I've titled today's blog entry as "Heroes on the Loose!" because that is exactly what is happening on USNS COMFORT. Yesterday started before 5:00am for most of the crew. By 6:00am, when reveille sounded, the galley had been serving breakfast for more than 45 minutes, the Casualty Receiving (CASREC) department was fully staffed and ready to receive patients, flight quarters was set, and COMFORT was ready to provide comfort to the injured thousands of Haiti.
It didn't take long for them to get busy. By the time most of our friends back home were climbing out of bed, we had received our first casualties and were taking patients to the OR.
13 hours later, patients were still being processed in CASREC, and as we were being briefed on the plan for today, I took these pictures of the people present to hear the brief. They had been working almost non-stop for 13 hours, and many of them left the brief and returned to spend many more hours continuing the fight. When I gave up and went to bed, there were still seven surgeries that needed to happen to clear the decks for today's arrivals.
This is Dr. Tim Donahue, our Director of Surgical Services. He's a Hero. As I was turning in for the night, he was taking a patient to the OR. I don't know what time he got to bed, or even if he did, but today he was right back at it, prioritizing patients for the OR, coordinating with all of the surgeons, and trying to manage the flow of patients to the ship in a manner that would allow the best use of our resources to save lives.
But Surgeons aren't the only heroes onboard COMFORT. This is a picture of a midnight engineering marvel rigged by some of our Civilian Mariners (CIVMARS) in the middle of the night in an attempt to bring down the temperature in our ICU. The electric motor that powers the air handler that provides cooling air for the ICU burned up. A new one is on order, but it hasn't arrived yet. Last night, the temperature was 104 degrees in the ICU. We had been running portable Air Conditioning units all day in an attempt to cool the space, but this space also contains our negative pressure isolation ward which was drawing hot air into the space faster than the air conditioner could pump it out. So, in the middle of the night, they connected flexible ducting to the discharge of the air conditioning units and ran it up the stairwell and off the ship. It got the temp down to the mid 80's by the morning.
And as the morning broke around us, the patients started coming again. Helicopter after helicopter after helicopter, each bringing three patients at a time. And as they arrived, they were brought down to CASREC by a hard-working team of stretcher bearers where doctors, nurses, and Corpsmen evaluated each one, started IVs, ran lab tests, took X-rays, stabilized them, and made decisions on where they needed to go from there. I heard some of our Corpsmen say that they learned more in one day than they did in months of working at hospitals back in the States.
And still they come. As I write this blog, it is now just before 5:00pm on day two. I'm in my stateroom typing this entry and out the window I see helicopters still bringing more. They will fly until dark, and the CASREC and OR will work till past midnight. The ICU's and Wards will work all night, and tomorrow will come.
I would be remiss as a Medical Service Corps Officer if I didn't highlight the nerve center of CASREC. The Patient Admin Cell who tracks every single patient and escort who comes aboard the ship. They collect identifying information, register them in our computer system, print out addressograph cards, follow them throughout their stay here and will ultimately discharge them and process them off the ship.
Today was a day of firsts: Our first baby was born: Life coming amidst the death that is everywhere in Haiti today. And we had our first death: a young man who was crushed in a building collapse during the earthquake. I would like to think that it is our last, but I know better. Pray for the people of Haiti. Pray for us.