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.

Friday, September 16, 2005

Return from the front

I woke up last night having to go to the bathroom and was disoriented about being in the dark. I could not understand why I was having difficulty rolling out of my cot. My brain tried to remember where the port-a-john that I preferred to use was located. It took a few minutes for it to register, but I was in my room, on my king size bed, back in North Carolina.

My best friend, during a phone conversation, said to me that she was having difficulty comprehending what I had shared with her of my experiences. She said that she could not 'imagine' what it was that I had gone through. She asked me why, if it had been so physically taxing, that I had volunteers to return.

I drove to my office to check my e-mail. I'm certain that there will be pages of them, and most would not be interesting. My thoughts, however, keep returning to Waveland.

I wonder how Jeff and Tim, Jen, Alex, Randy, and all the others who flew home with me are doing. Are they still asleep in their beds, or have they gone on to return to the normal chores of daily living? Whom among our group had to return promptly back to work the next day, or had to complete that errand that had to be put off, or start that task that had to wait yet another seven days? I wonder how they are all doing. And my thoughts again return to Waveland.

I think about those people whom we left behind, Wes, Kyle, Dave, Littlejohn, and the rest of our team. Is Wes able to get sleep during the days yet? How much trouble are the generators giving Kyle again? What new images has Littlejohn captured with his cameras? Is the sweet flavor of that cherished cigar still lingering in Dave's mouth? I think about them and wonder how they are and envy them for still being at Waveland.

I wonder about the new team that took our place. Have they seen the beach yet? Whom among them have not yet had sleep since they left their home? Are they settling into a routine that will help them cope with the demands of the next seven days?

Then I think about Tony. The last time I saw him he was smiling and eager to move on with life. He was still waiting to see Walter, but he knew he was out there also waiting for him. He promised me a fried turkey sandwich when I returned and a bag of the local coffee. He told me that after drinking their coffee that I would know what coffee should taste like. He told me that he was looking forward to having me return, and promised to show me around his town and New Orleans once things have returned to normal.

I've just spoken to Chris, who has to be praised for all the work she has done. She told our group before we left that she would rather be going down with us, but her work was here. I can't imagine all the hours, challenges, and sacrifices she has already made. When all of this is done, I hope that the hospital works very hard to recognize the critical role Chris played in this effort. Those of us who have gone to Waveland have had to contend with physical challenges, but Chris has had to deal with the often more demanding mental exhaustion that must come with her role. I can't thank her enough for having provided me with the opportunity of being part of this undertaking.

And again my thoughts return to Waveland. It may have been merely by coincidence that we were sent to a place whose name seemed to be the harbinger of its own demise. It may be simple happenstance that we set camp at the parking lot of K-mart, whose slogan is 'the saving place'. Yet, whatever forces joined together to cause us to come together and learn about human devastation and the simple joys of recovery, I count myself fortunate for having been there.

I hope to return to Waveland, be it on a second deployment or as a tourist. Waveland will always be a place tied with my own personal sense that I have reached a pinacle in my career. Waveland will always be a place that reminds me that our profession, that of helping patients, can and should always first consider the only person that matters most in the equation of health care management - the patient. Waveland will always be the place where I found doctors, nurses, pharmacist, and any of the other varied professionals, who still have pride in working to the best of their abilities to help patients.

Until my return I think of Waveland and cherish all the memories I gained from my experience there. Good night Wes, and I hope that you are getting sleep. Good luck Kyle, and I hope that the generators are working well and you are able to find a more steady supply of fuel. Dave, I hope that you will have the chance to smoke another Cohiba soon, and savor the good conversation that goes along with a good cigar and having good friends around you. Good luck Tony, and I look forward to having that cup of coffee and fried turkey sandwich with you. Thank you Waveland for letting me be a part of your life.



Blogger Susan M sullivan said...

I hope to find Tony some size 10 shoes to replace his old dirt encrusted ones. He said the smell will never go away. I last saw him before my departure yesterday in scrubs and booties and he looked like a new man-with hope. I'm so glad I had the opportunity to go and work with this wonderful team.

9:44 PM  

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