Heritage: The Story of St. Mary's Hospital, 1880-1980
By Leo G. Bryne and Sister Alberta Cammack, C.S.J
Chapter II Modern Medical Complex
By the decade of the sixties the benefits of Salk and Sabin vaccines had practically eliminated the space formerly required for the treatment of polio patients; however, the needs of other patients required the use of whatever space became available. Patients recovering from open-heart surgery along with burn patients in need of special nursing were first treated in the Pediatrics area. This extra burden on the Pediatric area and staff, however, necessitated the opening of a separate unit for intensive care. Special equipment purchased through funds raised by the Auxiliary enabled the Intensive Care Unit to open in 1962. The unit possessed emergency equipment, heart monitoring devices, a respirator, and a hypothermal unit which lowered body temperatures so that injuries to the brain could be allowed to heal with a decreased need for oxygen. About this time the cardiac arrest team came into being. Special nursing, technical personnel, and equipment were mobilized at a moment's notice and went into action to revive patients with cardiac arrest. Those who revived and recovered were literally snatched from the jaws of death by the skilled nurses, doctors, technicians and interns who responded to the summons of "Emergency, Dr. Stillheart!"
Rehearsed procedures, entailing communication and team-work, could mean the difference between life and death in emergency situations arising outside as well as in the hospital. "Operation Mercy" was the day-long disaster drill at St. Mary's carried out less than a year before the team's personnel were to be tested to the utmost following one of Tucson's worst disasters. On March 29, 1963, the main plant of Cleaners at Grant and Stone exploded in a burst of flame and debris. An estimated forty workers were inside the building when two blasts reduced the building to rubble, trapping workers in the wreckage and hurling huge chunks of concrete for blocks.
All was in readiness at St. Mary's moments after standby orders echoed throughout the hospital corridors. Victims streamed into St. Mary's Emergency Room. Tucson Medical Center was alerted, but most victims were taken to St. Mary's and Pima County Hospital because they were closer. Davis-Monthan Air Force Base and Red Cross personnel were at the scene of the explosion providing first aid and plasma. Nurses and supplies were sent to the site from St. Mary's to help the injured. The tragedy was to leave seven dead and many seriously injured. This event was to bring about planning for a city wide disaster program to be implemented in future years. It also emphasized the importance of establishing in-hospital and Emergency Room procedures.
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