Here I am, sitting in Emergency with my partner who has injured herself after a domestic fall. She's ok, just a bit bruised and very sore. I am no stranger to hospitals, as not only have I worked in them for the last 13 years, but have also had my fair share of visits to them. Mostly for myself, but also for Triceratops Girl, and a variety of other loved ones who have pranged, stabbed or plagued themselves. Both Triceratops Girl and Tactical Baby were hospital born, one Au-natural, the other planned Caeser. Hospitals are centers of medical excellence and care. They have the best infrastructure, the best people and the best setup for not only treating the sick, and the broken but also usually have on-site laboratories, morgues and research facilities of one kind or another. However, like any service, they have their limits. Hospitals, and especially hospital Emergengy departments take the brunt of a hospitals everyday traffic from the public. When GP clinics close at the end of business hours, the worth ey might ordinarily take spills over to ED. Which is why I find myself in my third hour of a waiting room. We walked in, as these weren't blood-gushing or screaming injuries, and at a major metropolitan hospital like this one, the ambulances keep coming.
Why am I covering this? What's the importance? Supply and demand. In the event of a major disaster, hospitals have policies in place to mitigate the loads placed on them by this kind of thing. Patients are re-routed to other facilities or discharged early to make room for an influx of casualties. However, if you look to wide-scale disasters, covering multiple catchments it's likely that those regular policies will be overwhelmed.
Considering the expected waiting times on a weeknight at a major metropolitan hospital for a relatively minor injury, which is annoying but harmless, imagine the delays expected in a disaster situation when ED's are continuously swamped with multiple casualties. That is just for relatively "simple" situations like catastrophic weather as seen in the Hurricane Katrina, Cyclone Yasi, Indian Ocean tsunami or the Great Eastern Tsunami.
Couple this with either hospitals being directly affected by the disaster, either being in the brunt of the disaster, being cut off from major services as a result or worse yet, being an epicenter of a biological disaster, where sick people are clustered and congregate, potentially compounding infections and exposing those skilled workers and carers to the same debilitating condition. (The picture to the side is a Geiger Counter, as seen wall-mounted in the entrance ways of most major metropolitan hospitals I've been to in Melbourne)
Four hours in and we've had an x-ray, a brace fitted but are still awaiting a Dr's final assessment. We've seen bleeding and aggressive drunks spraying blood and obscenity. I sit here, in an otherwise calm, well lit, orderly hospital, very glad that we have such a well run system.
If it all goes to crap, and it's all Code Brown, this may not be as readily available so, be prepared to look after yourself, and yours when the time comes. Common sense, some knowledge and training can make all the difference in a crisis. Something we should all aim to achieve.