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The Catalyst

Surgeon recalls wind, then eerie silence

By Fred Crawford, M.D.
Cardiothoracic Surgery

By about 11 p.m., the storm had arrived and the next hour or so was chaos. The lights began to flicker and you could hear the transformers blowing at the substation as one by one the circuits whent down.

Finally my lights went off and my clock stopped for good at 11:17 p.m. Approximately five minutes later, Grandee Hardy, the clinical director for Cardiovascular Nursing, telephoned me in my office and told me to leave immediately as the windows in the office just below me had just blown out. I grabbed the material I was working on and moved to my outer office, closed the door and within five minutes the windows in my office blew, the ceiling fell in and my office was trashed.

Several others in Cardiothoracic Surgery had also elected to stay in the hospital including Bob Sade, Carolyn Reed and Jack Crumbley. We moved to the outer office, but by this time, the wind noise had become almost unbearable, and the building began to shake rather significantly. Public Safety came through and advised us to move to the central hospital which we did at about 11:30 p.m. There we found most of the other people in the hospital who were able to move.

Although I can’t recall the exact sequence of events at that time because things were so hectic, I do recall when the window in the Pediatric ICU blew out, and the nurses and other personnel literally saved the lives of the children by their heroic actions. At about the same time, one of my patients in the Cardiothoracic ICU developed respiratory difficulty. This happened to be a one–month–old child that I had operated upon two days previously, and the child required re-intubation. Just as we were about the re–intubate the child, the lights went out and the child was placed back on the ventilator in the dark. Several of us were sitting in the 2E conference room along with Chief Goss at the Command Center and began to notice that it was deathly quiet outside. We realized that this was the eye of the storm and in fact simultaneously noted that our ears began popping due to the change in atmospheric pressure.

At about that time, Dr. and Mrs. Edwards came over to the Main Hospital from the Administration Building where they had been staying. I recall distinctly walking with Dr. Edwards down to the ramp over Sabin Street and showing him the rising water and literally the white caps on Sabin Street at that time. Some 30 minutes later, the wind began to pick up, and we obviously began to get into the back side of the storm. For the remainder of that time, I don’t specifically recall my actions but remember being in a variety of places in the hospital including the Pediatric ICU, the Cardiothoracic ICU and the area on the second floor which was functioning as a command post.

By about 2 a.m., the winds began to die down, and I returned to my office to see what was left of it. I opened the door rather cautiously but was surprised that the office was relatively calm and that much of my office could be salvaged. Furniture was moved so as to avoid the rain which was pouring through the window and the office was secured. By about 3:30 a.m., it seemed that the storm had passed, that the hospital was reasonably secure and that nothing could effectively be done until daylight.

It was obvious upon looking outside that the damage from the storm had been incredibly severe but it was also obvious that the hospital was still standing, that it was still functioning as a hospital and that, by and large, this could be due only to the nurses, physical plant engineers and other similar personnel who kept it going during the height of the storm.

Editor’s note: The story is an excerpt of Dr. Crawford’s personal account submitted for this special edition. Read the complete retrospective at http://www.musc.edu/catalyst.
 

December 11, 2014

 

 
 
 

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