Thursday, June 16, 2011

Apples in Stereo -- "Energy" (2007)

And the world is made of energy
And the world is electricity
And the world is made of energy
And there's a light inside of you
And there's a light inside of me

For me, the most shocking thing about the May 22 tornado that hammered Joplin was that it destroyed two of the most prominent and most important buildings in the city:  Joplin High School and St. John's Hospital.  It is difficult to envision a Joplin without those two buildings.

As others have pointed out, it was a great stroke of luck that this tornado struck on a Sunday evening.  If it had hit earlier that day -- when St. Mary's Church and Harmony Heights Baptist and some of the other Joplin churches that were damaged or destroyed were full of worshippers -- it seems certain that the loss of life would have been much greater.

St. Mary's Church in Joplin
And what if the tornado had arrived on a weekday afternoon -- when more drivers were out on the streets, and when Joplin High School and Irving Elementary School and East Middle School, among others, were full of students and teachers?

The Joplin High School auditorium
Unlike churches and schools, hospitals are busy 24/7.  And you can't evacuate a hospital unless you have a lot of advance warning.

The New York Times did a remarkable job covering the tornado.  Click here to read their May 23 story (which also leads you to a number of slide shows of the twister's aftermath).   

My understanding is that 6 people died at St. John's on May 22 -- one was a visitor, while the other 5 were ICU patients who were dependent on ventilators.  When the tornado knocked out power to the hospital and a backup generator failed to function, the ventilators stopped working.

The St. John's helicopter
In the words of the song quoted at the beginning of this post, the world seemed "made of energy" that Sunday evening -- the unlimited and uncontrollable energy brought to bear on that Joplin hospital by an EF5 tornado.  But at the same time, there was not enough energy that night -- the loss of electricity in the ICU made the critical life-sustaining medical equipment there useless. 

Here's how the Times described the scene at the hospital:

Nearly every patient was splashed or covered with blood from all the glass, and people in the emergency room on the first floor were sucked out of windows into the parking lot. Even a backup generator failed, leaving ventilators and other medical equipment without power in dark rooms.
One panicked nurse, who had been in the intensive care unit, pleaded for help when machines stopped pumping air into the lungs of critically ill patients. “I’ve got patients dying up there!” Robert Kuhn, a hospital worker, recalled the nurse calling out. The doctors told him to go back and pump the air manually.
“You were on your own,” Mr. Kuhn explained.
A friend recently posted a link to an account of what happened when the tornado struck St. John's by Dr. Kevin Kikta, one of the two emergency-room docs who was on duty that evening.  Click here to go to this very dramatic account of real-life heroes in action.

Here's a brief excerpt from Dr. Kikta's account:

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 trouper; 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. . . .
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.  This was a child, his whole life ahead of him, suffering life threatening wounds in front of me, his eyes pleading me to help him..  We could not find any pediatric C collars in the darkness, and water from the shattered main pipes was once again showering down upon all of us. Fortunately, we were able to get him immobilized with towels, and start an IV with fluids and pain meds before shipping him out. . . .
Things were no better outside of the ER. I saw a man crushed under a large SUV, still alive, begging for help; another one was dead, impaled by a street sign through his chest.   Wounded people were walking, staggering, all over, dazed and shocked.   All around us was chaos, reminding me of scenes in a war movie, or newsreels from bombings in Bagdad.  Except this was right in front of me and it had happened in just 45 seconds.  My own car was blown away.  Gone. Seemingly evaporated.  We searched within a half mile radius later that night, but never found the car . . .
Two weeks later, on my last night in Joplin, I decided to walk from Irving Elementary School to the house where I grew up (2725 Missouri).  I made that walk many times when I was a kid, and my impression on other visits to Joplin in recent years was that the walk still looked about the same as it looked 50 years ago -- most of the modest houses along my route home from school were still there.

I ended up walking from 28th and Missouri to St. John's and back.  It wasn't all that far -- only about a 3-mile round trip -- but I would have never attempted to walk to the hospital when I lived in Joplin.

You've probably seen lots of pictures of the post-tornado St. John's on television or online.  Here's one I took:

Here's one of some of the wrecked cars that were brought to the St. John's parking lot:

Here's one of the hospital's vans:

I expected the area around St. John's to be devoid of human activity, but that was far from the case.  It turns out that one week to the minute after St. John's was slammed by the May 22 tornado, a mobile hospital facility opened on the St. John's grounds.

From a June 1 press release:
One week to the minute after a tornado decimated Mercy’s St. John’s Regional Medical Center campus, hospital leaders and supporters stood on the same grounds -- under clear, sunny skies -- to bless the opening of a mobile hospital facility.
Sunday’s 5:45 p.m. blessing ceremony christened St. John’s Mercy Hospital, a fully functional acute-care facility . . .
The 60-bed mobile hospital facility opened for patients earlier on Sunday and is equipped to offer round-the-clock emergency, surgery, imaging and lab services, as well as inpatient care. Designed as a temporary facility, the hospital will serve patients during an interim period while Mercy formulates plans for rebuilding and re-establishing comprehensive hospital and clinic services in Joplin.
Here's the entrance to the temporary hospital:

Here's the entrance to the emergency room:

And here's a mobile surgical unit -- essentially a 40-foot trailer with pull-out sides:

The original St. John's was built by the Sisters of Mercy (a Catholic order that was founded in Ireland in 1831) in 1896.  I remember reading years ago that the nuns of that era would wait at the mouths of the mines on payday and solicit contributions from the miners before they could spend all their money in the local saloons and brothels.  

We're not quite in the same position the Sisters of Mercy were in the 1890s, but the challenge is not that dissimilar.  That's why I chose such a bouncy, optimistic song for this post -- building the new St. John's is going to take plenty of energy.

But first, let's all have a Pepsi!

Here's "Energy":

Here's a link you can use to order the song from iTunes:

Energy - New Magnetic Wonder

Here's a link you can use to order it from Amazon:

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