Tales from the Health System

Powerful stories from the Canterbury Health System are the latest addition to the UC CEISMIC archive.  The CDHB's Canterbury Health System Earthquake Memories collection contains stories told by staff about their experiences during the 22 February 2011 earthquake, and highlights the amazing response by medical and support staff dealing with the disaster.

Rob Handley, a visiting doctor from England, writes about the terrible scenes he saw at Christchurch Hospital that day, "When I was at ED (Emergency Department) people were driving up to the front doors, yelling out for help. One patient I remember was a young woman a man had found in the rubble. He just brought her into ED in his car. She had horrible lacerations and was lying on the back seat. … We went along a line of patients working out who needed to come in and who could go home. Some were almost unconscious. I have never seen anything like it. It was pretty horrific."

Jan Bone, Medical Specialist in Christchurch Hospital's Emergency Department, says, "Patients came by all modes of transport: on trucks, on the back of flat deck utes, carried by people, carried on broken doors or other debris. The ED filled up really quickly. There were a huge number of severely injured patients. St John Ambulance Communications in Christchurch is in the CBD and was completely out of action. We didn't know what to expect in terms of patient arrivals."

She highlights the incredible teamwork of everyone involved, "It was horrific with the terrible injuries we saw and it was scary as we continued to have major aftershocks and frequent loss of power which plunged us into blackness. Most of us couldn't contact loved ones for many hours. But it was an amazing experience to be part of a place that just functioned very much as a team. … People from all over the hospital, different disciplines, were willing to help in any way and just mucked in. … The medical students were fantastic. One of the students organised a group of them and had them available in shifts to do all sorts of things like making up packs, running messages, collecting blood, delivering results etc. That was really useful."

As well as stories from medical staff dealing directly with injured patients, there are stories from the support staff who worked in vital roles in the background.  Like the orderlies who, with lifts out of action, carried patients up the stairs to the Intensive Care Unit, ensured staff and patients were supplied with water and food, and assisted with the evacuation of damaged wards.  Or the telephonists inundated with enquiries and working without access to their electronic databases.  Karen Carson, Team Leader of Christchurch Hospital's Telephone Service, writes, "We have a disaster plan to follow but the UPS system (our uninterrupted power supply) went down so we lost all our switchboards and our data. Fortunately we had people, like myself and several other telephonists who have 15-20 years experience in the role on hand. We have a lot of knowledge stored in our heads so we don't have to look things up."

Of course, earthquake victims weren't the only people being cared for by the health system that day.  Stories from other wards of the hospital tell of caring for patients by torchlight  and arranging for the evacuation of confused elderly patients.  There are also stories from Christchurch's other hospitals, from GPs and pharmacies, from Community and Public Health, and many other areas of the health service. 

These incredible stories not only tell of the bravery and dedication of the staff of the Canterbury Health System, but provide valuable lessons which will help other communities prepare for future disasters.