Scutmonkey Chronicles

Commentary on healthcare in general, life as a medical student, and issues of concern thereof. Readers warmly encouraged to contribute their "best" and "worst" experiences with the healthcare system (who knows, some budding young doctor might learn something from your pain...?) Submit via comments section, or email me at oarlock@gmail.com if you'd like to become a regular contributor. Welcome, and don't forget to double-glove!

Thursday, November 24, 2005

Katrina Relief Part Two: Moving Comments and Appeal for Help From My Colleague Nurse Michele Logan



















Hope everyone had a Happy Thanksgiving. This year, I am extra thankful for all the blessings in my life that I take for granted sometimes. Before you read this, I want to say thanks for taking the time to do so. This letter is LONG. But, this is an issue that is so deeply wedged into my heart right now, it hurts. I asked my husband to pass this to some of his friends, along with his weekly football pool rant. I appreciate your time.

I am hoping to enlist some of you in an effort to make the holiday season a bit brighter for those people on the Gulf Coast affected by the hurricanes.

Recently, I had the privilege of spending two separate weeks in Vidalia, Louisiana, at a volunteer clinic for evacuees of the two hurricanes that struck the Gulf Coast region. Vidalia is a poor little town on the Mississippi River. The whole place probably spans 10 miles. This little town, however, took on more than 2500 evacuees. They sheltered them in their churches, their "hotels" or their homes. They sponsor them, they do for them, and they love them. Ask why they are so invested in helping people from a region almost 200 miles away, they look at you as if you are simple, and say "There but for the grace of God..."

The photos you see above were taken by me and some of my colleagues when we traveled down to the Gulf region. They are not from a magazine; I saw this with my own eyes. It was hard to believe that we were in our own country. We said to each other that this must be what it looks like after countries are bombed. The three “D” words, destroyed, decimate, devastated, were all that came to mind as we drove through New Orleans and Mississippi.

In New Orleans, wind had torn places apart, power lines hung all over the streets, and interior furnishings line the curbs of block after block. The stench in the air is indescribable. Yet, incredibly, we found families living in their homes in the midst of this. Why? Because they are so poor, they had nowhere to go.

In Mississippi, and along the lake in Louisiana, all we saw were piles of debris that had been homes. Boats and cars were in trees. Telephone poles leaned or had been sheared off from the wind. There was no power or water in most of these places. In Waveland, Ms, there were very few structures standing. The whole town seemed to be existing in a Wal-Mart parking lot. They were hit by a 37 foot wave.

Remains of Lakefront House in Slidell, Louisiana

I want to tell you a story related to me by one of our patients. She was a 58 year old woman who has worked as a janitor in the New Orleans School District. She earns $6.52 per hour! She told me she had refused to leave her home as the hurricane approached because she feared looting. She said she had a new refrigerator in her kitchen, a TV almost 2 years old, and a 1999 vehicle. She feared losing these items to looters.

I'm thinking to myself "You stayed for your refrigerator??!” Then I realized, I can never understand her thinking, because I am lucky. In my mind, so what? I will get my homeowners insurance to cover this, and go to Sears tomorrow and get a new refrigerator. When you make 6.52/hour, you don't qualify for many credit cards. So, I asked a question and learned how many years it had taken her to save her money (eight she said) for those three items. That's why she stayed. She eventually had to leave. Her home was damaged, her belongings were looted, and she has no job to return to; no way to replace these possessions that she strove for.

Health issues will become a rising crisis. In the clinic, we saw folks who had not taken blood pressure or diabetic medicines for more than 6 weeks. They had no supplies with them. They had no medicines or money to fill the prescriptions we wrote. One of the major battles we fought with FEMA was in regards to paying the pharmacies for the meds they dispensed.

Most were showing signs of depression and post traumatic stress disorder. We heard stories from those who had been in the water for days, trying to rescue others.

We heard from a woman who had been in the Superdome, and described terror greater than anything we knew of from CNN. We heard from mothers who had given their babies urine to drink, to try to keep them from being dehydrated. Yes, that's right, URINE!

We spoke to a man who had left his aunt's body tied to a post in their attic in New Orleans so he could get back for her, and set out in the waters with his mother and sister to get to the Superdome. Their mom died on the way, and when they were picked up, they discovered a snake in her backpack. She died of a snake bite. He had no idea where his sister was, because they had been separated.

We talked to people from Mississippi who described a wall of water 16 feet high. We heard from a man who had to jump from his bedroom window, with his wife, onto a gas tank from a boat and float to safety.

We treated a woman who was getting her tetanus shot on October 27th, so she could get back to Bay St. Louis the next day, and retrieve her mother’s body. Mom had finally been found, almost two months later.

I listened to a tall Cajun man, in overalls, with a grizzly beard cry as he explained how hard it was to leave his dogs behind. He had used a stolen boat to rescue 11 different people from their rooftops and attics. He described how they had hidden from police who wanted their boat. Then he had walked 6 miles, through the muddy waters to get to the overpass and wait for a bus. He told me he might write a book about it.


THIS ALL HAPPENED IN THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA.

Katrina devastated 23,000 acres and destroyed nearly 284,000 homes. The death toll in Louisiana alone is 1,053. That does not count Mississippi, Arkansas and Florida; all damaged by this storm system also. Schools are gone. Hospitals are gone. Fewer than 15% of the doctors in New Orleans are back at work. 71,000 businesses have been shut down by Katrina, 10,000 more by Rita. I am only giving you details about Louisiana, not the other regions.

The residents are still scattered around, waiting for assistance. They are not in their homes, or in their town, or near friends and sometimes family. Their children are in new schools. If they remain in the region, like in Mississippi, they are living in tents and eating at makeshift shelters. If they were moved to towns like Vidalia, they may be in motel rooms or if lucky, a new FEMA trailer. FEMA announced this week they will cease paying for hotel rooms as of January 7, 2006.

Meanwhile, these displaced, disenfranchised citizens have no money, no health care, and no jobs. Some have none of their essential paperwork, because it was destroyed. They left their cars back home; they left their medicine and health records at home. Many are still searching for members of their families. They must rely on the generosity of strangers to survive, while trying to maintain some semblance of dignity.

Suffice to say, the "relief" agencies like Red Cross and FEMA are largely ineffective in this effort. Bureaucracy is tying up relief. Congress allotted nearly $62.3 billion dollars to FEMA. More than $37.5 billion is still sitting in FEMA's account waiting for a purpose. Of the nearly $25 billion assigned to projects, only $6.2 billion in checks have been cashed. Because of this, Congress is considering taking back some of the money.

Meanwhile, these folks live in dirty hotel rooms, or 6 families to a home, and rely on charity for medical care, medicine and food.

I am not making up these numbers. They are documented in a Time magazine article this week.

OK, you get it. ...these folks need help. I have been told that I can’t save the whole world, so, I chose my spot. The holidays are coming, and going through them in this fashion is heartbreaking. There are 22 families that have been given FEMA trailers in Vidalia, LA. We are trying to collect money or WAL-MART gift cards for the families that have been relocated. It is so hard to imagine a holiday with no meal, or kids on Christmas morning in a ratty hotel room or a FEMA trailer, miles from home, with no presents to open, and having no choice but to rely on the generosity of strangers around you. Our goal is to present each of the 22 families with a gift card from Wal-Mart in the amount of $100.00 or more, if we can raise that.

I SAW THE TWO AMERICAS WITH MY OWN EYES. IT EXISTS, ONLY A PLANE RIDE AWAY FROM EACH OF US.

Please find a way to help these fellow citizens of our own country. The fact that they were so economically challenged and impoverished to begin with is what is making this disaster so difficult to deal with. Look at these photos I inserted. Multiply what you see by everywhere you turn.

You can send a donation, or a purchased gift card. A Wal-Mart card in any denomination will help. In the south, you can get everything - food, clothing, prescriptions - at Wal-Mart. We are dealing through the First Baptist Church in Vidalia, and the nurse who operated the clinic I worked in, Grace Woods. We are planning on sending our gift packages on December 12th. Please... join me in trying to make these folks lives just a little better. They have been through living hell, and they need to know that the rest of us care. They deserve it. They need our help and our prayers. They need us to be engaged.

Look at some of these websites for other organizations to get involved with:

www.ACORN.org - Their organizer was just awarded the RFK Human Rights award. They deal with communities in need, and are working on rebuilding the N.O. neighborhoods.

www.handsonusa.org - Grass roots group who went into the Gulf region and asked "what can we do" Doing lots of manual labor in Biloxi, MS.

www.welcomehome.org- (these are a bunch of old hippies traveling in painted up school buses. I met them in Waveland, MS, manning a relief center where folks can eat, get medical attention, and chill out)

www.catholiccharities.org - Houston/Galveston area chapter assisting those who took Katrina victims into their homes

First Baptist Church - 100 SOUTH HICKORY STREET, VIDALIA LA 71373

I know this is long. Thank you again for entertaining my thoughts. Please, pass this on to others. One person can make a difference.

Each time a man stands up for an ideal, or acts to improve the lot of others, or strikes out against injustice, he sends forth a tiny ripple of hope, and crossing each other from a million different centers of energy and daring those ripples build a current which can sweep down the mightiest walls of oppression and resistance. Robert F. Kennedy, 1966


Michele Logan
102 Mockingbird Ct
Swedesboro, NJ 08085
Michele10j@msn.com

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