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August 03, 1977 - Image 5

Resource type:
Michigan Daily, 1977-08-03

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W ednesdoy, August 3, 1977


Page F ive I

'Laughing gas' snafu-probed


N 0 R R I S T O W N, Pa.
(AP) - Because nobody realized
the pipes were mislabeled, oxy-
gen was confused with "laugh-
ing gas" for .six months at a
hospital emergency room near
here, officials said yesterday.
The hospital said the mixup
may have caused five deaths.
Suburban General Hospital
also said a total of 35 deaths
were reported by the newly-
built emergency room during
that period, and state health of-
ficials said they were investi-
gating whether the foul-up
played a part in any.
AN OFFICIAL of the osteo-
pathic hospital said five of the
deaths, but no more, might be
attributable to the mix-up.
William Myrtetus, director of
the state's Catastrophic Loss
Fund, said, however, "There's
35 deaths where somebody died
when they got nitrous oxide
(laughing gas) instead of oxy-
gen. We haven't determined the
cause of death in all the cases
yet, but people are going to
proceed (file suit) against the
hospital, that's for sure."
The fund Myrtetus directs is
an insurance pool that covers
medical facilities, and he said
it was he who reported the Mis-
takes to state health officials.
IT WAS ALSO disclosed that
as many as 300 patients may
have been given nitrous oxide

instead of oxygen, or the re-
verse, between .Dec: 15, when
the emergency room opened,
and July 6, when the mix-up
was discovered.
"A preliminary review by the
professional staff at, the hos-
pital indicates there will be a
maximum of five cases - five
deaths linked to administering
the wrong gas," said William
Walkup, president of the hospi-
tal's board.
"We can't even be sure about
that. It's entirely possible these
people wouldn't have respond-
ed to treatment anyway."
MYRTETUS SAID he learned

of the mislabeling during a
meeting with hospital officials
on Monday. He said he in turn
notified the state Health De-
partment, and a health depart-
ment official confirmed that his
agency first learned of the mis-
labeling from insurance offic-
"They (hospital officials) may
have been unclear as to their
responsibility that they had to
report it," said Health Depart-
ment official Bob Costello. "But
that's hard for me to believe.
You would have thought they
would haveĀ° known something
was wrong with these patients."
According to hospital offic-

ials, an anesthesiologist discov-
ered the mistake while admin-
istering what he thought was
oxygen to a drowning victim.
kept turning blue, the anesthe-
siologist hooked the patient to
a portable oxygen tank and the.
discoloration disappeared. The
doctor then took about six deep
breaths from the pipe labeled
"oxygen" and discovered it was
nitrous oxide.
An analysis of the pipe label-
ed "nitrous oxide" revealed the
tank feeding it contained 100
per cent oxygen, hospital offic-
ials said.

Nitrous oxide is to anesthetic
gas usually used in high con-
centrations to achieve effective-
ness, but which can cause
asnhvxiation in pure form or
when given to a patient in
need of oxygen. Generally, it is
used as a light anesthetic for
brief surgery, including dental
work. It also is used to start
anesthesia for longer surgery,
with a switch made to another
anesthetic later.
The first Miss America was
Margaret Gorman, aged 16, of
Washington, D.C. The S-foot,
1-inch Miss Gorman was cro"n-
ed in 1923.

Viet 'boat people' still ilimbo

- Sixty-six were allowed to
settle in Israel and about 2,500
in the United States, but others
have been turned away else-
where. They are the "boat peo-
ple," more than 10,000 refu-
gees who have fled Communist
Vietnam in small boats.
Prince Sadruddin Aga Khan,
U. N. high commissioner for
refugees, says: "The story of
these boat people is a modern-
day odyssey, sometimes as-
suming tragic proportions."

pealed to governments to take
the refugees in, noting the like-
lihood that some were lost at
sea after passing ships refused
to let them aboard for fear of
being forbidden to discharge
them at ports of call.
That fate confirmed 66 Viet-
namese in a foundering boat in
the South China Sea'this June,
as ships of several nations re-
fused to pick them up. But an
Israeli freighter did so, and
Prime Minister Menahem Be-

Board says faulty hatch covers
wrecked Edmund Fitzgerald

gin arranged for them to be
flown to Israel and given settle-
ment rights like those granted
Vietnamese who dislike com-
munism cannot escape it by
skipping across the border, be-
cause opposite Vietnam's bor-
ders are China, Laos and Can-
bodia, all Communist. So they
leave by sea.
been doing so since South Viet-
nam fell to Communist forces
in 1975, according to U. N. sta-
tistics. Since the tsart of 1976,
10,751 persons have fled Viet-
nam by boat. Those leaving the
first half of this year outnum-
bered those leaving in all of
1976, 5,709 to 5,402. There were
1,146 this May and 1,687 this
June, against 1,059 last Octo-
ber, the top month for 1976.
Of the 10,751, 441 were still
aboard vessels at the end of
June at various places around
the South China Sea, not allow-
ed to land. Macao, a Portu-
guese enclave in mainland
China, turned away 27, for in-
Others were allowed to stay
wherever they made- shore -
five out of 10 in Greece, 13 in
Saudi Arabia and 156 in Aus-
tralia. ,

other countries that accepted
them for settlement - 1,103 to
France, 201 to Canada and
2,579 to the United States, which
has permanently resettled
some 145,000 refugees who left
by all means of transportation
since the fall of South Viet-
But more than 5,500 boat peo-
ple are still waiting in camps
in various ctoutries for govern-
ments to allow them to remain
In the last two years of revo-
lution itn Indochina, 301,388 peo-
ple have fled Vietnam, Laos
and Cambodia by seat or land.
Mtre than 90,000 are in"camps
in Thailand awaiting permission
to resettle elsewhere. President
Carterhas agreed in principle
tto let 15,1100 into thse United
States on top of the 145,000 it
has already taken.
IN TOTAL, the United Na-
tions is concerned with more
than 3.5 million refugees.
The U. N. Relief and Works
Agency for Palestine Refugees
looks after housing and food for
upward of 1.6 million Palestin-
ians - refugees from what is
now Israel, or their offspring--
in camps in Lebanon, Syria,
Jordan, the West Bank of the
Jordan River and the Gaza

CLEVELAND P)-The wreck
of the ore carrier Edmund Fitz-
gerald with 29 men lost, retold
in a popular ballad, was caused
by faulty hatch covers that
failed to keep Lake Superior's
icy waters out of cargo holds
during a storm, a Coast Guard
board said yesterday.
True to a line in Gordon Light-
foot's song "The Wreck of the
Edmund Fitzgerald," that the
lake "never gives up her dead,"
the bodies of the crewmen still
lie in the aftersection of the ves-
sel, which sank in 530 feet of
water on Nov. 10, 1975.
moments aboard the 729-foot-
long vessel, Coast Guard officers
said that the "massive flooding"
of the cargo holds carried the
Fitzgerald lower and lower in
the heavy seas until she plunged
into one wave "and didn't come
back up."
The vessel, which had depart-
ed Superior, Wis., the day be-
fore it sank and was bound for
Detroit, dived "into a wall of
water and never recovered, with
the breakup occurring as it
plunged. or when it struck bot-
tom," thereport said.
Capt. James Wilson, a mem-
ber of the investigating board,
said the tragedy struck so rap-
idly that probably none of the
crewmen was aware what was
WILSON NOTED that there
were no witnesses, but said the
board drew its picture of the
sinking from analysis of under-
water photographs of the wreck-
The Fitzgerald had had 10-foot
seas washing across her deck
throughout the day, Wilson said.
Increasing amounts of water
flooded in through loosely tight-
ened hatches and through open-
ings from damage the Fitzger-
ald apparently sustained above
decks during the storm.

The report said it appeared
that hatch c o v e r s damaged
through normal wear during the
season had not been repaired.
The covers and fittings "did not
provide an effective means of
preventing the penetration of
water into the ship . . . as re-
quired by Coast Guard regula-
tions," the board concluded.
Ernest McSorley, probably was
not aware of the flooding in the

cargo holds loaded with taconite,
the report said.
McSorley "reported that he
was in one of the worst seas that
he had ever seen," the board
said, adding that at the time this
was reported, the Fitzgerald
probably was riding so low in
the water "frorm flooding of the
cargo hold that the effect of the
sea was much greater than he
would ordinarily have experi-

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