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Press Start: Lead an Empowered Life as a Clinical Laboratorian

French Hospitals Respond to Terrorist Attack

Published November 16, 2015 9:16 PM by Glen McDaniel

Through a friend in Paris, I was able to speak briefly with a medical lab scientist at the American Hospital of Paris. I was interested in getting an overview of how the hospital, particularly the lab, responded in the hours directly after the massacre and perhaps see if their protocols were similar in any way to what we are used to in the United States.

Yes, hospitals do have mock codes and disaster drills as we do.  About 22 30h (10:30p) on Friday the government declared a Plan Blanc (Code White) which immediately put all hospitals on alert and informing them to prepare for dealing with a mass casualty. Unlike our individual hospital plans here in the US,  in France Plan Blanc is a city-wide (sometimes nation-wide) plan where all hospitals prepare jointly, share resources and share communication in an emergency.

Phillipe (who unfortunately does not want to be identified by name since he was speaking off the record) said it started as a pretty routine shift for him. The Plan Blanc was announced about an hour after the shooting but he  actually heard about the attack shortly before the Plan Blanc. Immediately hospital staff: administrators, laboratorians, nurses and others opened floors, mobilized additional beds, readied operating rooms, mobilized ambulances, inventoried the blood bank and pharmacy and called in additional staff.

Because the metro was slowly being shut down, ambulances had to transport staff from their homes and sometimes moved staff among 7 hospitals in the same vicinity. No staff member was allowed to leave and many worked until Saturday around noon, sleeping when they could.

The terrorist attack coincided with a planned strike by unionized doctors and nurses (this is France, after all). Luckily the doctors called off the strike and decided to work.

Because of the fluid situation, most patients were transported to the hospital in contradiction of the French tradition of treating patients as much as possible at the scene of the accident. This time even the walking wounded were all brought to the hospital for security. Needless to say there was severe overcrowding and confusion.

By Saturday, communication went out that 53 patients had been treated and discharged but another 400 or so were hospitalized (at the various hospitals) with 200 classified as critical or serious. 

The most common tests requested were  basic metabolic profile and  a hemogram. Several patients were given type-specific uncrossmatched blood. They did as many immediate spin crossmatches . It was not clear from the conversation which was their protocol in emergencies.

By noon on Saturday, thousands of Parisians were standing in line to replenish the blood bank supply.

In a tragic twist, Phillipe found out on Sunday that a friend of his was killed in the attack on Le Stade de France. Another colleague had been brought in to his  hospital but he was not aware at the time, since many were identified initially by arm bands with colors and numbers. He ruminated about the possibility he might  have performed tests on his friend's sample.

It is interesting and heartening that wherever you are in the world, healthcare providers including medical laboratorians run towards the injured, and often place their own physical and psychological needs second while they save lives. 

Ours is a noble profession and we should never forget it. 

7 comments

I am retired now, but I try to keep up with what's happening in the field. I have seen you speak a few times at ASCLS. I have followed your writing and know you always bring something interesting and more importantly you always have a positive message.

I pray for all of Paris right now and I hope our country will remain safe. One thing I know is that wherever in the world medical help is needed medical technologists and technicians will be there to work long and hard.

I am so proud of our profession and so proud of you Mr McDaniel. God bless you for everything you have done for our profession.

Marilyn , Retired November 19, 2015 9:13 PM
Miami FL

I needed to read this today. I found it informative and engaging. I have worked in Europe and have colleagues who live all over Europe. Paris is one of my favorite cities so like most Americand I am devastated by this tragedy.

It is such a gift to us taht you were able to interview a medical person right at their ground zero so to speak. As scientists and technologists we do so much that others are no aware of. I would like to hear about onging progress if possible.

Is there any way we could help? Do they need volunteers in any way?

Thanks again for writing this.

Gustave P., HIV Lab - Principal Researcher November 18, 2015 5:15 PM
Bethesda MD

Thank you for your time in passing on the information.  With my military children I am grateful for the support of our profession.

Angela, Laboratory - Medical Technologist, Hospital November 18, 2015 10:15 AM
Watertown WI

Interesting. I work in Lyon for a year and also in Paris for one year past. I know well the American Hospital of Paris. Close by, just across the street is Institut Hospitalier Franco-Britannique. I know the area well.

It is good that you write of what is happening in the lab and in healthcare in Paris right now.  I like the sujet, Thank you.

Justin Thiboux November 17, 2015 6:29 PM
Montreal, Canada IT

What a wonderful article. It's very interesting. I thought I was the only one who always wonder about how laboratorians are doing, how they are impacted when I hear of  a disaster in this country or overseas.

I have relatives who serve din the military as nurses and as medics, but it's not the same. There is something about a medical laboratorian running around, adrenaline pumping and providing blood, platelets or essential results, knowing they are saving lives even if it's not recognized.

Mystique L. MLS (ASCP), Staff Clinical Scientist November 17, 2015 5:55 PM
Tempe AZ

Dawn, I don't know the details, but it's my understanding that after many places standardized these emergency codes, the trend now is for "plain language"codes.

I believe here in RI all hospitals are still using the same "color codes" which were standardized several years ago.

Pam , CLS November 17, 2015 3:43 PM
Cumberland RI

So do some areas of the US have common emergency codes? In the Atlanta area it seems each hospital system has their own coding system for kidnapping, mass casualty, fire, etc. Wouldn't it make more sense to have a national or statewide emergency coding system?

Dawn, MLS November 17, 2015 8:06 AM
Canton GA

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