1906 Earthquake & Fire
Care of the Injured (Mechanic's Pavilion)
Lucy Fisher*, a nurse, arrived at the Mechanic's Pavilion before 7 AM. Here is how she described the newly-created emergency hospital:
What a scene that huge building presented as we entered it; a building of such large dimensions that its area covered an entire block! The floor was strewn with mattresses, which were nearly all occupied by patients even at that early hour. Near the entrance to the building, where the patients were received, an improvised surgery had been established; it was surprisingly well equipped under the circumstances and seemed to lack nothing in the way of operating-room tables, dressings, instruments enamel pans and basins, and even quantities of hot and cold sterilized water. Some days later I learned that most of this outfit had been carried over from the Central Emergency at the City Hall opposite, immediately after the earthquake, when Dr. McGinty, the surgeon on duty that night, had ordered the policemen to open the Pavilion for the new emergency hospital; the rest of the supplies had been appropriated from the surrounding drug-stores.
Patients were being brought in constantly and rapidly moving groups of physicians and uniformed nurses were gathered around the operating-room tables. In the body of the building there was a large number of people waiting on the patients; among this number were not only physicians and nurses, but men and women from other professions -- lawyers, ministers, priests, Sisters of Charity, and many more not belonging to any profession. All were hurrying back and forth eagerly trying to help the poor sufferers in the way that seemed to them the best, for supervision in so much confusion was impossible.
...I have since learned that the many gallons of coffee and quantities of milk and bread that were brought in came from hotels in the neighborhood (the St. Nicholas was one) and the restaurants. The mattresses and beds not supplied by the Emergency Hospital came also from the hotels. There were of course dressings to be done and hypodermics to be given for stimulation and anaesthesia. There was great danger in the confusion that the drugs administered would be duplicated, so as a precaution each one who gave a hypodermic injection pinned a tag on to the patient on which was written the quantity of the drag and time when it was given.
Considerable perplexity and delay was caused in losing the location of patients. The arrangement in itself was confusing-mattresses lying without any attempt at regularity all over the floor and constantly being rearranged by kindly-disposed people. I would go off for a basin of sterilized water to do a dressing and come back to the place where I supposed my patient to be and be unable to find him without a great deal of trouble...
Then the building caught fire:
It must have been almost noon or a little after when I was making an attempt to systematically pass from one patient to another with a pitcher of coffee and some bread, when my companion came up to me and in a low excited voice said: "The building is on fire; the patients are to be removed as quickly as possible at the rear entrance." I looked around, expecting to see people rushing excitedly about rescuing patients, but evidently few then had been told of the fire, for groups of men were standing about who had undoubtedly come to help but did not know what to do. I went up to the men near me and passed the word on to them in a low voice and directed them to pull the patients on the mattresses to the rear entrance beginning with those nearest the exit, as there was no passage way to drag the further mattresses until those in front were removed. Others passed the word quickly and in an incredibly short space of time every one was at work and the three hundred and fifty-four patients were removed in ambulances and automobiles to the established hospitals. It was the wings of love that helped the hands and feet of the men and women to save those helpless ones who lay so patiently and uncomplainingly upon the floor waiting to be carried out. Not only then but during the entire morning the patients showed marvelous fortitude and complaints and cries of pain were almost unheard.
These patients were transferred to the hospitals that could accommodate them. The military opened the Presidio Hospital to civilians, and many of the injured were care for there. Later that night, Lucy Fisher went to Golden Gate Park, where she had already spent some time helping to establish a tent hospital.
* Fisher, Lucy B. A nurse's earthquake experience. American Journal of Nursing. November 1906;. Vol. 7, pages 84-98.