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September 03, 2005

Stories Survivors Tell

Racheal Zecchino, RN, writes from Baton Rouge, LA, where she worked today at the Pete Maravich Assembly Center, also known as the initial triage area for everyone who's made it out. Here is the story of her experiences.

Saturday, Sept 3: After all that I have heard about the terrible condition of New Orleans, one cannot fully comprehend the magnitude of this disaster until hearing the bone chilling first-hand accounts of survivors. I purposefully do not use the term evacuee or refugee, I choose to acknowledge the indomitable spirit of these people and call then survivors.

Today I volunteered at the Pete Maravich Assembly Center,  also known now as the initial triage area for everyone who's made it out. Although I have never served in the military, I now feel as though I might know how it would feel to be a military nurse. Many people crowd the area, most are the walking wounded, others are nurses and doctors. The heat is sweltering at my outside post and the frequent hum of low flying helicopters becomes unnoticed after a few hours. The sight of men in fatigues with large automatic guns also becomes unnoticeable after awhile.

Many of the survivors are in shock, while others are surprisingly upbeat and overwhelmingly thankful. I triage patients, clean and dress wounds, give tetanus shots, and help refill prescriptions. As I help one man refill his lost blood pressure meds, he stares blankly through me. I asked him if he was okay, and he told that he just couldn't believe how human beings could treat one another. He was trapped in New Orleans  for 4 days and witnessed riots, police resignations, looting by civilians and the resigned policemen, unthinkable acts of violence against woman and children, and the terrible feelings of desperation and helplessness. He told me he had nothing left and was given the shirt on his back by the Red Cross. I offered him another and he told me to save it for someone who really needed it.

The Red Cross saw to it that no one, volunteer or survivor, went hungry or thirsty. Their presence is greatly felt and appreciated in Baton Rouge  In writing this, I hope that all who read it are moved to keep New Orleans aid alive. In the next months to come this will not be on every major news channel with such dramatic coverage, but these survivors will continue to need help for a long time. Please do not forget about this when the media loses interest.


September 3, 2005 in Hurricane Katrina: Nurses and NPs Help | Permalink


Yesterday a team from Georgia public health met at Dobbins AFB to help triage the evacuees. What we were seeing were mostly the elderly and debilitated, many with chronic disease that had had no medications for days. Many who have been discharged out of hospitals and into Armstrong airport and have been on stretchers on the airport floor since Friday morning with no medical or nursing care. The stories we are hearing are horrific. Bedsores were already developing as some had not been moved from their stretchers in several days. Many are incontinent and had been laying in urine and feces for days in the heat. The survivors coming through Dobbins AFB yesterday were about three to one stretcher patients to ambulatory.

74 year old Maxie was living on the 11th floor of a senior retirement home. The water was past the second floor as far as she could tell, but still they could see the looting and hear gunshots and shouting. They had no power since Sunday and had been waving sheets out their windows to get someone's attention. When they were rescued they were hoisted by helicopter into canoes and taken to the airport. She cannot walk without her walker and the paramedics could not get it from her apartment, so she has been wheelchair bound with no assistance in the airport since Friday. She had been handling it fine but completely broke down in tears when the Red Cross got to her and finally placed a call to her brother in California, no one in her family had known if she had survived until then. She will go by Greyhound to her brother’s as soon as she is able. Born and raised in New Orleans, Maxie is ‘never going back.’

82 year old Millie was still as groomed and proper a Southern lady as she could be under the circumstances. I couldn’t initially get her medical history because her only concern was that I find her 84 year old husband, she was sure she had seen the paramedics take him ahead of her to this plane. He had been getting belligerent because they had been in a long line of wheelchairs and had been moved slowly to the front of the line and then told three times they couldn’t get him on a flight. He had been off his medications since Friday and she was worried that he was disoriented and she had his identification. Carrying his driver's license for picture ID, it took me almost an hour to find him in the other hanger. He was on the floor on a stretcher, oriented but worried sick that Millie couldn't make it without him, she didn't hear so well. Their reunion was heart-rending. They will be fine as long as they stay together and the Red Cross is working hard to keep the families intact.

We have seen none of the anger at being abandoned in New Orleans that we expected. Only heartfelt gratitude for simple things like clean underwear, a toothbrush and knowing someone cared. There was a lot of waiting on planes, confusion about arrival times and several in-flight diversions because of medical emergencies on board. But once the planes were on the ground, the teamwork and organization at Dobbins and medical evaluations, mostly from the V.A.’s of Georgia was phenomenal. Whole planeloads of survivors were processed through, stabilized, fed and cleaned as much as possible and to area hospitals or shelters in less than two hours. We are heading back now for another 12 hour shift.

Posted by: Marilyn Ringstaff | Sep 4, 2005 4:41:41 PM

Thank you for your comments. It keeps all of us aware of whats is really going on. You hear so many things and I can not imagine what it really is like there. You are in our prayers and please know that. God Bless you for what you are doing.

Posted by: Beby | Sep 4, 2005 12:59:35 PM

Thank you for your post, and your dedication! I too am worried about donations dropping off in a few weeks. People heard about corrupt governments taking tsunami donations recently, and the media has yet to cover any updates on how those folks are really surviving, so people get frustrated that their efforts are exploited. I just sent 5 boxes of clothes to Corpus Christi, Texas, to a company who sent emails to everybody in their address book to send things, not money, with details on exactly what they are doing, how and where. I plan to continue "stuff" on their list on a regular basis all throughout the year. No doubt we are going to have countless people suffering PTSD as they pick up their lives in new communities. We are receiving 1,000 survivors up here in Portland, Oregon, today. Can you imagine how they must feel, losing so much and then starting over in a strange place not knowing anybody, after witnessing the horrors you describe? Check out this awesome small business's website to see and read about human beings behaving well... SOTL


Posted by: SunOnTheLeaves | Sep 4, 2005 11:10:36 AM

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