Friday, September 09, 2005

From the front lines

From your blogstress's dear friend, Spirit Guide, comes this first-hand account from a clinical psychologist who has been working as a volunteer with evacuees housed in the Dallas Reunion Arena and the Dallas Civic Center. Until permission is received to call her by name, she will be known on this site as "Dr. Red Head".

Your écrivaine here posts only snippets of her missive, so long and harrowing it is to read in its entirety. For the whole account, click here.

Among the most mortifying aspects of Dr. Red Head's story is her tale of jockeying for position among medical professional assigned to work with the evacuees:

Turf wars have already sprung up. In the name of "I know better than you do," chaos and wasted energy are multiplying. The Red Cross was initially in charge of certifying the credentials of the helping therapists. After Oklahoma City and the pretenders who arrived there, this seemed like a wonderful clearing house.

Everyone who wanted to help had to go through a brief orientation and a thorough checking of credentials. Only licensed professionals were allowed. Driver's licenses were checked for criminal records. This seemed to be a common sense excellent approach to the question of rapists, pedophiles, and other thugs being denied access to a vulnerable population.

Actually, things ran better than I expected at the beginning. Then in came the physicians who I guess felt that their non-existent coursework in this area qualified them to better run things. Immediate chaos, disorganization, and all sorts of ersatz "helpers" began running around. They grabbed our current Red Cross badges and then stopped us from going back on the floor to finish seeing our patients without the new badges, which they just happened to be out of.

We had an optometrist with prescriptive lenses but no glasses or
readers and no idea when he'd ever see any. We had a deaf booth but no
deaf helpers. In the midst of all this chaos, thousands and thousands
of the walking wounded mixing with the powerless well-intentioned came the whispered word, pandemic. Lots of people are suddenly getting sick, and we have to have precautions. Don't eat or drink or touch the patients.

We only have one bottle of disinfectant in the mental health section,
so have to come back here--the length of the Convention Center--
after each patient.

"What of the people who are being cycled out of here?" "What are we
sending into the population?" If people are sick and contagious, where
are the precautions to separate the vulnerable? What of precautions
such as masks and gloves to keep the medical professionals and first
responders safe? All the here and now is suspended in the hope that
maybe tomorrow will take care of itself and the worst won't happen.

Those are the question we asked on the first day. NO ONE IS IN

Therefore, there is no consistent answer or approach or forethought. I am no infection guru but as soon as I heard on day one that people with no water were forced to drink water with bloated bodies, feces, and rats in it, the thought of cholera, typhoid, and delayed disease immediately occurred to me. What if the fears of disease are correct? People are fanning out throughout America. Where is the CDC?

The convention centers have no bathing facilities so the filth and skin reactions are getting worse. What of lice? There are no clothes for the really heavy and large. I was reduced to writing the women I knew who went to Weight Watchers to comb their attics for "before" outfits. When I arrived with the sack of my gatherings, I had to engage in a full-scale battle and puff myself up to all my red-headed doctor fury to get them distributed to the women still sitting there in their stinking clothes.

Red Hed finds herself incredulous at the lack of resources provided by the homeland security honchos:

Finally, to hell with this "no blame game." The stories that I know to be true are enough to make me boil. The compassionate foreign doctors who can't find anyone to validate their credentials, the expensive mobile hospital still sitting parked waiting for federal paperwork to move into Louisiana, the five C130s sitting on the Tarmac in San Diego since the night of Katrina, still waiting for orders to move. Where the hell are the beds? We have some old people sleeping on hot plastic pool floats with no sheets. They are still no showers for people who have walked for hours through fetid waters. Their skin is breaking out in rashes. Still no showers. Where the hell are the DeCon showers bought with Homeland Security money that can shower 30 people at a time?

Despite all the reports of government ineptitude running through the mainstream media, Red Head rightly points out that the broadcast folk are short-shrifting the mental-health impact of this diaspora on the country as a whole, all the while seeking out the feel-good stories that will easy the soul of a troubled nation:

I am sure that there is a special ring of hell for the media: The survivor stories end-on-end for the titillation of the public. I heard Soledad O'Brien say something about the still unrecognized need to address the psychological trauma. I sent a response to the CNN tip-line that there were hordes of every manner of mental health professional working 24/7. CNN's response? Dr. Phil and the stories of the survivors" on Larry King. They went to the guy who lost his clinical license for serious professional infractions to tell the stories? I could see the "entertainer" down there gathering tales of the already exploited so that he and Larry could both pimp their ratings. The real unsung mental health heroes, the counselors, psychologists, social workers and psychiatrists dealing with un-medicated psychosis and severe traumatic responses were represented by Dr. "Keep-It-Real"? We don't need tabloid help from the media.

Scream about accountability and point fingers for those who can't. Where is the real help from the media? Help us find those babies and parents and missing family. We have a man in one of the shelters who is caring for four kids. They call him uncle. He is actually the cousin of the fiancé of the mother who is probably dead. The children are silent. They sit and play and weep with open mouths that can't scream. Where are the media to scream for them?

And finally, your cyberscribe here excerpts Red Head's ruminations on the "let-them-eat-cake" attitude of the mismanagers who created the nonsystem meant to locate the missing:

In the age of computers, we are doing worse than the pencil squibs and the rolls of paper to log in the displaced after World War II. Literacy and computer access seems to be considered as a given for people who have lost it all. Accessing FEMA is through a website. People are in shelters waiting for FEMA to come "in a few days." "Be patient." The Lieutenant Governor of Louisiana pumped my hand and replied to my desperate queries about how to help people find their parents and babies, "Be patient--give us a few days."

The mothers who have lost their children, and there are many, and the
children who have lost their parents, have had it with the "be patient"response. The shelters are surprisingly silent. It is hard to find the traumatized mothers because they cry silently. One mother asked how patient I would be if my five-month-old was somewhere unknown for over a week. Over and over, others would ask," Do you think my baby has milk and diapers?" "Do you think they are being kind to my baby?" And then, so softly that I would have to ask them to repeat, "Do you think my baby is okay?" My response--the convenient lie. Every time I said, "of course"; I prayed to God that it was true.

For Red Head's complete missive, click here.

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