here it comes. Eaglemed 1, Eaglemed 2, Mets 1, Ncad 2; all of them priority one traumas. My pager went off, my vocera went off, and the phone rang. I answered the vocera, ignored the pager and the telephone, it was probably all for the same thing anyway. My first trauma of the night walked through the front door.

He was holding his head, his other arm was bent at an odd angle, and there was blood everywhere. "What's your name sir?" He couldn't remember. It seemed like forever before I got him onto one of the beds in the triage room. I yelled over my vocera "Taking 26, priority one through the door!" On the way there, he remembered his name. He remembered his name, his birthday, but he didn't remember what happened. I got him back to 26 and the doc took one look at him and rerouted me to 33. Better light so they could stitch him up right in the room. I cut his shirt off and got him into a robe as quickly I could and I was off again.

It wasn't more than five minutes later and my next set came, a family of four. More head trauma, another broken arm, lots of glass. You go numb when dealing with people, at least at the time you're working on them. Father was definitely a head trauma, his face looked like half of it was ripped off, definitely needs stitches. Mother head trauma, possible broken arm, no stitches, definite CT on both. Quick look at the kids, and oh shit… again, oh shit… The boy couldn't have been more than 10 years old, his legs looked like raw hambuger. He must have been crawling through glass to get out of his house because it was all over his hands too. The daughter, 12 or 13, was in better shape than the rest of them but her feet were cut up pretty bad. Kids into chairs, dad onto stretcher and into room 26. On the way our first chopper arrived. I took a quick time check. I could hear it up on the pad and from landing to room it might take about 3 minutes. I had the trauma pager so I had to be there. I got the dad into his room, called the blue tech on the vocera. It seemed like forever before the blue tech got to the room, I had to go, but I couldn't leave this guy alone. I peeked out the door and yelled "COME ON!" Bad thing to do, puts people into a panic, also gets tech ass into gear. I barely made it to red before the stretcher came off the elevator.

Red 41. It was about 7:45pm. Fuck. God damn titty fucking mother of Christ, fuck.

The stretcher came out of the elevator and already it wasn't good. Priority one so of course there will be blood, but so much blood. On the way into 41 the towel on his head fell off. It was soaked and there was so much blood. "We got vitals!" I heard one of the docs yell. Good, keep compressing, I can't even remember which nurse was doing it. I bent down to pick up the towel, in hindsight I should have just kicked it out of the way. On my way up, I could see that a part of his skull was missing, oh god, I wanted to throw up. I've never seen human brains before; fish, frog, cow, I think I even saw dog once, but never human. So much blood. I threw the towel and got the guy's wallet from one of the Eaglemed rescue nurses. "He's one of us," I remember my chin quivering, I wanted to cry.

Chopper number two coming in for a landing. "RED 40!" Shit, it had to be bad if they were putting two 1's in the same bay. Usually they leave the other spot open if they can, or move whoever is in there so they don't have to see or hear anything. I got the trauma charts out, got all the info down. Everyone was already in splash gear so I didn't have to worry about that. Stuck the charts to each door and made sure everything was clear for a hot load. I was still feeling a little sick about 41 but it really hadn't had time to register yet. I felt like I was running through water. The stretcher came in and this time it was a woman. Married, she had rings on, she was awake and in pain. After we got her onto her bed I sat down beside her and took her hand. "Ma'am, I'm going to take your rings off." I said, I don't even know how I registered to her. She squeezed my hand and for the second time I heard that question, "What happened?" I looked at her face, and I looked into her eyes. I could tell by looking at her that she was in a world of hurt, but she never complained. "Where's my daughter? Where's my husband? Are they alive?" It's so hard to not have those answers. All I could do is squeeze her hand and say, "I'll find out, I promise." I got her rings off and put them into a bag and made sure they got to the safe, then I had to get back to triage.

8:30pm: "Calling Doctor Aster."

The announcement overhead was like a godsend. By the time I got back to the triage desk, the waiting room was already full of people. Our nurse was up to her neck in patients and she needed more help. Thank god for Doctor Aster, means she'd be getting some. Two more nurses, two more techs, and a doctor all came up from the back and I knew we were going to be okay, we could do this. Another family came in, we were running out of wheelchairs so I ran to grab anything I could. It was an elderly couple and I think their daughter and her husband. They all looked like they needed help, but the daughter and her husband didn't want to be seen until they knew the older couple would be ahead of them. "Don't worry, we'll take care of all of you. Please, just give me your names." Another line was forming behind them with more people that needed help. I was hurrying as fast as I could. Names, basic problem, c-collar, bandage. It started to become a routine and I was running out of c-collars. I yelled to one of the other techs to get more, but they were both busy with the same thing I was. We needed more help, there were just too many.

I don't know who called them and I hadn't been at the hospital long enough to know if it was part of the disaster policy, but it was like angels coming out of the walls. All of a sudden there were more nurses, more techs, more doctors. ICU, Med1, Med2, all the floors in the hospital were sending all the spare staff they could to help. If I had time I probably would have cheered, as it was I just handed one of the nurses a stack of charts and told her to order every test and x-ray that the doc had written on them. The two children from earlier (the boy with hambuger legs and the girl with the glass) had gotten separated from their parents and were crying. They were scared, they were alone, they didn't know what was going on. "It's okay, you're all here, you're going to be fine." They weren't as serious as some of the others coming through the door, they were stable and except for some panic they seemed to be alright. One of the nurses wheeled them up to the triage desk beside me until we could bring them back to be with their mother. "Where's my dad?" I told them he was in a room back in the ER. "His face came off!" They weren't lying, but I put on a smile and looked at both of them, "Good thing we know how to fix faces here, right?" My tracker was looking grim, the first Eaglemed had been put on life support and moved into yellow, there was someone else in his place. One of the senior nurses came out and said "No visitors, if family comes, page a chaplain." I just nodded and tried to catch up on everything that was coming in.

There was a small lull at the desk, just enough so I could look up and see him. He wasn't that old, early to mid twenties, if that. He was carrying and older man who looked easily twice his size. "I need help!" he yelled and before it was all out there was a nurse and a doctor there to help him carry the larger man over. There were no wheelchairs left so we had started using our office chairs. They're nice ones, they have arms, pretty comfortable (at least I think so) but most importantly, they're mobile. We got the older man into the triage room and began assessing him. He'd been hit on the head pretty hard, probably with a beam or something. The younger man was covered in blood, glass, and bits of insulation. He looked at me and shook his head, "It's not mine, it's my dad's. They flew my mom to a hospital, is she here?" I didn't believe him about the blood, but I knew he was more worried about his father (who at this time wasn't able to speak) and his missing mom. "I'll find out, I promise." We got all the vital information and the doc got on the phone, "I need a room, stat." I looked at my tracker, there were no rooms. What were we going to do?

I don't know what it was about that night, but it seemed like every time we really needed something, somehow it happened. Shit never worked like this most days. "Yellow just opened, send all twos to yellow." Usually yellow pod doesn't have the stuff to deal with priority two, but this was special circumstances. Red and blue were being sucked up by ambulances and helicopters, we just didn't have a choice. I must have looked like I needed to walk or something because one of the docs handed me the charts and told me to get the older man into one of the yellow rooms and hurry back. I didn't know if the old guy could understand me, but I told him to hang on and I wheeled the office chair back there as fast as I could. One hand on the back of the chair, one hand on the man's shoulder to keep him steady, one foot to guide the chair whenever it went a bit off. I got up to green and found a few wheelchairs, mental note, I'll bring them back with me.

Another dad into another room, I didn't really pause, but while I was trying to help this man into his bed I thought about my dad. It's been a few years since I've seen my own family, at least two since I've seen my dad, three since I've seen my mom. The older man still wasn't talking, there was something really wrong. I got him into a gown and had him lay back on the bed and put my hand on his shoulder to try to get him to look at me. "Sir? Doctor E's going to take good care of you." He just looked at me, his eyes were blank. I still had the trauma pager and the new 41 needed to be documented and the chart needed to be done. It's a long walk from yellow to red, a long walk with every room in between filled with bloody people. Some of them I saw at the door, some of them were faces brought in by the ambulance. All of them were bleeding and asking for help. "I'll find your nurse, I'll get some help." It's all I could say to them as I passed along. I remembered every room number and on my way past the blue pod I relayed all of the messages from the patients.

9:45pm, back to 41.

She was an older woman, unresponsive. She had been trapped in a trailer that had flipped over twice with her son and her husband. Her eyes were like a raccoon's. I read the name on the chart and it belonged to the same man that I had settled into yellow. In an inadvertent way, I kept my promise to the young man, I found his mother. After finishing the trauma tag, I taped it to the door and went back to triage, collecting the wheelchairs on the way. Things were starting to slow down, we were catching up to the patient load. The admit/discharge lounge had opened up and they were taking all the four and five level traumas along with the usual crowd of cough congestions and dental pains that come in on a Saturday night. at 11:30pm the operator announced Doctor Aster clear and the day shift was finally allowed to go home. I checked on everyone and made sure the young man knew where his mother was. She was being transferred to ICU, his father was in surgery. I stopped to chat with him a little while, I think it made him feel better to know that someone was listening. He said it was hard, that in a few minutes he became homeless. I kind of smiled and told him that he didn't have to worry too much about clothing, I'd give him a set of scrubs and he'd fit right in. He laughed a bit and then started crying. I wanted to cry too but all I could do was pat him on the shoulder, tell him that we would do our best for him and that if he needed anything we would all be there. I hope that in some way, what I said helped.

It's been four nights since that one, four nights without sleep. I started hallucinating two days ago, last night I stopped being able to tell a dream from reality. I think I killed a spider with my vaccum, but I really can't remember it clearly. I woke up screaming because I thought I was back at the hospital, when I went into the livingroom the vaccum was sitting in the middle of the floor. I can't remember how it got there. I had a dream that I killed a spider, so I'm assuming that I was sleep walking. The doctor today said it's post traumatic stress disorder, something I never really believed that people outside of wars got but I'll take her word for it. She's the professional. So tonight I have a valium to try to get me to sleep. A sleep without the nightmares of being unable to help the screaming people trapped inside my head.

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