‘Screaming in pain’: Medics tell of Volcano aftermath


WARNING: Graphic

A Whakatāne Hospital staffer who was working in the immediate aftermath of the volcano eruption has described the horrific scene that unfolded.

The medical professional, who has asked for his identity to be hidden, said screams echoed in the corridors as the bodies kept piling in.

"There was lots of noise, lots of screaming," he told stuff.co.nz. "The smell of sulphur and burnt flesh was horrific and just the pandemonium going on.

"Every booth was busy, and every booth you looked into the patients had massive burns. They were covered in ash and screaming in pain."

Hospital workers - including office workers and physiotherapists - were called in to help and hold oxygen bags or wrap limbs in Gladwrap.

The distraught worker described helping stabilise an overseas patient who had extensive burns to the front of her body, saying staff struggled to monitor her vital signs because there was no skin to attach the sensors to.

"But we got a tube in and we were ventilating her, looking at her colour as much as we could and she seemed quite stable," he said.

The worker described having to cover the woman in Gladwrap because fluid was dripping out of her. "I was trying to roll her but I was too scared to touch her because every time I did, skin would come off in my hands."

Tearfully, the staffer spoke of the moment they found out his patient's name.

"We managed to call her by her name and say, 'It's gonna be all right'," he said.

"We did our best for her, we got her as comfy as we could and put a warming device on her before her transport to another hospital."

The staffer said he was still having flashbacks to his time in the emergency department days later.

After a 14-hour day, the staffer was sent home and other staff covered his shift.

"People have got to remember that we're a small hospital, no one was identified at the time, everyone was covered in ash, everything was happening at once: The focus was on saving lives," he said.

"The identity was irrelevant at the time, we just wanted them to survive.

"Identity is important for people but we just had to treat what we saw, and that was injuries and human beings."

New Zealand had ordered 120 square metres of skin to treat patients injured in Monday's volcanic eruption, authorities said.

The skin is needed to treat patients severely injured by the volcanic ash and gas. Medical officials said 27 people in hospital had burns to at least 30 per cent of their bodies as well as inhalation burns requiring airway support.

Every burns unit in the country is at full capacity.

"We currently have (skin) supply but are urgently sourcing additional supplies to meet the demand for dressing and temporary skin grafts," said Peter Watson of the District Health Board on Wednesday. "We anticipate that we will require an additional 1.2 million square centimetres of skin for the ongoing needs of the patients."

Authorities are continuing to monitor the island, which remains too dangerous for rescuers to access.

Nine Australians are confirmed dead in the disaster, with seven Australians still missing.

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