It was “busy, controlled chaos” in the University of Alabama at Birmingham Hospital emergency room Wednesday night in the aftermath of the deadly tornado outbreak that pounded Central Alabama, said Loring Rue, M.D., chief of trauma surgery.
A total of 134 patients came through the ER; 40 were major trauma injuries and 23 were admitted to the intensive-care unit. An auxiliary ICU unit was created with 14 additional beds. Ten surgical procedures were performed.
“The injuries were remarkable,” Rue said, noting that people, who were at first in the comfort of their homes, were brought in with injuries consistent with high-speed motor vehicle accidents.
Patients ages 15-78 suffered open fractures as well as chest, head and orthopedic injuries. Among them was a pregnant woman. The wounded came from Anniston, Tuscaloosa, Cullman and metro-area Birmingham. So far, there have been no fatalities among them.
Rue expects the number of patients to increase throughout the day as rescue efforts continue. All elective surgeries previously scheduled have been postponed.
“It has been a team effort,” Rue said of the staff tending the trauma unit. “Doctors, nurses all working together.” He also credits the regional field paramedics for safely transporting patients to the hospital.
Rue was at UAB during the historic tornado outbreak April 8, 1998, that claimed 34 lives. He said last night’s storm was worse. “It was a bigger disaster.”
Timing is critical in getting medical care to the injured, Rue said, but many of the patients were trapped in their homes and couldn’t reach the hospital until four to six hours later. Around midnight, the weather cleared enough to transport patients by helicopter.