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EARTHQUAKE: THE LONG ROAD BACK : Land of the Limping--Quake Takes Toll on Feet

January 20, 1994|MARLA CONE | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Throughout Los Angeles, there are hundreds, probably thousands, of them. Just look down and you'll see them--the most common victims of the earthquake.

Feet.

Feet crushed by falling furniture. Feet slashed by shattered window glass or broken china. Feet fractured from panicky, pre-dawn leaps out of bed. By far, the lowest appendages were the most vulnerable body parts when the land underneath trembled.

Hour after hour--all day and all night Monday as well as Tuesday--men, women and children hobbled into emergency rooms leaning on friends and family members. In most cases, they hobbled out again with a pair of crutches and their foot swathed in sterile white gauze, joining the walking--make that limping--wounded of Los Angeles.

Many Angelenos learned the hard way the rule of thumb in case of earthquake: Always keep shoes or slippers at the foot of the bed.

Those with slashed tendons or shattered ankle bones will be disabled for weeks, maybe months. Among them are Gunner Johnson, 33, of Hollywood, who suffered a severed tendon in a toe when an antique china cabinet fell on him.

Shellie Blackson, 23, of the Pico-Fairfax area, stepped on broken glass and split her foot open as she scrambled out of bed in the dark. As blood gushed, a friend remembered his first-aid training and fashioned a makeshift tourniquet, then rushed her to Cedars-Sinai Medical Center on the Westside.

Beverly Lucia, 29, of Canyon Country was trying to find a flashlight when she sliced her foot on broken glass. "I didn't feel anything until I got to my neighbor's house and turned around and saw a trail of blood behind me," Lucia said as she waited for her foot to be sewn up at Henry Mayo Newhall Memorial Hospital in Valencia.

In most cases, the sprained ankles and torn tendons are minor and can be treated quickly. In some more serious cases of foot and leg injuries, surgeons are so busy that patients are being told to come back in a few days. Johnson and Blackson needed tendon operations, but they had to make do with a temporary repair job of stitches and crutches.

Even on Tuesday, the wounded kept limping in by the hundreds.

Some did not seek aid Monday but when their feet or ankles swelled, they sought help Tuesday and found emergency rooms clogged with others just like them. At Northridge Hospital Medical Center, several hundred patients were undergoing triage in a parking lot and waiting hours for their wounds to be examined and sutured.

*

In the hours after the quake, the first patients who rushed into the emergency room at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center had suffered alarming problems such as heart attacks, said nurse Paul Johnson. But many of the 200 or so patients who followed during the initial 12 hours suffered lacerations on their feet and legs or sprained ankles, he said.

The busiest health care workers were those equipped with needle and thread or manning the X-ray machines.

An emergency room doctor wearing tennis shoes kept dashing out to the waiting room at Cedars-Sinai repeating the same diagnosis: "Good news! It's not broken."

*

Laura Record, 24, of Los Angeles was relieved to hear that. Her sprained ankle was sort of a silly injury, Record said, describing how she jumped up as the quake rocked her home, slipped on a comforter and slid across the wood floor.

"It was sheer panic," she said.

Officials said that a leg or hip fracture can become critical if the victim is young or old. One victim of a leg fracture was 23 days old.

"Especially in an elderly patient, a broken bone compounded by this extraordinary excitement has to be viewed as a life-threatening event," said Ron Wise, a spokesman at Cedars-Sinai.

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