Photo of the collapsed Cypress Overpass, courtesy of U.S. Geological Society.
by Cassandra Clark, Project Communications Director
This week we are commemorating the 20th anniversary of the Loma Prieta earthquake. The media will cover the remembrances, the progress we have made since then, the victims, the heroes.
Those of us who were around then have memories of this momentous event. My memories are perhaps much more vivid than most. That single event changed my life, changed my career, and ignited in me a passion for health care and the important work we do.
I had worked at Eden Hospital only 2 months when the earthquake hit. My boss was on vacation, camping in the desert far away from news of the quake, and I was a newbie just learning the ropes. I left work that day just before 5 to get home to meet some friends to watch the World Series. I was driving my VW convertible down Castro Valley Blvd. when the ground started shaking and the road before me started moving like a snake. I thought my tires were falling off and that the street lights above would fall on me! I drove the few minutes to get home, only to find the power out and the phones dead. So I headed back to the hospital to check in, as per our protocol
I didn’t leave the hospital for two days.
We had 42 patients from earthquake-related injuries that night in Emergency and Trauma. The worst were from the Cypress structure collapse in Oakland, brought to our Trauma Center. Not knowing the details, I went first to the Emergency Room, where I sat and listened to one young man talk about leaving his car on the collapsed upper portion of the freeway, climbing down the side of the concrete rubble, and then calling his mom to pick him up. He had an injury to his mouth and was shaken, but he told us the details of what happened. I still remember his face, his name, the shocking details of his story. The TV in the corner of the waiting room was showing news coverage from Oakland and San Francisco, and I got word out to the hospital staff so they would know what was happening.
We set up the Command Center sometime later. Soon, the reporters started showing up and the media calls poured in from all over the country, all over the world. Gloria, my co-worker, and I gathered information from every department, and talked to patients and families. As the spokesperson for the hospital, I conducted interviews for the next two days and, as it turned out, for many months that followed. I was so tired at 4 a.m. when Harry Smith from CBS New York called that I could hardly get the words out. It wasn’t my best interview, but I was new at this! We tried our hardest to keep all the information straight: how many patients, where they were from, what their injuries were. We had calls from families trying to find loved ones. We had calls from local residents wanting to know how to help. Reporters from other parts of the country were under the impression that the entire SF Bay Area was reduced to rubble, and they wondered how we could even take care of patients.
Over the next several days, I got to know so many of the patients and their stories. Some did interviews, some just wanted to talk privately. Some couldn’t talk, their injuries were so severe the nurses didn’t think they would survive. Two patients from one van on the Cypress freeway were the most severely injured, but they survived, and I remember them and their stories as if it were yesterday. I met their families and got to know them over the next six months or so. And I saw the incredible care that Eden Medical Center’s staff provided. The doctors, the nurses, the respiratory therapists, physical therapists, social workers: all of them played such an important role in their medical and emotional care.
It was because of this experience that I knew that I was in the right place, that the mission and purpose of our organization was alive and carried out in the most complex, and the simplest, ways. We all made a difference, and we were all here for one reason: to take care of the people who need us in the most critical times. It didn’t matter what our role was, we all had a responsibility to take care of them and their families. I didn’t check vitals or change dressings, but i could spend time with each of them, help them process what had happened, help them tell their stories if they wanted. I could help their families and our staff with simple things to make their lives there easier.
A year later, we held a press conference with a couple of the patients who survived, along with their doctors and nurses. It was an emotionally charged event, before and after the conference, for one patient in particular. The memories were so vivid and frightening, but she wanted, or perhaps needed, to talk about it, to see the trauma surgeon and staff, to process what had happened. Years later I saw her and her colleague on a PBS special, talking about their lives since the earthquake. My heart ached, and still does, for the pain they endured. Their lives were never the same. I don’t know where they are now, but I still think of them, pray for them, and wonder if they were able to persevere.
Five years after the earthquake, I met a woman who came into the hospital to give birth to twin boys. She, too, was severely injured in the earthquake and came to our trauma center that night. She had such severe abdominal injuries that she was told later by her doctor that she would not be able to have children. But life had other plans for her. On this day, October 17, 1994 — the 5th anniversary of the quake — she gave birth to her “miracle” boys. The trauma surgeon who saved her life 5 years earlier assisted in the delivery. They are 15 now, and I wonder if they know how incredible their story is.
These stories, and many others, are on my mind as we approach the 20th anniversary of the quake. It amazes me how much our lives are intertwined by such an event. And how each person I met has their own memories, and their own scars.
I am also grateful for the experience, for all that I learned as a result, and for finding my passion in my career. Today, as I work with the Project Team to build a new hospital, I am reminded why this project is so important. I am proud of the tradition of care at Eden, and proud to be working toward construction of a new hospital so that the tradition can continue for many years to come.
By Cassandra Clark, Project Communications Director
After what has seemed like a very long journey, we now have permits in hand, and contractors have already mobilized on the Eden Medical Center campus to get it ready for construction of the highly anticipated new hospital. We want to keep you informed about the project, and let you know what you can expect in the next week and throughout the month of July.
Fencing around the perimeter of the construction area is almost complete! The fencing goes along our property line on Stanton Avenue, through our campus, and along the adjacent apartment buildings. We are also installing a gate at one of our Stanton Avenue entrances to limit access to the area only to construction vehicles.
Tree stump removal on the future helipad site will begin later this week. The new site is approximately 150 feet north of the present location, as close as possible to the Eden Medical Trauma Center. Two days have been allocated for this work. Grading of the new helipad site will begin as early as June 26th, and will take up to three weeks to complete.
Demolition of the vacant Pine Cone Apartments on Stanton Avenue will begin July 1st. The structure will be demolished in one day, and it will take about two full weeks to break down and remove the debris.
Hours of work will be from 7:00 a.m. to 3:30 pm, Monday through Friday, but is subject to change as work moves into subsequent phases. We will keep you posted on construction schedules.
The Alameda County Fire Department has requested use of the vacant Pine Cone Apartment building for training purposes on June 29 and 30, prior to demolition. Firefighters in training often use vacant buildings to practice search, rescue and simulated fire control. You will see firefighters on site on these dates, using smoke generators (no real fire) and equipment. Their life-saving work is a benefit to the community and we are proud to support their efforts.
If you have any questions or concerns about the preparation phase of construction, please comment on our blog, and we will respond promptly.