A Night to Remember, Hurricane Sandy and the Trauma that Unfolded

The day of the hurricane proved to be much tougher than I originally anticipated. I expected a storm outside and calm inside, but when it rains it pours. There was no transportation and roads were closed down. Even the ambulances weren’t operating the day of the storm. Some of the homes near the hospital had flooded and many of their cars were completely totaled. I hadn’t fully grasped the enormity of this hurricane and its effects on the Rockaways and how our proximity to the water would affect so much.

After a hectic day of bedside procedures, inpatient needs, and a bustling emergency department, a young patient was dropped off at the hospital the night the storm hit. He had sustained a gunshot wound to the abdomen. His vitals were stable at the time, but he was in and out of consciousness. He was 16 years old. When he arrived, the main power to the hospital had gone out, and we were dependent on emergency generators. As the frantic scene unfolded before my eyes, I tried calling the attending surgeon, but the phone lines were down.

My team and I called down the list of attendings, including general surgeons, vascular surgeons and urologists—all to no avail. I realized that precious time was passing, so I made a decision and spoke to the Chief Medical Officer. I decided the safest place for the patient would be in the operating room in case any life-saving action was necessary, and for the eventual exploration of the abdomen that was looming. The CMO agreed.

We were finally successful in contacting both the on-call attending surgeon and the chief of surgery, but the phones cut out during our conversations and they were again unreachable.

The OB/GYN attending came to the OR to help in the exploration of the patient. He lay on the table, intubated. I stood above him, scalpel in hand as the Chairman of Surgery made it to the OR, rushing from his house after the dropped call.

Reviewing the X-ray films taken in the emergency room, we realized how lucky our patient was. The bullet missed his spinal column, aorta, spleen and other vital organs by the narrowest of margins. Not only did he get shot in the hurricane, he came to a hospital running on backup power, with overworked employees, and attendings willing to risk their lives in order to save his. While the odds were against him, we were able to repair the damage to his bowels. The next morning, he woke up and thanked all of us for the decisive actions we took on that
harrowing night of the storm.

This article is taken from an interview and first person account written by Dr. Dabanjan Bandyopadhyay, general surgery, PGY 5, St. John’s Episcopal Hospital, Far Rockaway, Queens.

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