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Hearts of L.A. / How the Quake Rocked Our Spirits and Changed Our Lives : BINDING THE WOUNDS : 'Babies were amazingly quiet through it all . . .'

January 30, 1994|Joan Cardone | Cardone, 28, of Beverlywood is a resident in obstetrics and gynecology at UCLA Medical Center. When the quake struck, she was on call at Olive View Medical Center in Sylmar. In 1971, the hospital was destroyed by an earthquake. In 1994, the building survived, but things got a little wild inside. and

It was like being in "The Poseidon Adventure." After the quake hit and we started down the stairs from the sixth floor to the labor-delivery room, water was leaking everywhere.

All I remember from that movie was people trying to make their way around and steam coming from everywhere. That's what we felt like. The water pipes broke immediately, and when we went down the stairs, we were getting soaked. And the air was filled with dust, making it difficult to breathe.

Once we got to the labor-delivery ward, we checked on the patients. The monitors were working and everyone was remarkably calm. One patient was very active in labor, about to deliver.

Quickly, we realized there was a gas leak in the entrance to the labor-delivery area. The air was very stagnant and, until they could turn off the gas leak, we couldn't breathe. We tried to get some windows open but couldn't. So we cleared people away from there.

We could also see that the power was starting to fail; it was like a brownout, the lights going down. Immediately after the earthquake, the backup generators kicked in, but about 20 minutes later, they also failed.

People were making a mad dash for flashlights, but we hadn't secured them yet. When we got them and saw that things were getting worse, we decided to move the patients to the operating room, where there were some battery-powered lights.

We moved everybody back there and had about five active patients at that time. The rest of the postpartum patients stayed in their rooms. We had two moms and two babies in the doorjambs of every room, sitting quietly.

The babies were amazingly quiet through it all, maybe because they were being held the whole time.

One patient who delivered was remarkably calm and together. And she hadn't even received any medication. By the time we got her back to the operating room and had her settled down there, we didn't have any monitor and preferred not to give her medication. After the delivery, when her husband realized that his wife and their baby were OK, he turned green.

The entire situation resembled working in the Third World--with no monitors--and it made me think how unprepared I was. We had no fetus scopes. So we tried to listen to the baby with a stethoscope. In other parts of the hospital, the people on ventilators had to be hand-ventilated because there was no power. Luckily, there was nobody in the operating room, and there were no emergencies at that time, which is pretty rare.

I thought of Kuwait because you could see the fires at the trailer parks. And there were two gas lines that had caught on fire, so we saw four different fires. That was the first time that I realized how horrendous this was.

I've been here for 2 1/2 years, and I've seen far too many disasters in Southern California. But for me to go back to the Midwest, I don't know. The wind chill during the week of the earthquake was 50 below in Chicago.

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