Hospital Staff Reacts to Earthquake

Some docs said it was disruptive, others brushed it off as a "total nothing."

ByMikaela Conley
August 24, 2011, 11:10 AM

Aug. 24, 2011— -- Few East Coasters reported injuries from Tuesday's earthquake, but hospital staff along the eastern seaboard certainly experienced its effects. ABC News reached out to doctors to get their take on the quake.'

Recently returned from working in Kabul, Afghanistan, Dr. Amir Afkhami, assistant professor of psychiatry at George Washington University, was evaluating a patient in his office when the bookshelves began to sway.

"By that time the tremors had stopped, I … got back to completing the evaluation of my patient," said Afkhami. "Interesting enough, my patient, who was struggling with anxiety disorder, continued to experience tremors and needed frequent reassurances that the earthquake had stopped."

Dr. Una McCann, a professor of psychiatry at Johns Hopkins School of Medicine, was also treating a patient with anxiety. Both had lived in San Francisco, and McCann and the patient immediately assumed earthquake.

"The clinic was evacuated for approximately 20 minutes," McCann said.

Seattle professor of surgery, Dr. Ben Anderson, however, scoffed at the attention and coverage the earthquake received, calling it a "total nothing."

"The quake would barely have been remarkable had it been in Seattle, with the possible exception that an unusually large area felt it," said Anderson, who was in Washington, D.C., when the quake hit. "There was a small jolt, and dust bunnies started to fall from the ceiling rafters like snowflakes, clearly indicating that they don't dust up there much. The sum total was that I had to brush my shoulder off."

For others in the D.C. area, the shaking proved a bit more troublesome.

"One issue was lack of communication and not knowing specifically what to do, evacuate or stay put," said Dr. Kathy Helzlsouer, director of the Prevention and Research Center at Mercy Medical Center in Baltimore. "Some evacuated the building with their patients, others continued uninterrupted. Phone lines [were] temporarily disrupted. It was disruptive to practice."

Docs React to Earthquake Interruption

On a lighter note, even though cabinets and chairs shook where Dr. Mark Abdelmalek, a dermatologist at Drexel University Medical School, practices, "kids thought it was fun," he said.

Hospitals are set up with emergency response plans for natural and man-made disasters, but most medical centers apparently didn't have to resort to them Tuesday.

Dr. Clifford Bassett, medical director of Allergy and Asthma Care of New York, said he believes his lecture on food allergies would be extra memorable, thanks to the seismic waves.

During the lecture, Bassett mentioned dizziness as a sign of an allergic reaction, when "at that moment, we all felt some vertigo and obviously my lecture abruptly [ended] when it was realized it was a quake," said Bassett. "What an unusual sensation. They will always remember my lecture on food allergies, I think."

And for all the romantic saps out there, here's a good personal account to end on:

"It's not a patient care anecdote, but personally, I thought it was interesting: My wife and I were married 36 years ago at the same hour, even to the minute, of the earthquake," said Dr. John Messmer, associate professor of family and community medicine at Penn State College of Medicine. "I told her our love made the earth move once again in honor of our anniversary."

ABC News Live

ABC News Live

24/7 coverage of breaking news and live events