The not-so-pretty underbelly of the beautiful human creature called RAGBRAI that rolled through Cherokee Sunday more than 30,000 strong was revealed and troublesome for more than 18 hours straight at the Cherokee Regional Medical Center.
According to CRMC CEO and President John Comstock, this year's record RAGBRAI crowd, combined with triple digit temperatures and the many uninhibited revelers, nearly overwhelmed the hospital's Emergency Room and downtown First Aid Station with a wide assortment of ailments and injuries.
Comstock, who has served as a hospital CEO for overnight stays for four RAGBRAIs, including the last two in Cherokee and two before that in Clarion, said it "was all hands on deck" throughout the day and night for the CRMC staff as a reported 32,000 riders and supporters rolled into and hunkered down in Cherokee.
Comstock, who personally embraces the incomparable and unique Iowa event for all the good it does and wholesome entertainment it provides, readily admitted that his staff struggled mightily at warp speed throughout the day with ambulance calls, ER and First Aid Station treatments, and campsite treatments.
Officially, the CRMC logged in 65 RAGBRAI patients Sunday with multiple health issues from heat exhaustion, heat stroke, heart attacks, alcohol overdosing, broken bones, bruises, abrasions, and dislocated joints.
In addition, 42 patients were treated at the downtown First Aid Station by the CRMC staff, which included four providers (nurses and doctors) and six EMTs working non-stop at the CRMC ER, and two nurses and one EMT at the First Aid Station.
"We were stressed and stretched big time," said Comstock. "I can't remember so many health issues on the many RAGBRAIs I've participated in. There were many more issues and many more serious issues than ever before. RAGBRAI is a wonder to behold, but we (medical personnel) work behind the scenes and get to see it all in the big picture."
RAGBRAI sponsor and founder, The Des Moines Register, painstakingly addresses and anticipates all problems large and small associated with the ride. Health-related matters are forever on the front burner. There are four RAGBRAI ambulances staffed with knowledgeable paramedics who follow the riders from town to town. Couple that with the three ambulances and complete staff from the CRMC and that's seven ground ambulances and dozens of medical professionals in place. Many times during the day, all ambulances and their staffs were out on calls at the same time.
Late Sunday, the CRMC had reached maximum bed capacity with existing patients and the RAGBRAI patients' thrust and was forced to move one patient to Storm Lake for overflow.
Comstock was quick to laud the work and professionilsim of the RAGBRAI paramedics. "They were wonderful to work with and so very accommodating," said Comstock. "They knew what they were doing and our communications throughout served as a great benefit to the patients. We were prepped and ready because of their outstanding work and skills."
Likewise the Cherokee Police and State Patrol. "They did a wonderful job keeping the streets open so we could access the calls."
Comstock, who has guided the Cherokee hospital into the future with an apt vision, strategically planned renovations, a compilation of high-tech medical equipment, a superbly talented medical staff, and a finger on the pulse of the region since his arrival 15 years ago, has transformed CRMC into a state-of-the-art regional medical facility.
Sunday, the beseiged CRMC shrugged and then showed the world its stuff.
"I do not have the words...I do not know the words to say enough good things about our employees that day," offered Comstock. "This is not about RAGBRAI. It's not about Cherokee. It's not about me. It's about them.
"I could tell you many stories and I could start naming names, but if I would miss one name, I'd never forgive myself," said Comstock.
"Throughout my career in the medical field, I've been fortunate to have worked with many extraordinary people. But our employees - all of them - Sunday showed me something I'll never forget. I am so incredibly proud of them."
Comstock poignantly diagrammed a telling episode with a nursing department head late into the night.
"We were cleaning up the bays in ER on a final run-through and there was one bay left," explained the hands-on administrator. The nurse told me not to worry about it, that there was urine and vomit and blood all over and that she would take care of it and I should go home. There was a reason that bay was left for last. I insisted on helping her and we gathered the cleaning supplies and donned the gloves and pulled back the curtain...and the room was spotless! Another nurse had already cleaned it.
"You know, we are who we are," concluded Comstock. "And we all should count our blessings for all the wonderful people and employees we have here in Cherokee."