The emergency services, hospitals and health clinics of Natrona County prepared for the worst. As many as 35,000 eclipse revelers could descend upon a city of 55,000. Officials were concerned that first responders would be overwhelmed.
But as of Sunday afternoon, health care providers have largely treated the minor.
“Mostly Band-Aids, blisters on some tourists, a few (grease) burns,” said Monica Janssen, a nurse practitioner running the first-aid tent at the Lyric on Second Street.
She was sitting in a corner of the building, walled off by a blue privacy screen, with Casey Garrison, a medical assistant who normally works at Mesa Primary Care in Casper. They’d just sat down to a late morning meal of breakfast burritos.
“We’re expecting it to be busier later today,” Janssen said, with larger crowds anticipated as the eclipse neared. Dehydration was the main concern — temperatures hovered around 90 degrees Sunday — and the first-aid corner was stocked with ice water.
Audrey Gray of the Casper Natrona County Health Department said it’s been slow across the county. The grease burn to a food vendor was the worst injury she’d heard of from the 11 aid stations scattered around the area. But she stressed that there was still another day to go.
“It’s actually been fairly calm up to this point, which I’m really happy about,” she said Sunday afternoon. “Again, just the sentiment is, we’re expecting many more people to join us between today and tomorrow before 11:42 a.m.”
You didn’t have to tell the crew at the Lyric that it was (mercifully) slow. Breanna Young, a certified nursing assistant volunteer, was nearly finished reading Anne Frank’s diary. As the day went on, her Stephen King bookmark grew closer to the back cover.
But just after noon, a crackle came over the radio. A woman in front of the Fox Theater needed oxygen. Janssen, Young, Garrison and another volunteer, Connor Knope, grabbed bags of supplies and hustled down the sidewalk.
Pam Bailey-Fross was breathing heavily and coughing beneath her tent outside the theater. By the time the group arrived, EMTs were already on scene, giving her water and checking her vitals (and even as they examined her, she was calling out to passers-by about the jewelry and oils she had to sell).
The cause of Bailey-Fross’ distress wasn’t hard to spot: An artist wearing a gas mask was creating space-themed art work with spray paint cans 5 yards from her tent. The wind blew the fumes directly into her face.
“Sorry to call you guys out here,” Bailey-Fross said as Janssen knelt beside her, pressing a stethoscope to her back to listen to her lungs.
“That’s what we’re here for,” the nurse replied cheerfully.
The saleswoman was in pretty good spirits, despite her breathing problem. Asked if she was on any medications, she proudly declared that at 64, she was prescription-free.
(Meanwhile, Casper police and an official-looking woman in an eclipse shirt had approached the spray paint artist. Apparently, he lacked the needed sales license. Within 15 minutes of the call coming into the Lyric tent, he had packed up and departed).
With the fumes gone and cold water in her hand, Bailey-Fross was back on her feet. Janssen was outside of the tent, taping the hand of an older man who’d cut it on a dog leash.
“I told ya,” she said afterward, smiling. “Sunday. It’s coming.”
No one went to the hospital, and the two incidents were taken care of within 20 minutes. But a lot of planning went into that moment, Gray said. Seven months of meetings coordinated by 25 agencies to discuss every possible scenario, from heart attacks to major bus crashes.
“The overall objective was to protect emergency departments from becoming overrun,” Gray explained. “We wanted to take care of people at the lowest level possible.”
Meaning: Instead of taking someone with a bloody nose to the emergency room, Janssen and Garrison could patch it up and send that person back into the sunshine. More serious issues, like broken bones, would be sent a “level up,” they explained.
Fortunately, the Lyric crew hadn’t had to transport anybody. Around 3:30 p.m., a young boy in a blue shirt came in needing a Band-Aid. He’d had a scab on his shin, he explained, and he’d hit a rock and ripped it off.
Janssen cleaned and bandaged the quarter-sized cut and sent the boy on his way. It was enough.
“Sometimes, for a kid, that’s the difference between a good day and bad day,” she said.