As part of the response to Hurricane Katrina, a team of UNC Hospitals' physicians and staff left Friday, Sept. 2 to travel to the Gulf Coast as part of the MidCarolina Trauma RAC's State Medical Assistance Team II. The team from UNC Hospitals is comprised of: Christine Clark, RN; Randy Kearns; Preston "Chip" Rich, MD; Michele Rudisill, RN; Ed Wilson, RN; Ben Zarzaur, MD; and Janet Young, MD. A second team from UNC Hospitals left Sept. 9 to relieve the first group of volunteers. The second team to help staff the K-Mart Klinic in Waveland, Miss., is comprised of: Alberto Bonifacio, RN; Joe Manese, Radiology Tech; Peter Milano, 5th year surgical resident; Andrew Millager, Pharmacist; Jim Rawlings, Pastoral Care; Tina Schade-Willis, MD; Renae Stafford, Trauma Attending Surgeon; Jim Starlin, Air Care Communications; and Wes Wallace, MD., attending, emergency medicine.

Monday, September 12, 2005

Helping the helpers

A lady told me that she was frustrated about having gotten hurt. "I came here to help, not to be here having to be helped myself", was her complaint. I wanted to tell her something wise, but all I could come up with was to reassure her that we would do all we could to treat her injury.

Not too long after, a young soldier came with a complaint about his foot that had been bothering him for a few days. He was more stoic about his "hospital visit", but nevertheless he seemed equally frustrated. He had a job to do and this minor injury was preventing him from doing it.

All around us are people who've lost all that they have. We watch them and at the same time we try to empathize with them, yet somewhere deep inside we are so glad that we are not in their place. We focus on our jobs, telling ourselves that this is the best way we can help. We loose ourselves in our jobs, ignoring minor discomforts. What does it matter that we have to endure cold showers, or sleep in tents that are either too cold or too hot? How could these minor inconveniences compare to what the residents of this town have already experienced?

Katrina is a historic event not simply because of its awesome power, but because of the varied stories that will be told about it. Katrina is the devastating event that it is not simply because of the path of physical destruction it has left in its wake, but also because of the countless minor injuries, both physical and emotional, that it is inflicting on the residents of this town and people who have come to help.

Volumes of analysis will be written about this event. These will discuss the impact on the environment, the local economy, the physical and mental health of the surviors, or even how the beloved live oaks will react to this devastation. Katrina will touch countless lives, including those who have come to help. It should remind us that as humans we can be so easily hurt. Yet what is more important, it should remind us that despite the annoyances of daily life we as a species are programmed to come to the aid of each other. In times of great need, our primitive brain takes over and the instinct to help those that have been injured take over. Maybe it is because deep down we all realize that we are all truly connected and that protecting the other person is as much an act of protecting ourselves. We are willing to endure more in the name of helping another.

This is what I know, Katrina has united us as a nation, but also should help each of us connect to our own humanity. We can be hurt. We will be hurt. No amount of steel and cement or professional training can completely protect us from forces beyond our control. It is fortunate, however, that as a species we have built within our genes the desire to help each other. We may be here working hard to help the residents of this town with their physical injuries and needs, but they are helping remind us that there are things so much more important in life. One of these is that as a species we have it written within our genes the desire to protect and help each other.



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