A reflection on Rising from the Rubble

Nine years ago in my office above the main entrance to Christchurch hospital I was hiding under my desk pushing back at furniture on wheels (whoever thought that was a good idea in New Zealand!) and generally avoiding flying objects. This weekend we remember that February day in which an earthquake cost many their lives and many more their health, their homes and their livelihoods. All who live in Christchurch know that the events of that day and the days afterwards still are with us today. For many of us our homes are still broken. Sadly, many have had their mental health suffer too. When I extracted myself from the office and got down stairs, I watched as the first of the injured arrived in cars and on the back of the utes. As the staff of the health system geared up, I, merely a scientist, wandered off home avoiding the liquefaction and inspecting broken buildings on the way. Recently, I have had the pleasure of reading a book written by a scientist and an emergency physician that has opened my eyes more to the incredible system and people who work in it that we call the Canterbury’s health system.

Rising from the Rubble: A health system’s extraordinary response to the Canterbury earthquakes, has been written by Professor Michael Ardagh, an emergency physician, and Dr Joanne Deely, a scientist. It is published and available through Canterbury University Press.

Rising from the Rubble is indeed an extraordinary story.  It is written in a very engaging manner – purposely with anecdotes and quotes from interviews, but not without athe science and facts and figures to back them up.  The authors’ aimed for the book “to be not only a public record of the Canterbury health system’s response, but a celebration of it.”  They have certainly met that aim.

The book covers a very broad range of response, both in the immediate aftermath of the quakes, but also the ongoing dealing with the myriad issues the quakes threw up for the health system and those involved.  

You will read of courage and heroes (have your tissues ready): 

“We were scared … We were running out and we were hit by a wave of people running in to the building [Princess Margaret Hospital]! They were all staff.  I couldn’t believe it”

You will read of competence and professionalism: 

“speaking calmly and quietly she directed resources to where they were needed”

Dr David Tolley, President of the Royal College of Surgeons, Edinburgh who was in the ED on 22/2 speaking of Dr Jan Bone

You will read of what can be done when it has to be done:

“So we just gave him [a builder son of a GP] the work credit card and he got reticulated water going to about 12 or 13 of the practices in the east and south areas of Christchurch”

You will read of leadership

“He [Dr Nigel Miller, Chief Medical Officer] said, ‘ What are you going to do?’ And I said, “Well we already know what we are going to do.  We are going to get everybody [needing dialysis] out”

Dr David McGregor, Clinical Director, Nephrology Department

You will read of collaboration

“The friendships, connections and collaborations that were forged during the period of integration between Canterbury Health Laboratories and MedLab staff will remain.”

Kirsten Beynon, GM, Canterbury Health Laboratories

You will read of aroha:

“I asked the Maori community if we could include the Asian and migrant communities because they would be outside, to which I got an immediate agreement”

Sir Mark Solomon, Te Rununga o Ngai Tahu

Of course, there is much more.  We were truly blessed by a health system that was so well interconnected and replete with individuals prepared to do what it takes.  While, the consequences of the earthquake remain this book is a reminder of what was and what can be done by people with the right motives and skill.  Dr David Meates, CDHB Chief Executive speaks not of recovery, but of transformation.  This book will be a record of a time of rapid transformation as well as a tribute to all those involved. Do read it.

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