A woman with stroke symptoms in Midwood, Brooklyn, waited for an ambulance for six hours, finally arriving at the hospital with telltale signs of advanced brain damage. In Forest Hills, Queens, bystanders waited for three hours next to a man lying unconscious in the snow before they were able to flag down help. And in Crown Heights, Brooklyn, a mother in labor who started calling 911 at 8:30 a.m. on Monday did not get an ambulance until 6 p.m., too late to save the baby.
As a blizzard bore down on New York City Sunday and Monday, 911 dispatchers fielded tens of thousands of calls, trying to triage them by level of severity, from snowed-in cars at the low end, to life-threatening emergencies at the highest. But even the ambulances assigned the most serious of the calls sometimes could not get there. At least 200 of them got stuck on unplowed streets or were blocked in by abandoned cars, city officials said Tuesday.
As the backlog of calls grew — it ultimately reached 1,300 at its highest point — an unusual directive went out across the computer screens within ambulances, emergency workers said, telling them that after 20 minutes of life-saving effort on a nonresponsive patient, they should call a supervising doctor, who would make the call about whether to give up. While it is rare for a person to be revived after 20 minutes, it is usually up to the medical crew to decide when to call the doctor.
Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg defended the city’s response to the storm on Tuesday, and called the digging out of ambulances the city’s first priority. He said nearly 170 stranded ambulances had been dug out by emergency crews, with 40 more still stuck Tuesday afternoon. Still, the impassibility of many streets made routine ambulance runs into odysseys, sometimes with life-threatening or fatal consequences.
In East Midwood, volunteer ambulances managed to complete nine calls on Monday between getting stuck in drifts and between abandoned cars. One was to a 74-year-old woman on Lawrence Avenue who appeared to be having a stroke. Her home-health aide had called 911 at 9 a.m. on Monday, said Yakov Kornitzer, the chief of operations for the East Midwood Volunteer Ambulance company, and in the early afternoon, she finally ran to the local precinct station for help.
When the ambulance arrived at 3 p.m., it was unable to get closer than several blocks away. Two emergency workers, two paramedics and six police officers carried her on a stretcher through knee deep snow, but by then she was unresponsive and her limbs were already flexed, indicating serious damage to her brain tissue.
“We did the best we could,” Mr. Kornitzer said.
“If small cars wouldn’t have gotten stuck, we would have been able to get through.”
When a fire broke out five blocks from Elmhurst Hospital, emergency workers pulled patients in on sleds and toboggans, said Dario Centorcelli, a hospital spokesman. As at other hospitals, doctors and nurses stayed, sleeping on cots. At Lutheran Medical Center, a registered nurse and an orthopedic technician spent the day Monday driving around Brooklyn in a Hummer, to ferry exhausted staff members back and forth.
In Forest Hills, one volunteer ambulance partnered with a four-wheel-drive Suburban to patrol streets. About 2 a.m., they were flagged down on Queens Boulevard and 62nd Road, where bystanders said they had called 911 three hours earlier for a man lying face up in the snow.
He was unconscious but still alive, suffering from severe hypothermia, said Ron Cohen, the public information officer for the Forest Hills Volunteer Ambulance Corps. The emergency workers carried him about a block to the vehicle, and he made it to the hospital alive. “I think a short time longer and he may not have been,” Mr. Cohen said.
Patrick Bahnken, the president of the Uniformed E.M.T.s, Paramedics and Inspectors union was quite angry about the condition of the streets. He said some ambulances had been stranded for more than 24 hours.
“My people have been sitting in an ice box for more than a day and they are just being left there?” he said. “We have fresh crews waiting at battalions and we can’t get to them because the ambulances are stuck.”
And while emergency workers strained to do what they could, in at least one case, it was not enough.
Fire Department officials said they received a 911 call at 8:30 a.m. on Monday from a woman in labor in Crown Heights. But because her birth was not imminent, she was assigned a non-emergency status. Dispatchers tried to call back several times in the next few hours to check on the woman, but got no response, the Fire Department said.
At 4:30 p.m., a second call came in, saying there was bleeding and the baby was crowning. Police arrived first, after walking several blocks to the building.
Satomi Okinura, 34, a nurse who lives there, said she saw five or six police officers in the building vestibule, surrounding a woman swathed in blankets.
The baby was laid out on blankets and was not breathing. The umbilical cord was still attached. "We were all in a panic,” she said.
The baby did not survive.
Hospital personnel pulling patients into the hospital on sleds and toboggans?
Somebody in an earlier comment thread said this isn't a Third World city.
Boy, that sure sounds Third World to me.
Heckuva job, Bloomberg!
UPDATE: The Daily News details more people injured or killed by the lack of 911 response during the snowstorm aftermath.
- In Queens, a woman tried to reach 911 operators for 20 minutes Monday and then waited for three hours for first responders to arrive. By then, her mom had died, state Sen. Jose Peralta's office said.
Laura Freeman, 41, said her mother, Yvonne Freeman, 75, woke her at 8 a.m. because she was having trouble breathing. When the daughter couldn't get through to 911, she enlisted neighbors and relatives, who also began calling.
One of the callers reached an operator at 8:20 a.m., but responders stymied by snow-clogged streets didn't reach the Corona home until 11:05 a.m., said Peralta, who wants the death investigated.
"The EMS workers walked down the block trudging through snow," Freeman said. "They tried. I could tell by the look on their faces. I really would just like [Mayor] Bloomberg to admit that there were casualties."
- A woman in Sunset Park, Brooklyn, was forced to spend the night with her dead father after the medical examiner's office took more than 24 hours to claim his body. Ismael Vazquez died at 10:31 a.m. on Monday, and the 82-year-old man's body remained in his bed until 1 p.m. yesterday. His daughter kept vigil in the living room.
"This is New York City, and I'm a New Yorker, and this is not the first storm we've ever had," said Florence Simancas, 51, holding back tears. "Somebody dropped the ball ... big-time."
- A Brooklyn woman was left sobbing at a Bay Ridge bus stop yesterday when the driver said there was no way to get her to a doctor's appointment in Bensonhurst.
"Please help. I have a doctor's appointment that is important and I can't get nowhere," 64-year-old Ludmila Kowalow said. "I don't know what to do," she added, throwing her hands in the air.
- A 76-year-old Bay Ridge heart attack victim nearly died when an FDNY ambulance became stuck in a snowbank, but he was rescued by a gang of good Samaritans lugging him through the unplowed streets on a sled fashioned from a gurney.
"My husband could be dead right now," said Lucy Pastore, whose husband, Salvatore, was in stable condition at Lutheran Medical Center. "The mayor acts like this is a minor inconvenience. Makes me sick."
Indeed - the mayor told people to deal with it, go shopping, take in a Broadway play.
Makes me sick too.