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Staff rise to M*A*S*H* moment in windstorm

In the midst of last weeks big windstorm, the lights in one of Richmond Hospitals operating rooms flickered and went out as a second backup generator died.

In the midst of last weeks big windstorm, the lights in one of Richmond Hospitals operating rooms flickered and went out as a second backup generator died.

Thats when a never-before-used contingency plan kicked in for a surgical team in the final stages of a bowel operation.

Out came the flashlights and the surgery was completed.

It was a moment reminiscent from the TV series M*A*S*H*, where doctors operated in challenging conditions on the front lines during the Korean War.

We have to be prepared for anything, said Carolle Sauro, director of acute care at Richmond Hospital.

We had to go into a M*A*S*H*-unit kind of approach, which staff are trained to do, she said.

The hospital, which lost power at 10:20 a.m., was among more than 100,000 customers left without power last Monday after high winds battered the B.C. coast.

It switched to backup generators for electricity.

When the first generator overheated and shut down 20 minutes later, the hospital still had two more.

However, when the second generator similarly overheated, the operating rooms lost backup power. The third generator sent power to a different part of the hospital.

While battery power provided some light in the operating room, it was too dim to illuminate the two-to-three hour surgery the medical team needed another 30 minutes or so to complete.

However, like all areas in the hospital, flashlights are kept on hand in operating rooms, said Sauro.

Even though the generators which are tested monthly had never failed before, the hospital had a backup plan for the backup plan, including battery power for critical anesthesiology and suction equipment in the operating rooms.

The successful completion of the bowel surgery demonstrated the hospital can deal with rare circumstances, said Sauro.

Everybody pulled together big time and the teamwork and ingenuity and resiliency and professionalism across not just clinical nursing and physicians, but our engineers and everybody else was remarkable, she said.

This was a very unusual situation that has never happened before.

The hospital had been fortunate, as several other surgeries had already been completed before the power went down. Other planned operations were put on hold.

Staff were lauded for keeping patients in critical-care areas safe and comfortable, and helping visitors navigate in the dark.

BC Hydro had the power restored quickly, so there was only about a 20-minute window when generators were down, but, for the team involved, it seemed like a lifetime, noted Sauro.

In a blog praising the work at Richmond Hospital, Vancouver Coastal Health Authority CEO Dr. David Ostrow also compared the actions of staff during the power failure to that in the M*AS*H* TV series.

In the world of M*A*S*H, every episode or two, some disaster would strike the camp and the surgeons and nurses would be forced to operate in the dark, try a procedure they had only read about, or rise above their training, noted Ostrow.

While Richmond was certainly not a war zone, the work of the staff during the generator failures was exemplary, he said.

Short-term upgrades have already been made to the generators to provide more capacity.

The hospital has also been provided with about $2 million from Vancouver Coastal Health Authority to further improve the backup power system.

Its believed the first generator failed because the power draw of the over-capacity hospital was too heavy. The second generator is believed to have failed because it lost cooling ventilation from the first generator.