Natural disasters – such as the earthquake and tsunami in Japan – are horrible events any way you slice them. But sometimes there's a small silver lining: The medical personnel who respond to these emergencies often learn valuable lessons that they can pass along to others who may tend to the victims of future disasters.
This week, a team of doctors from the Israeli Defense Forces Medical Corps shared some of what they learned about crush syndrome after treating 126 patients who suffered from it as a result of the January 2010 earthquake in Haiti.
In crush syndrome, an injury to a single part of the body can cause problems elsewhere in the body because damaged muscles release toxic chemicals and electrolytes into the blood. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's primer on crush syndrome, it "can cause local tissue injury, organ dysfunction, and metabolic abnormalities, including acidosis, hyperkalemia, and hypocalcemia."
The CDC also notes that 2% to 15% of people who experience earthquakes causing "major structural damage" wind up with crush syndrome, and that half of them develop acute renal failure. (Californians, they're talking to you.)
The Israeli doctors set up a field hospital in Haiti within 89 hours of the magnitude 7.0 quake. They treated a total of 1,111 patients there; 11% of them suffered from some degree of crush syndrome.