The city's hospitals were well prepared yesterday for the disaster that didn't happen.
At about 2:30 p.m. there was an unusual gathering -- particularly for a Sunday -- of George Washington University Hospital officials. The hospital administrator, associate director of nursing, director of emergency medical services, chief surgical resident and a senior surgeon were all in a second-floor conference room -- watching the Redskins lose to Philadelphia.
At Georgetown University Hospital at about the same time, Dr. Michael Rolnick, director of emergency medical services, was preparing to go home.
"We've been slower this weekend than we have been in general," Rolnick said.
As of 7:30 p.m., the more than 200 Red Cross and other medical personnel on the Mall had treated about 196 persons for headaches, minor cuts, chills and other mundane medical irritations.
Red Cross officials said, however, they ran out of blankets, which medical workers loaned to persons who had come unprepared for the chilly wind.
"I don't think we made a mistake," in staffing so heavily, said District fire department Battalion Chief Joseph Granados, the man in charge of the 15 ambulances stationed on the Mall.
By 7:30 p.m. the ambulances, culled from the District, Montgomery County and private fleets, had transported a total of 30 persons, including two suffering from shortness of breath and one with a possible heart attack.
"We did expect quite a few more heart cases," said Granados. "We thought the age of the crowd would dictate a large number. But we're not experiencing the [heart] cases. It could be the cool weather."
At George Washington, Saturday evening's emergency room nursing shift stayed overtime in a hotel near the hospital in order to be available in case it was needed during the day. It was not.
"But this is something you have to go through," said Dr. Sol Edelstein, director of emergency medicine. "I'd rather be over-prepared than under-prepared and then have a catastrophe. Our bet was we wouldn't have a disaster."
But the hospitals and the city -- which staffed four of the nine medical aid stations on the Mall -- had indications from other cities on Pope John Paul's tour that yesterday could have been a medically busy one.
Officials in Boston reported more than 150 injuries during and following the mass on the Boston Common, physicians here said. Many of the injuries had involved elderly persons in the crowd who suffered fractured bones and joints in falls. Several heart attacks had been reported during the pope's New York City appearances.
Although there was no difficulty in getting persons to medical aid stations and ambulances early in the afternoon yesterday, Granados said that by 4 p.m. the size of the crowd made movement difficult.
"We've been taxed in that when we have a person down in the crowd we can't get to them, he said. "We have to send two or three ambulances in from different directions and its the only way we can get through."
The lack of medical problems may have been summed up best by Dr. Howard Champion, director of the sophisticated MedSTAR unit at the Washington Hospital Center.
Champion, who bicycled to work to make sure he could get in, told a caller at noon that things were so slow that "I may bike downtown for lunch."