Tag Archives: christchurch earthquake

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.

More women injured in quakes

A Christchurch researcher is trying to understand why so many more women than men were injured in the Canterbury earthquakes.

Professor Mike Ardagh is Chair of the RHISE (Researching the Health Implications of Seismic Events) group.

Professor Ardagh leads a team investigating the health system response to the quakes. His team found the health system responded remarkably well to a massive event, including the activation of well-practiced plans and innovation to overcome issues such as loss of power. Looking at ACC statistics, they discovered that significantly more women than men were injured, across all degrees of injury.

“We have a few hypotheses about why this is but have not proven anything yet. We are working on this question in collaboration with Professor David Johnston of Massey University.’’

quakepicProfessor Johnston is studying how people behave during earthquakes and is probing whether certain behaviours, such as running or staying still, put some at greater risk.

Some of the other topics being explored by the RHISE group are:

  • Variations in stress according to peoples’ homes or workplaces, and their exposure to quake damage.
  • The impact on older peoples’ health.
  • The impact on front line workers’ occupational health.
  • The on-going psychological impact.

The gender and injury project will take at least a year.

___________________________

This guest post was written by Kim Thomas,  Senior Communications Advisor, University of Otago, Christchurch, www.uoc.otago.ac.nz.  Several more posts related to the work of the University of Otago Christchurch will follow.

Did you know?

• The University of Otago, Christchurch, has about 600 postgraduate students, mostly health professionals such as nurses.

• This year 45 science and medical students will get a taste of research with our Summer Studentship programme.

• Thousands of doctors have done their final clinical years training in Christchurch.

• We are home to many excellent research groups such as the Christchurch Heart Institute, the Christchurch Health and Development Study and the Centre for Free Radical Research.

Papanui Campus closes!

917 days; 131 weeks; 2.5 years.  However you look at it, it’s a long time to be temporary.  Today the Papanui Campus of the University of Otago Christchurch, a.k.a the Versatile workshop in my front yard, closed.  The sole permanent occupant (moi) became the last of the academics to return to the “main building” of the University of Otago Christchurch after we were unceremoniously evicted on 22 February 2011 (about time someone came up with a better name than “Main Building”). I’ve written elsewhere of that day when I commemorated two years since the earthquake and of the value of the Papanui campus when it turned  800 days. I’ll miss having the family close (perhaps not the dog), impromptu games of basketball (only 5 minutes boss…honest), and being on hand during that time when we went through all that shaking.  I shan’t miss the cramped space, the expense, or the loss of a workshop (maybe my son will be able to have his train set up again!). Today marks a new era for me as I return to an office in the centre of the Christchurch campus … I hope to discover some colleagues here that exist in the flesh and not only as words or images in cyberspace. In the process I hope to continue those incremental discoveries which will lead to better health for many.  My department has just endorsed a new plan for that… but that is the topic of a future post.

University of Otago Papanui turns 800

Day one was ground breaking – 23 Feb 2011, the day after the big Christchurch earthquake.  Today is day 800 of what I lovingly refer to as the Papanui campus of University of Otago Christchurch.  For my children it’s just the office out the front of the house where their father works.  For me, it used to be my workshop & study.  Once upon a time it was computer and telephone free!  That all changed at midday on 22 February 2011 when I and my colleagues were unceremoniously thrown out of the University of Otago Christchurch building (you know the big building at the front of Christchurch hospital with the glass facade with the words “Research Saves Lives” written across it).  My ICU, ED and other medico colleagues went to work immediately, while the rest of us watched the first of the injured arrive at the hospital on the back of utes and sitting in the boots of cars. I hung around until I was sure my students and staff could all get home.  After an hour or so I walked home – first across Hagley park with hundreds of others exiting the city.  I chatted with a woman who got out of Ballantynes and another who escaped the carnage in Cashel Street.  A house not far from my own had partially collapsed – I went on to the property and called out to see if anyone was there.  I got hold of a neighbour who told me that the people who live there both work somewhere in town.  I prayed that they would be OK as they were in for a shock when they returned home.  Eventually I get home.  My family, including the dog, were not there – they had gone looking for me.  All the while the ground kept shaking.  My family returned and we rejoiced in each other’s presence.

My OfficeThe next day I opened my office thinking I may have to work at home for a few days.  My PhD student Dr Maryam Nejat was in touch.  She got home OK, but she was at a loss what to do about her thesis.  It was on her computer at work.  She’d been due to submit it within a month.  Fortunately, I had a laptop at home with a reasonably recent draft.  Maryam came around and we got to work, the first meeting at the Papanui campus.

The Papanui Campus

The Papanui Campus

When the quake hit I’d been in the middle of submitting an article to a journal for consideration for publication.  This too had to be retrieved and resubmitted somehow.  My colleagues involved in lab research suddenly had their facilities unavailable.  They were very concerned about the welfare of the animals.  My somewhat minimal role as group manager took on a new dimension.  Fortunately, those I work with were so very competent.  We discovered the animals had taken great priority and people were in the building feeding and caring for them all the while nobody else went inside.

As we watched the news, prayed for rescues, and held our breath every time the earth moved my thoughts turned to what else I could do.  I was fortunate to live in an area relatively unharmed, apart from the one house I mentioned.  The little liquefaction in the road around the corner had quickly been moved off the footpaths into the gutters and I’d hopped on the roof the neighbour’s house to remove chimney bricks threatening to fall on those below.  No medical skills, no search and rescue skills, no great shakes with a shovel (besides, my family didn’t want me out of sight for a while), I did what I could and went into work, 5 metres from the front door.  After all, Acute Kidney Injury is a great risk in crush victims and while I couldn’t help the people in the Christchurch quake, maybe I’ll do something for other quake victims in the future.

Messages started to come through from the Dean. The building had been yellow stickered for “remedial work”, but it looked like we would only be out of the building for about 4-8 weeks.  In the meantime, we were allowed to enter the building to retrieve essential items (computer!).

After 7 weeks (mid April) we were told occupancy of our offices and labs may not be till July. So I beefed up my broadband allowance.  Then we were told September (2011 remember!).  After that predictions no longer came.  The first staff went back into the building in November 2012, 21 months after the quake.  Nearly all academics (I may be the last left working elsewhere?) are back in the building now, the labs are open, the students are at lectures, the library is moving back in next week, and the Dean’s office should be back in about a month.

So, day 800 and lots to celebrate at the Papanui Campus:  Two PhD theses, 15 journal articles submitted and accepted, 1 book chapter, an ED & ICU study completed, another ICU study data collected, a lab study managed to completion in temporary location, new collaborations with colleagues in Germany, USA, Canada and Auckland, and a couple of online conferences.  An additional bonus has been the joy of working from home and seeing my family throughout the day (my children are Home educated).  Not so thrilling is the dog coming and nudging me when he wants some attention. Scariest moment was the large “after shock” in June 2011 where I held on to the monitor, ducked my head under the desk, and my group director on Skype from Sydney watched my printer fly off a filing cabinet behind me.  Perhaps the most difficult thing for a scientist working alone is the sense of isolation.  Email and Skype only partially ameliorate that.  I also make regular trips into town to visit colleagues and drink coffee.  Of the writing of blogs there is no end, but I have found participating in a couple of online blogging communities has kept me from having too narrow a focus.  How many more days there are for the Papanui Campus I do not know.  Little did I know when I built this Versatile sleepout 12 years ago that it would become a small outpost of Otago University. I don’t expect it will make the official history of the university, but it is now indelibly part of my personal history and I am very grateful that I have been able to work here.

Papanui campus in action. Left to right: Myself, Dr Azrina Md Ralib, Prof Zoltan Endre

Papanui campus in action. Left to right: Myself, Dr Azrina Md Ralib, Prof Zoltan Endre

Hot off the Lancet – Earthquake at the Hospital

Having come down four flights of stairs I stood at the side of the road beside the hospital entrance as the first of the casualties went past on the back of utes and in private cars.  The entrance to the Emergency Department of Christchurch Hospital was about 40 m to my right.  I was but a spectator – the wrong kind of doctor.  That day many extraordinary people did many extraordinary things.  Some, some of whom are my colleagues in the University of Otago Christchurch, have taken the time to reflect on events that day, the response of the health system, and what lessons they could share with others.  Today an article appeared in the Lancet.  Below are a few excerpt:

Michael W Ardagh, Sandra K Richardson, Viki Robinson, Martin Than, Paul Gee, Seton Henderson, Laura Khodaverdi, John McKie, Gregory Robertson, Philip P Schroeder, Joanne M Deely, The initial health-system response to the earthquake in Christchurch, New Zealand, in February, 2011, The Lancet, Available online 15 April 2012, ISSN 0140-6736, 10.1016/S0140-6736(12)60313-4.

They were prepared

“During a mass casualty incident response, the inter- national disaster colour triage differentiation is applied in the emergency department ….The plan is rehearsed annually…”

“Loss of electricity was the most important disruption to Christchurch Hospital’s ability to provide services. The emergency department was prepared with supplies of torches, lights, and headlamps…”

They were challenged

“During the earthquake the hospital was subjected to severe shaking. Staff could not stand unaided, …ceiling panels fell…water conduits began to flood the hospital…power was lost…a generator failed…a section of the ambulance bay collapsed”

They reacted quickly

“Within minutes of the earthquake a young girl was carried into the emergency department by a stranger who had found her buried in the rubble.”

“Within 2 h of the earthquake, the first national ICU teleconference was organised to coordinate the transfer of patients in intensive care out of Christchurch.”

Well done Emergency Department, Intensive Care, Radiology, Blood Bank, Christchurch Health Labs and all others involved.