UNC Hospitals' Hurricane Katrina Response Blog


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.

Saturday, October 15, 2005

A Last Look

It has been about a week since our return from Waveland. For myself, this was a second deployment, thus a chance to observe the progress that had been made, and an opportunity to see people with whom I had the chance to make a personal connection with.

Since my return I've taken the time to process the experience. I've kept up with the new postings on the blog and viewed the pictures that I took. I've taken the time to sit and think about everything. I've shared the experience by talking to friends and family.

For myself, the success of the mission could never have been achieved without the combined effort of the SMAT team and the MED-1 unit. Each provided a wonderful compliment to each other. Without the one, the other would have had difficulty being as effective as we were as a whole.

I have thought about whether this experience has made me a better person. It has allowed me to be more aware of things in my life. I've appreciated all that I have and all that I do not much more. I've noticed that certain things that use to irritate me are not as important any more. However, it has become more difficult for me to accept certain things. I'm not as tolerant of behavior and attitudes that are selfish and narrow-minded. At the same time, I feel a greater amount of empathy for those who hurt, thus am more dedicated in doing what I can to help alleviate their suffering.

During my conversations with others at the camp, we struggled to find a word that could properly encapsulate the entire situation we found ourselves in. It is difficult to share this with others without the proper vocabulary. One could use words such as disaster, catastrophe, a big mess, or simply tragedy. Yet, despite the innate power these words hold, they still seem to fall short of accurately capturing the essence of what we went through.

On our last day a police officer, who, himself lived in Waveland, came in for treatment. He shared with us his loss. He told me that his home is 'gone', and what seemed to upset him most was the loss of an award that he received four days prior to the hurricane that named him as officer of the year. He quickly turned the conversation to the work he and his fellow officers were responsible for. He told me how they all made it through, despite being swept out windows and doors when the wave came. He told me that they were sleeping in tents and working twelve hours shifts, and how they were looking out for each other. For himself and his fellow officers, the time to fully mourn their personal losses will have to wait. They have a duty to perform, part of which is to provide support and comfort to their neighbors.

We talked about demobilization and how it will impact the community. There were concerns raised of whether they, Waveland and Hancock Hospital, were ready to take on the enormous task ahead. The impression shared by those who lived in the community was another cause for our concerns. Physical structures are easily repaired, but those other things that bind us to each other are not as easily mended.

Several of us have made plans to return to Waveland in a few months, and some in five years. We are all anxious and curious to see what will have happened to this town that we all came together at. We hope to reconnect with the people whom we were fortunate enough to have shared this moment with.

Waveland and the hurricane that destroyed it will be a moment in time. The experience will be captured and crystallized in the stories, photographs, and memories of those who shared it.

For myself I take these away from my time at Waveland and Camp K-mart ( aka Camp Katrina, Camp Mississippi, or K-mart General).

1. Everyone who had the chance to be involved in this great effort (in any way whatsoever) should be proud. We were part of history and we can and should remember it.
2. SMAT and MED-1 will be vital parts of any future missions. We need to take the time to learn as much as we can, so that any future deployments will not need to go through the initial difficulties we had.
3. Others may choose to describe this episode in their own way, the word I choose is catharsis.

The waters that washed away so many lives and homes has without doubt caused immense devastation. It has, however, brought with it a chance to re-build, re-assess, re-direct, and re-value our lives.


Med 1 departs

Yesterday Med One departed for Charlotte around 4AM, with a brief burst of lights and sirens on departure. They shut down and broke down their facility over about 18hours the day before departure. The SMAT teams continue to provide care from 8-4 every day, as well as after hours for true emergencies. The patient volume is dropping, as expected, and our demob plan has been approved. We will be shutting down the clinic on Oct 22, and be packed up and out of here shortly thereafter. As Holli Hoffman said last night, we came in the summer and are leaving in the fall. While it can get quite hot on the tarmac during the day, it is very cool in the evening and in the early mornings.

Went down to Hancock Medical Center yesterday and met their marketing director and their CEO. They have done an amazing amount of work since the hurricane; all the sheet rock is bein g replaced on the first level--you can see how high the water went based on the level at which the sheet rock is ripped out. People coming to the meeting got lost on the first level because they couldn't see through the walls across the hospital for the first time! The ED is up and running with about 6-8 beds; not their full complement--they are seeing about 2/3 their average census to date with not as many beds, and not a fully trained ED-experienced staff. We may be able to support them a bit down there as our census drops. The Air Guard EMED unit will stay to provide them with support for their decreased services until Hancock is back on its functional feet. Hancock is hoping to have inpatient capabilities by the end of October. The amount of debris in front of the hospital is staggering. There are "stores" located on the first floor for staff and patients to find clothes, necessities, etc. People are still very overwhelmed, but each definitely react in their own way.

While this footprint here continued to grow and mature as the deployment continued, the surrounding area has not. Cars have been moved; the mud has rinsed away so some green is visible; but little building or trailers have moved in. The statement was made yesterday at our meeting that the "federal govt is moving out", and looking around, I have a hard time understanding how things are ready for that. The parking lot here will probably be prime real estate once we pull out--flat, clean, and near major roads.