Tuesday, October 11, 2005

Forward into the breach, dear friends...

An unidentified medical team comrade outside the medical tent
(Photo Credit: Heather Blackburn)

September 27, 2005
New Waveland Café
Waveland, Mississippi

Dear Folks;
I am very sorry that I have not kept in touch, but as you can imagine, things here have been pretty crazy. As I suspected, the weather cleared after the first couple of days, and it has been brutally hot and humid, making the working conditions here that much more difficult. While I have not been completely alone in the medical tent (7Song, an herbalist from Ithaca, New York was able to lend some assistance in the medical aid station using his skills in botanical medicine), it has still been a very busy and stressful time here. Stone went on a short R & R period, and returned a little awhile ago. So, for a period of time there I was the only clinician running the med tent, and it was a responsibility I took very seriously. I did move from my deluxe accommodations at Camp Dred, and took up residence on one of the cots in the medical tent. To be honest, I felt that the Camp Dred location was in some ways superior. It was relatively dark and it was much better ventilated than the tent. But still, the army cot served rather well as a bunk, and I was able to set up my camp stove on the table outside to do my laundry and make a pot of coffee. In separate containers, of course.
Though we did not take the brunt of Rita, there was still very bad flooding locally, so much so that the mobile hospital down the street evacuated its staff on Friday night, the day after I arrived here. I had not known this at the time, and it seems a little frightening that I would not have been able to rely on them for assistance for critical patients. Fortunately, no such patient presented themselves for treatment in The New Waveland General Hospital, as Stone has recently named it.
As I said before, the choice to stay or leave was totally up to each of us to make that decision on our own. However, I do wish it to be noted that my comrades and I remained in the parking lot of Fred’s through that dark time, and for their friendship and help, I am greatly thankful to all who remained. I am reminded of King Harry’s St. Crispen’s Day speech (and one of my favorite bits of Shakespeare) from Henry V; “We few, we happy few, this band of bothers. For he who fights with me this day is my brother. And gentlemen in England now a-bed shall think themselves accursed they were not here, and hold their manhood’s cheap whiles any speaks that fought with us upon Saint Crispin’s day!” Indeed friends, I do feel a part of something very important and vital, and am very aware that I am at this place in time at this spot on the planet Earth, and for all the hardship and misery I see around me, there is no place else I would rather be.
In my Clark Kent like alter ego, I have managed to hide my secret identity as a highly trained health care professional. Specifically, I have been engaged as both an EMT-Paramedic and an ER Nurse for over a quarter of century now. And for the first time in a long while I felt like I was someplace where I was making a difference. All these years of experience, all that training, and it all comes down to this moment in history. I feel like this is what I was born to be doing, that all those sleepless nights working EMS in the big city or spent dealing with any and all manner of trauma and illness day and day out in a busy hospital ER has prepared me for this specific place in time.
Many folks who had spent the past 2 weeks cleaning up from Katrina found whatever possessions they had left completely destroyed, and this 1-2 punch from Mother Nature has caused considerable havoc here. Nevertheless, we had our kitchen and medical aid station up and operating around the clock, and things have been accelerating since. This parking lot that has been my world for the past week is a main distribution depot for the Gulf coast, and we have been feeding and supplying many, many folks from the surrounding area. For the past several days, I have been the only medical person on site, and have had to deal with organizing our medical station while seeing patients at the same time. I am pretty much functioning as I would while back in the ED, with the exception of no doctors, no lab, no x-ray or CAT scans…, in short, nothing more than my clinical experience and judgment to guide me. I am fortunate enough to have some supplies, and would truly fear having to sit on a major case for anything more than a ½ hour. Most of the things I have seen here have primarily soft tissue injuries, such as lacerations of various sizes and depth, abrasions, sprains and headaches. But this also includes a fair share of sick patients. I have several folks here with chronic lung ailments, and I see them fairly frequently for their daily neb treatments. Fortunately, anything more serious than immunizations and IV hydration can be sent over to Carolina Med Center 1, the mobile field hospital sent here last week, and the folks I did a little bartering with a few days ago. This does not mean that we don’t get serious patients. We do. In the days before I arrived, Stone, the 2nd year med student who has been here since the beginning, had to treat a patient in congestive heart failure by himself.
This would not have been such a big deal with the mobile hospital close by, but it took the ambulance almost a half hour to get here. That is representative of the level of infrastructure that was destroyed here. When Katrina hit, a wall of water 20 to 25 feet high crashed over this town, destroying almost every building in its way. This includes both the police and fire departments. The Waveland Police Department headquarters, or should I say what’s left of it, is directly across the street. The fire department now consists of 2 tents and 2 working trucks. Both the cops and firefighters are living out of tents. Whatever EMS crews are left have been brought in from outside, usually private ambulance services on contract with FEMA, and as a result, either they are not available or not familiar with the area, so getting lost is a bit of a problem. Fortunately, we have a supply of cardiac drugs, so between what Stone and I have in place here, we can pretty much take care of the initial stages of a cardiac arrest or trauma patient. But that doesn’t mean we want to.
Everyone here is focused on doing the job, taking care of the citizens of southern Mississippi and Louisiana in whatever way we can. Toward that end, when I am not rendering care in the med tent, I’m either hauling around 20 pound bags of ice, carting away debris and trash or unloading supplies. The ice I particularly like, as it is so bloody hot and humid here that the water running out of the bagged ice feels so good soaking the back of my shirt. Man, that feels so good!
As I mentioned earlier, the medical tent was closed up tight when I arrived here on Thursday evening. Stone had basically been keeping things going for the past 2 weeks, and when I arrived, he had to leave to take a long deserved break. He came back yesterday, after hanging out at his cousin’s house in Tampa, doing little more than sleeping and taking showers for the past 3 days. I didn’t realize it at the time, but he dropped out of Harvard Med School for the semester to come down here and help out. This is really a big deal, as it adds another year to his medical training, and I think this kid has real guts to do that. I am honored to be working with him, as I am with all the folks from the Rainbow family, kids who could be anywhere else but here, working hard in the hot sun and in less than stellar conditions. They are all taking care of business, and I am proud of being a part of this effort with them.
Many of the local folk are leery of going to the big mobile hospital down the road. Although it is a very impressive outfit, it is usually very crowded and busy, just like any other Emergency Room you are liable to walk into, and as a result, a lot of folks much prefer to come to us. There are no forms to fill out, no papers to sign, no money to be charged or insurance to be asked for. This is health care as it should be, given to all in need without worrying about the patient's ability to pay. There are no administrators, no bosses, no insurance company executives to worry and fret about the bottom line. I know that this is not something that is sustainable over the long term, given the way our society currently provides health care for our citizens, but it should be. Health care unfortunately has become a racket in this country, with all the hospitals and insurance companies colluding with their political operatives to keep it a money making venture, as opposed to a needed public service to protect the health and well being of our citizens. I have heard a lot of talk over the years about how the invisible hand of the marketplace will make the delivery of health care affordable and efficient. I think that the invisible hand of the market has instead delivered a slap upside the head to the poor, working and increasingly, the middle class of this country. Well, the market has decided that over 40 million of our fellow citizens are not going to have health insurance. And as long as we allow the politicians from both major parties to dance away from their responsibilities to provide the common defense (by this I mean to include access to basic health care), we will always be at the mercy of accountants and bureacrats who could care less if your mother gets the chemotherapy drugs she needs to stay alive.
In further news, I have been visited at least several times a day by engineers from the company that designed this damned tent. It would seem that every geek in the area is coming to take a look at das ubertent from USAID. They seem quite happy to jabber excitedly among themselves as they run tape measures to and fro, take a few notes and a few pictures, then leave. For the most part that is fine since I don’t have to talk to them. And of course, the number of folks I’ve been treating has increased markedly in the past few days as well. I had a team of migrant workers from Mexico, brought here clear out all the downed trees with chain saws, come in for their immunizations. There were 6 of them that needed their shots, and in short order I had six chairs set up in a row, and telling them through their interpreter to come on in, sit down and roll up your sleeves. I nodded and smile enthusiastically as I mimmicked rolling up the sleeves of my own shirt, with them following my own example, nodding and smiling and talking amongst themselves while I ran to and fro amongst them with a boat of 4x4’s drenched in Betadine, swabbing off their respective deltoids. This was followed with a heavy drenching of isopropyl alcohol. It was like an assembly line, and I believe I had those lads out of there within 8 minutes, a shot of Hep A and TD vaccines in each of their respective arms. And they all said I didn’t hurt a bit. Really.
The relief operation is set up in the parking lot of a strip mall (named “Fred’s”) and has become the focal point for the community. Waveland is representative of so many other small towns along the coast, and seeing the amount of devastation here, it is obvious that this community, and the many others like, are not ever going to be the same. These people are proud and hard working, and they don’t want charity or pity. They only want some help to put their lives back to together. These people have lost so much, and are so grateful to all of us who have come down to help out. There are many groups here, some of them church based, others community organizations, all of them originating far from here, all responding to the call of fellow citizens in need of aid. Some of the local FEMA guys have really helped us a lot, in terms of supplies and equipment, but overall, the amount of waste I see from the both the federal government and The Red Cross is enough to make my stomach turn. Case in point was the huge amount of donated clothes I saw strewn about the parking lot my first night here. Piles and piles of clothes all over the place, soaked and not very useful. I saw those same piles of clothes scooped up with bobcat’s and loaded into large dumpsters.
This is one of most incredibly draining, heartbreaking and beautiful experiences of my life, and it is truly unfortunate that a certain institution with which I am affiliated was unable to mount an effective response to this tragedy. It would not take much to make a really effective aid station out of this place. A couple of residents, an attending physician and few hardy RN’s and ER Tech’s, and I believe we could really do a lot for many of these folks. Unfortunately, I don’t think that hospital administration shares my feeling about this, so it will be forever an opportunity not taken. Or, another way to look at this is; how could a crazy ER Nurse manage to come down here and do this on his own, but a major academic teaching hospital and medical center could not? I am also well aware that this is a question that will not be a welcome one to those accountable in hospital administration. But that is a pay grade and level of bureaucracy far above my own.
Yesterday, I was passing out band aids and giving tetanus shots when a young lady from Massachusetts, down here to help in the relief effort, shows up at the door of the med tent. She looked awful, in the dehydrated, heat exhaustion kind of way that most folks do, but in her case it was particularly bad. She had just enough time to say “I’m not feeling very well” well she dropped like a sack of potatoes onto the asphalt. Naturally, I stopped handing out band aids at that point and rushed
to her aid, tossing her in a fireman’s carry over my shoulder (Oy, my back!) and tossing her rather unceremoniously onto a green army cot. To make a long story short, she came to as I was putting an IV in her arm, followed with a couple of liters of saline intravenously. After a couple of hours, her color got much better, she cooled down and was able to hold the down the Gatorade I have been passing her, so I discharged her to custody of her sister, after a stern lecture about staying hydrated in this Godawful heat.
Earlier today, we had a few more heat casualties, both given IV fluids and feeling much better for our efforts. And unfortunately one of the volunteers from Texas had a heart attack, and we were able to treat him as well. I had been hanging out with him for the past several days, and came to think of him as a friend, so it was a little difficult to treat him as a patient. It turns out he had been having chest pains for 30 minutes, and with every question I asked him (How long have you had the pain, what does it feel like, where does it travel to…) the answers were all the wrong ones. Suffice it to say, Stone and I dropped what we were doing and started treating him right there. Monitor, IV, O2, Nitro and aspirin, and by the time ambulance arrived 20 minutes later, all they had to do was transport him. He said his pain was getting better by the time he left, and he got essentially the same kind of treatment he would have gotten in any good hospital ED. We later found out that he was transferred to a hospital in Slidell, and lost track of him after that. I do hope he is OK.
I know that I have been pushing myself to the limit physically, but right now, my health and well being doesn’t seem to be all that important. I want to try to wring as much as possible out of the time I have left here, and I also feel a moral obligation to all the folks who trusted me with money to get down here to do the job. The conditions are very difficult (I’ve had one shower since I arrived, and my trousers literally ripped apart while I was giving a TD immunization, with a subsequent visit to the cops across the street who hooked me up with a pair of BDU’s. That in particular was an extremely embarrassing event. I mean, how is a man supposed to save lives and alleviate suffering with a big rip in the front of his trousers, in an area that is all too easily exposed, if you know what I mean).
That being the case, I hope I am able to make some kind of a difference here. Despite the hardships and primitive working conditions, it will be very hard to leave here tomorrow morning. I have met so many people from so many places, and from so many backgrounds, all wanting to help out as best they can. Unfortunately, the need here will continue well past the point when I arrive back in the safety and comfort of my home in Virginia. I have been here only a week, yet feel like I’ve spent a year, and this experience has affected me greatly. My time here in Waveland with my freinds and comrades from Rainbow Family, the Bastrop Church of Christ, The 7th Day Adventists and all of the rest, affilliated with a some kind of diety or not is full of memories I shall never forget, and it has been an honor to serve with them. I think about the kind of society I want to live in, and the kind of man I want to be, and I think this experience shows that those dreams are possible.

Your most humble servant,

Subkommander Dred

Monday, October 10, 2005

Photo's from the Med Tent...

(Photo Credit: Corey)
The Stars and Stripes flying alongside the Earth and Rainbow flags.
A friend getting immunized with a Tetanus-Diptheria vaccine after being treated for a significant laceration to his leg. (Photo Credit: Corey)
Irrigating the wound with 2 liters of sterile saline and some Shurclens. The injury was then treated with a liberal amount of bacitracin and dry sterile dressings. No complications were noted with wound closure. (Photo Credit: Corey)

Stone, the man from Harvard. A true comrade and one of the hardest working medical students I've ever seen. (Photo Credit: Subkommander Dred)

Sunday, October 09, 2005

Open For Business

Open For Business
(Top) Weasel's Motorrad. Photo Credit; Subkommander Dred

(Below) A medical team member lends a hand to raise the main kitchen tent. Photo Credit; Special Agent Rick

Waveland, Mississippi
September 24, 2005

Dear Folks;
Even though it's 3 weeks after Katrina hit, this town is still in very bad shape. The people here are great, and are very appreciative of everything the volunteers have done. We are sharing a parking lot with a Baptist church group from Bastrup, Texas, who have just started returning to the area now that Rita has hit far west of us. Additionally, the 7th Day Adventists and civic groups from around the country are returning with a number of volunteers, such a college students from Maine and Massachusetts as well as Rotarians from Michigan and Shriners from Muncie. They have yet to arrive in any significant numbers, but already many more of the locals have come in today for hot food being served at one of the few bistros around, the New Waveland Café.
I slept fairly well last night in my hammock and tarp shelter. Though it was quite windy and raining buckets at times, fortunately my pitiful quarters lasted through the night and kept me dry and relatively comfortable. I find however that the constant noise of diesel powered generators set up on the parking lot a hundred meters away or so is enough to keep me wide awake despite the significant exhaustion I felt upon going to bed. Fortunately, I had prepared for such an eventuality, and thought to bring along a supply of earplugs, which I put to good use. I also managed to put to good use the needle driver I packed along with my medical equipment, as it proved equal to pulling the damn things out of my ears when I got up in the morning.
Breakfast was hot coffee and 100% organic milk, eggs, bacon and pancakes courtesy of the Organic Valley folks (“Don’t panic! Keep it Organic!” is their watch phrase) and indeed, except for the significant freakout that one comrade experienced yesterday, the panic did not spread and we remained, sitting through the bad weather and waiting to see if we got whacked by a tornado. Fortunately, we weren’t.
Today I was able to open up the medical tent and finally get things organized, up to and including putting up a large sign out front marked
"First Aid" complete with an American flag flying from the top. As it was, the tent, a half cylinder in structure, made of pvc tubing and Tyvek, was crammed to the roof with all manner of supplies. While a few cots were available, there was very little in the way of room in which to take care of patients. Therefore, I spent a good deal of the morning and afternoon clearing out the tent. Stone split earlier this morning, as I am now the capable professional on hand to staff the clinic and he needed to get the hell out of here for a few days for a little rest. One of the folks I’ve met down here, a comrade named Rick, volunteered to help out sort out the medical aid station, and we spent several hours moving boxes and inventorying supplies. Some of it was useful (bandages and dressing supplies, OTC drugs, vaccines) but a lot of it was completely useless. Like the 2 cases of Pap test kits, or the 5 abdominal surgery packs I found lumped with all the rest of not terribly useful items. Rick and I dumped what we thought we could trade into the back of my truck, and headed over to Med Center 1. Fortunately, the SWAT police officer at the gate recognized me from when I stopped by yesterday and called the equipment manager regarding my proposed deal. I was able to barter all of my useless stuff for a significant amount of supplies (splinting material, topical medicines, sterile saline) and returned to the clinic with more suitable provender.
More on Rick. Rick is originally from Florida, and I get the impression that life has been very difficult for him some years now. He showed up here in Waveland a few days ago to see if he could get a job cleaning out houses. In fact, he was on one job a few days ago, hired out to clean out what was left of a mechanic’s garage. Well, to hear Rick tell it, he goes through what was left of this building clearing out debris and pulling out tools when he came upon a large collection of women’s lingerie. You know, garter belts, nylons, that sort of thing. Suddenly, Rick was struck with the vision of a some large, overweight, hairy garage mechanic stripping off his coveralls and wearing only a whalebone leather corset and thigh high stockings. It was enough to make him run out of the building in need of a cigarette to calm his shattered nerves. At least, that is what he told me, anyway.
I have been running on lots of coffee, adrenaline and very little sleep, and no matter how much I do here, I feel like I need to do more. If i'm not working the medical tent, I'm hauling ice or moving supplies or mopping the kitchen floor with gallons of bleach. Everyone here is really helping out, and it makes me proud to be an American and restores by hope that as human beings, perhaps we have some promise after all, seeing how just average people from everywhere have come to this place in time and history to help their stricken countrymen. I sense that this is a moment in a nation’s consciousness where what we do today shapes the future of our society. All too often I have feared that when hard times should come to our land, we would be left to our own devices to survive. We have all learned the hard way that politicians and government officials are not going to make things happen, that it is up to us, as citizens, to make sacrifices and do our part, just as members of the human family have always come together to help one another. It is heartening to my soul to see the actions of my brothers and sisters here today. A lot of them are kids, in their late teens and early 20’s. They could be anywhere else on this planet, hanging out at home playing video games or some other equally worthless pursuit. Instead, they are enduring significant hardship and sacrifice to be here and help out in any way they can. And It’s not just kids, either.
I met a older comrade today by the name of Weasel. He’s a brother of a certain age with white hair and a long white beard, sporting all manner of tattoos on his arms and riding a Kawasaki dual sport that he piloted all the way from the mountains of North Carolina. He’s been down here for the past couple of weeks now, hanging out over at the senior center and helping to clean out elderly folks homes. He is a righteous dude, and I secretly envy his bike.
This afternoon, after I was able to get a small work area in the tent set up, I saw a few minor injuries and administered a dozen or so immunizations. I was also visited by the Mississippi Department of Health in the form of a Paramedic Examiner drafted into service as a facility inspector of sorts. The way he explained it, they were trying to get an idea who has set up shop in their backyard, and I was more than happy to oblige, showing him my credentials and giving a brief tour, such as it was, of the clinic. I was also visited by several engineer/ geek types, all curious to find out just how I was able to keep the medical tent from blowing away. It turns out that this tent was one of several which had been erected in the area, and it was the only one to withstand the winds we had experienced the day before. The structure is one of the few things of a concrete nature we have recieved from FEMA, as it was originally designed and purchased by USAID for use in disaster zones in other countries. Fortunately, the tent was anchored and reinforced along its sides with several thousand pounds of bottled water, stacked up 3 feet high along the outside and effectively pinning the skirt of the tent to the pavement, so as not to allow any significant wind gusts inside to blow it apart. The stacked water also served as a windbreak, and between that and keeping the tent buttoned up tight was what kept it together despite the high winds and rain we had experienced the nigh before.
I was quickly set upon by several very well meaning, studious types, all employee of the tent maker, who were busy taking notes and jotting down diagrams on a clipboard. One of them even had a tape measure and took a number of photos, mumbling to himself obscure load coefficients. They were all very excited and seemed to be in a slightly agitated state, in the way that engineer geek types are known to. I tried to answer their questions as best I could, but I usually find that in situations like that, it's best just to make an excuse and duck out for a cup of coffee at The Tornado Lounge (an army tent previously used as the reserve kitchen tent and now being used as a venue for music, coffee and cold smoothies) which I promptly did. Fortunately, after a few more minutes, they has satisfied their curiosity (for now) and I was able to return to my duties uninterupted.
I should really get to bed soon as tomorrow will probably be a bit busier and hotter than today, so I shall close here. A few weeks ago I would never have thought I would be in a place like this, and now it is hard for me to imagine being anyplace else. Funny how that is.

Your most humble servant,

Subkommander Dred

Tuesday, October 04, 2005

Welcome to The New Waveland Cafe, where people come from miles around for the best food on the Gulf Coast.

Arjay and comrades serving breakfast.

Amber taking a break in the kitchen.
The bus that wouldn't start.

Thaleda and Griffin preparing breakfast at the New Waveland Cafe.

7Song and Lauren with a K standing on whats left of US 90, facing east across Bay St Louis.

Day 1

Day 1

The New Waveland General Hospital
Photo credit: Subkommander Dred

Waveland, Mississippi
September 23, 2005

After hastily pitching my tent earlier this morning, I was able to get a few hours sleep. Although it was hardly restful, it was enough to recharge my batteries to some degree. I woke up about 5 am, and spent the hour making coffee on my camp stove and reorienting and securing my tent with additional tarps and stakes. I had thought of using the truck as a windbreak so as to prevent the tent from being blown away by the gale force winds we are expecting soon. The relief operation here has been scaled back for the next few days until Rita fully declares herself, but I think our friends further to the west of us will get the worst of it.
As a matter of fact, there have been a number of tornado warnings in this area over the course of the day. And this has caused a bit of a freakout amongst one of the comrades, particularly in light of the fact that his bus wouldn’t start and he was effectively stuck with the rest of us. We spent a very tense morning listening to reports of tornado warnings all over the immediate area. I thought we may have seen the start of a funnel cloud pass over, but even if this were not the case, the clouds did have a very ugly and business like feel to them. Fortunately, no calamities came to pass, but this did not prevent me from putting several large holes in my tent in the mad scramble to get ready to move. That being the case, I managed to scrounge some large tarps which I’ve strung from a couple of trees, and slung a hammock underneath. It’s not near as waterproof as my tent, but it has the advantage of being cooler (as in temperature, as well as overall hipness). Although the tent was watertight, it was also hot and stuffy, sort of like being housed in Saran Wrap. I’ve taken the liberty placing several wooden pallets (they are all over the place here, scattered about the parking lot to and fro, from which all manner of cargo had been delivered upon) on the ground underneath to work as a rudimentary floor. Of course, I did all this in the middle of several driving rain storms, and have been walking about soaked to the bone all day long. After a certain point, I don’t even try to stay dry anymore. I mean, what’s the point. Fortunately, a colleague of mine had contributed not only funds to this effort, but several bags of freshly laundered and more importantly DRY bathroom towels. At first I had been dubious about taking them, but it turns out that when going into an environment with heavy wind, rain and flooding, the prudent comrade takes along dry towels.
I had my first meal with the folks from the Rainbow Family while here in Waveland. There are a couple of buses (old school buses) from Wisconsin and North Carolina respectively. The folks from Wisconsin are a bunch of organic farmers, and they are also VERY good cooks. The chow was hot and welcome, and I fear that I shall dine on many a meal before I come upon one so well prepared as that which I have dined at the New Waveland Café. The kitchen is inside a large green army tent, complete with large burners, propane stoves and griddles. I wouldn’t go so far as to say the meals were free, as we were all paying a price to be there for that effort. But I never had to worry about being fed while I was there. The intelligence on the food has proven to be correct. Our operatives have done well.
On the bus from Wisconsin was painted a couple of cows and the saying “Don’t Panic, it’s Organic” painted in the side. There was another, smaller bus from Wisconsin painted green and with “Family Farm Defenders” posted along the side. The last vehicle belonged to a cat named Arjay. His was a large former school bus, the one that had neglected to start. A number of the folks were sleeping in them, along with a few campsites, such as my own, spread around the perimeter of the parking lot. Mind you, this is a strip mall in the middle of suburbia, a style of life and architecture that is of the sort that has destroyed so much of our country. Mini Marts, Diners, Porno shops…all of it completely trashed and abandoned. Almost like “The Road Warrior” only with a lot more water and no gas.
So far, I have met Jerome, a happening brother who knows how the play the drums, and Clovis, who comes off a northern good ol’ boy but has a good head on his shoulders, and who can also really cook! I have had the distinct pleasure of meeting Amber, a beautiful young comrade who’s been working hard at the New Waveland Café for several weeks now. She’s tough, she’s strong, she’s smart and she’s a babe! She is one hip sister.
Today I also met several of the local folks, and to hear them tell you what’s happened to them over the past several weeks is incredibly sad. One older man named Reynaldo had a house on the local bayou, and was flooded out when Katrina hit. He managed to move back in a few days ago, only to have to leave again this morning when the bayou flooded again, leaving a foot of water in his house. Another guy had his house and business destroyed, and his wife almost drowned when she refused to leave their house. So many people have lost so much here, and it’s obvious from the amount of damage this area has received that their lives will never be the same. A wall of water about 25 feet high rolled through this town (Waveland is right on the coast, and the beach is less than a mile from where I am) destroying everything that got in its way.
The fire department (what’s left of it) is located directly behind me. The fire station was destroyed early on, with only two engines and a couple of large dome tents for quarters. I ran into a couple of cops from Virginia shortly after I arrived last night, and their accommodations aren’t much better. One was a state trooper named Jason and the other a game Warden, whose name escapes me at present. As it happens, they were running low on batteries for there torches, and since I had thought to bring a large assortment of various batteries, I was able to help them out to some degree.
It is hard to look out around me and not cry at the incredible disaster that these people have lived through. I came here to do a job, and I hope I am able to contribute in some way to make their lives a little bit more bearable. A lot of the volunteers have been here for over 2 weeks now, and a large number of them will be heading home soon, including a contingent from Texas that is now eager to get back home and take care of things after Rita makes landfall.
I was able to travel around the city today. During daylight hours the curfew is lifted and there are no travel restrictions. Arjay, 7Song and Lauren with a K (yes, that is what I think she said) hopped into my truck we toured what was left of the town. Our first stop was the mobile hospital set up by Carolina Medical Center. It was quite an operation, indeed, the finest in mobile acute and emergency care facilities. But alas, it was also very crowded and very busy, just like any other large emergency department. That part never changes. It was then I decided that I would best be able to accomplish the most good by staffing the med tent at the New Wavelend Café as a triage/battalion aid station. Hopefully, if I could tend to some of the more minor stuff, it would help take the heat off Med Center 1. After that, we headed over to the senior center to inquire as to their needs. Fortunately, things seemed to be under control there, in the capable hands of a matronly woman whose name escapes me at present.
We spent the rest of that day trying to stay dry with little success and trying to put up a large tent. If you are interested in a good laugh, try imagining a bunch of folks standing around in the wind and rain, struggling and failing against the elements in the task of erecting a tent. Later in the evening, I had my first patient, a young woman who had fallen face first into a wooden platform, sustaining a nasty laceration the bridge of her nose. This woman was a truly hardy and tough sort, and that paired with her natural beauty and good hearted nature was enough to make me follow her to the gates of hell itself. Fortunately, no such duty was required, as thorough wound irrigation with saline and a dressing with dermabond was enough to repair the injury. I am anticipating a very good cosmetic result from this treatment.

Your most humble servant,

Subkommander Dred

Monday, October 03, 2005

On the road in the Southland

On the road in the Southland

What's left of US 90 across Bay Saint Louis
Photo Credit; Subkommander Dred

September 22, 2005
1400 Hours

Dear Folks;
I am currently sitting in the back seat of a rented pickup tapping out this latest missive whilst a capable comrade occupies the command chair of the
Vehicle. Heather, a woman from Ashboro, North Carolina contacted me yesterday via email, hoping to catch a ride down to Waveland. I picked her up around 1000 Hours in Lexington, NC, and now we are both heading westbound on I-85. Indeed, we have been making good time on the road, and are about cross over into Georgia (Sonny Perdue, Governor). We are hoping to make it to the relief site by about 2100 this evening. Though there is a 2000 to 0600 curfew in effect, I am counting on the fact that we are carrying medical supplies for the camp that we may be able to prevail on the local law enforcement agencies to allow us through.
Heather describes herself as a member of the Rainbow family, in much the same way as I am, and knows a few of the folks down there already. As for myself, I talked with Stone last night before I went to bed, and he sounded quite pleased that we were coming down. He assured me that our expertise and equipment will be quite welcome. Apparently, we have reliable intel that they have just opened a dining facility that can accommodate 500 folks at a sitting, and has became one of the relief ‘pods’ working on the Gulf coast. Indeed, I have heard it claimed from reliable sources that all of the local authorities say the Rainbow Family is providing the best eats to be had, far superior to the steady diet of MRE’s that all of the Army, National Guard and cops have been subsisting on prior to the kitchen’s arrival.
More later as it happens.

1850 Hours
Now in Alabama, about 30 miles west of Birmingham. We ran into some heavy rain just past Atlanta, and the sky is threatening more of same, but at present we are looking at some very impressive cloud formations with little rain to speak of. We keep passing a number of flatbed trailers with all manner of heavy trucks and humvees on the back, all heading in the same direction as us. I understand that Rita is now slated to make landfall a bit to the northeast of Galveston, but I don’t think that is going to impact the area where we are going with the exception of some heavy rain, but hopefully no hurricane force wind. As we travel further, the cloud cover is taking on an exceptionally vicious cast. And we are now starting to see signs of Katrina’s aftermath, even this far from the coast. Mostly downed trees along the side of the road.
Heather and I are currently looking for a place to get some good eats. I have tried to satisfy my appetite with a classic Alabama meal (pork rinds and a Dr Pepper) but alas it has only roused my appetite without retiring it. Oh great, we have just pulled up outside of Bates House of Turkey. I wonder if Norman is around.

September 23, 2005
0200 Hours
Heather and I arrived here about 2200 hours, well after curfew, as the very polite but firm young men with machine guns advised us at the roadblock just outside of town. A squad of Florida National Guardsmen backed up by the Florida Highway Patrol are manning a checkpoint several miles outside of town. I pulled the machine over to the side of the road while Heather put in a phone call to Stone. It was here that I first stepped out of the truck, only to step into some of the gooiest, most foul looking and probably toxic mud I have ever seen in my life. The place was covered with it, and the only way they could get this road back open was to send a couple of bulldozers through and push all that foul smelling nastiness to the side of the road, along with whatever car, boat or house was also caught up in this mess, floated to the middle of the road and in the way during the tidal surge. Neither of us was looking at the prospect of spending the night in the truck, and fortunately, the cell phone service was working well enough that we could communicate with our fellows. Apparently, this fellow Stone has some significant juice, as shortly after we called him, a Florida State Patrol cruiser was escorting us down the road. Even in pitch black darkness, the devastation that I could make out was pretty intense.
It looks like they are expecting winds and heavy rain here over the next few days, tropical strength, from the outer bands of Rita, so as a result a lot of the activity here has been suspended, with only a few cops, National Guard and a skeleton crew of volunteers remaining to reconstitute the kitchen and medical aid station when the storm has passed, probably around Monday or so. It was at this point that I made contact with the mysterious “Stone,” a nice Jewish boy with plenty of guts, and his colleagues, Sevensong (7song?) and Lauren with a K. (Yes, that is what she said). The medical tent itself is buttoned up tight, with all manner of medical and surgical supplies stocked in boxes and so completely taking up all of the space available as to make the practice of actually taking care of a patient in the medical tent impractical. Apparently, this is the only place they have to store supplies, and with all the wind and rain we are anticipating, it was thought to be prudent to try to protect what we have. Hopefully, if we don’t get whacked too badly, we may be able to set up and organize the med tent in a fashion more conducive to an effective clinical setting.
Stone, despite his youthful handsomeness, looks like 5 miles of bad road, as he has been rending care as best he could with limited resources, having to rely on his intuition and clinical judgment, sometimes 24 hours a day for the past week. I know of more than a few seasoned EM attendings who would have wilted under that kind of pressure. I am thoroughly impressed by his chutzpah and smarts, and think he would make a good Surgeon General. I shall reserve that post for him when I am finally able to gather the huge army of common citizens, working people, students, farmers, of Proud Negroes and White Trash, of young, old, gay, straight, long hairs, Angry Young Punks, crew cut rednecks…an army of the citizenry, enraged about the loss of individual freedoms and personal liberty, shocked out of stupor to and finally calling for accountability from their elected officials, who all to often do the bidding of their campaign contributors and highly placed friends, as the expense of the commonwealth and our republican form of government. An army that will march upon those who… blah, blah, blah…

But that is another rap entirely.

I have set up my tent, making sure it’s well staked to the ground, and put up a large blue rain tarp over top, which in turn is tied to the truck. If worse comes to worse, I can always hang out in the truck if need be, or one of the many buses that are scattered in the parking lot. It is truly a bizarre and eerily surreal site, as we have made camp in what’s left of a Waveland strip mall. I am too tired to write much more, so I shall sign off for now, and crawl into my sleeping bag.
One last note. It is my understanding that this area is under voluntary evacuation orders, and indeed is the reason why this place is so quiet and dark. There is a distinct possibility of significant flooding, perhaps to rival the tidal surge of 25 feet that swept over this city just a little over 2 weeks ago. This has given me great pause and concern, and while this news is indeed troubling, I refuse to abort this mission. To have driven all this way, only to turn back and run would seem such a cowardly thing to do now. I can not speak for how others may feel about this, and we each have to come to our own decision. I hold no ill will to anyone who feels the need to withdraw from this area, particularly if they are making the decision for a larger group for whom they are directly responsible to. However, as for myself, I feel that to run now would be abandon these folks down here. They have already been abandoned once, by their government, by my government, and I refuse to abandon them now. I am not looking to be a hero about this, but at present my life doesn’t seem all that important. Honor and duty are what this trip is about. Sacrifice. Hardship. Compassion and maybe even Love. If I wasn’t prepared to put myself into at least a little danger, then I shouldn’t have come at all.

Carpe Diem

Later as when I am able.

Your most humble servant,

Subkommander Dred

Sunday, October 02, 2005

On The Road

On The Road

Charlottesville, Virginia
September 21, 2005

Dear Folks;
I plan on heading out no later than 0600 tomorrow. I had given some consideration to borrowing a reserve ambulance the hospital owns (they have several just
sitting around, waiting to be deployed for odd emergency or two), fully stocked with
"donated" medical supplies and drive it down the disaster area in order to better aid this mission that I have tasked myself with. But the fact remains that however noble my cause, I think both my employer and the local, state and federal law enforcement authorities would take a dim view of such an act on my part.

They do have such a plebian view of these things.

Right then. My ultimate destination is Waveland, Mississippi where the Rainbow Family is running a kitchen in cooperation with the Bastrop (Texas) Church of Christ and the 7th Day Adventist Disaster Response team (ACTS). Additionally, they are also operating a small medical aid station. I was talking with a cat named "Stone" who was working CALM (the Rainbow Family version of a battalion aid station) and he was quite happy indeed that I was coming down to lend a hand.
I hope I will be of some help to those folks, and that this relief mission has at least some modicum of success. I have been extremely priviledged in that many of my friends and colleagues have donated supplies, and more importantly, CASH, to make this trip possible. To all who have contributed to help with this rescue mission to our beloved Southland, I shall be forever in your debt. Therefore, I feel a significant responsibility to provide the best care as I can, and to assist my countrymen in Mississippi in whatever way I may be of service.
Apparently, there is very reliable intelligence that the climate along the Gulf Coast is extremely hot with high humidity, so I have resigned myself to sleeping in a hammock and roasting in my own sweat. I should be ok, though, for I am packing in excess of 15 gallons of water and a big can of Gatorade mix. In case you are curious, I also have;
Kerosene, 5 gallons
Gasoline, 12 gallons
Propane, 20 lb tank
Assorted medical gear
Medical oxygen
Survival knife
Batteries, multiple, assorted types
Hand tools
Camping supplies
Laptop computer
Digital camera
Glow in the dark Buddha

This last I already had, and will be bringing it along
as a talisman to ward off any bad mojo that may come
my way. For added protection, I plan on placing a Jewish Mazuza along the doorframe of the truck. I've been looking for a plastic Jesus as well, but unfortunately none have been easily available. Hopefully God (or some reasonable facsimile thereof) will be my co-pilot. Not that Subkommander Dred is a religous man. Indeed, he is not. But, it never hurts to cover your bases, just in case. Why take a chance? After all, the prudent man is the prepared one.

Your most humble servant,

Subkommander Dred

Saturday, October 01, 2005

The strong brave and

This strong, brave and beautiful sister heeded the call, and has come to the aid of her country. Like the minutemen of 1775, she rallied to protect the country and save the promise of America, by helping her brothers and sisters in time of need.
The New Waveland Cafe
Waveland, Mississippi
Photo Credit; Subkommander Dred

September 15, 2005

Dear Folks…

The following is a letter that I sent to the Governor

Governor Mark R. Warner
Patrick Henry Building, 3rd Floor
1111 East Broad Street
Richmond, Virginia 23219

As a citizen of the Commonwealth of Virginia and
the United States of America, it is with great
astonishment and anger that I view the current
response by the federal authorities to this most
horrific disaster still unfolding along the Gulf
coast. Despite reports of daring helicopter rescues
and numerous individual acts of bravery and courage,
for whatever reasons, the dire need of our fellow
countrymen is nowhere near being adequately served
more than 4 days after Hurricane Katrina struck the Gulf Coast. For
reasons I cannot ascertain, the federal government in
particular has been either unwilling or unable to
mount the level of response needed to deal with a
catastrophe of such magnitude.
While I know that you have taken steps to ascertain
how best the Commonwealth could be of service in such
a disaster, I felt compelled to relay to you the sense
of urgency that I and many of my colleagues feel
regarding the serious public health threat that is
unfolding in New Orleans and elsewhere. A very serious
and dire emergency has presented itself to us, and we
are eager to play our part, not only as clinicians,
but as patriots. A prompt and robust response must be
Virginia’s course!
With the horror of the September 11, 2001 attacks
still only hours old, one of the greatest frustrations
that I and many of my countrymen endured was the
feeling of helplessness as the size of that disaster
unfolded, of being unable to do anything to help
mitigate the damage and destruction of that black day.
Have we learned nothing in the intervening 4
years? Have we forgotten how to rally around a nation
in crisis? Have we forgotten that we are citizens of a
grand democratic republic, with a duty to act when the
country is in danger?
Let history remember that when our countrymen
needed help, it was the Commonwealth of Virginia that
came to their aid. Let the world know what when
America was in danger, Virginians have time and again
rallied to her side. From the founding of our Republic
to the present day, from the time of Washington,
Jefferson and Madison, the sons and daughters of the
Commonwealth has never shied from the call of duty.
We ask only for leadership and support.

Your most humble servant...

Well, as you may have expected, I have yet to hear
from the Governor. As for my appeal to hospital
administration, it was met with a fairly lukewarm
response, largely consisting of a pat on the head for
being such a concerned person, along with an
unofficial reprimand from my supervisor, who got a
phone call from some nabob in the hospital CEO’s
office who was rather irritated that a low level grunt
in the Emergency Room had the temerity to bother
senior management with such a request for action. I
had specifically stated, in a respectful manner, that
surely an institution as venerated as ours
would be able to mount a robust and effective response
to this disaster, and that many of my colleagues as
well as myself were eager to do our part. The bungling
of this disaster response has caught many of our
public and private institutions with their pants down.
Almost 3 weeks into this mess, it appears that little
is actually happening on the ground to address the
basic needs of a large number of our countrymen.
It has become apparent by now that the institutions
that our society has depended on traditionally are not
capable, for whatever reason, to adequately meet the
needs of such an unprecedented disaster. I am not
casting blame or looking for a whipping boy in making
such a statement, but merely telling the truth. I am
ashamed of our government, and at our society for
allowing this easily foreseeable disaster to occur without adequate preparation.

In short, is has become a true Clusterfuck.

However, given the poor level of state, federal and NGO
response to this catastrophe, it has fallen to the
average citizen, either working alone or in concert
with their sisters and brothers, to provide some kind
of assistance to those who have lost so much from this
natural and manmade disaster. While I am ashamed of
my government, I am very proud of my fellow Americans
that have gone to New Orleans, or Gulfport or
elsewhere in the disaster area to aid in the relief
Now, you all have known me for a long time. And over
the years I have come up with some crazy ideas, some
of them to my detriment. However, the most recent
crazy idea I think has some merit, and I wanted to
talk with you about something that has been brewing in
my mind ever since the extent of the damage from
Katrina became known. I strongly feel that it is now
up to the common citizen of our republic to respond in
a concrete way, to help our fellow countrymen in their
time of need. I am certain that many of you have
already donated to one of the many charities that have
been organized to respond to the Katrina disaster, and
while fundraising and asking for money is something
that I feel pretty uncomfortable with, given the
context of the situation at present, my comfort level
is pretty unimportant. Hence, the purpose of this
As it happens, I have taken a week off from work
in late September, initially to attend the American
College of Emergency Physicians conference in DC.
Given the level of distress still in the Gulf states,
I think going to a convention at this point is not
only a waste of my time, but makes a mockery of the
things I believe in both as an American and a member
of the human family. I cannot criticize my government
if I am not willing to do something more than say
‘ain’t that a shame’ and put a few bucks in the
collection plate. Thus, I am going to bag going to
ACEP and head down to Mississippi to work at a soup
kitchen/medical aid station recently set up in
Gulfport. This particular operation is put together by
a group of folks called the Rainbow Family, who I have
had the occasion to hang out with most recently during
the annual Gathering in West Virginia this past
summer. To give a complete rundown of who and what
they are would be beyond the scope of this posting. If
you are inclined to do so, you may check them out on
your own (Wikipedia has a good article with links on
what the Rainbow Family is all about). The short
version is that they are bunch of like minded folks
who are bound together only by their reverence for the
earth and their desire to be a force for positive
change in the world. Or at least, that’s my interpretation. There are no dues, no hierarchy,
no religion or dogma of any kind to follow. And the
fact that they have extensive experience in setting up
kitchens and providing the services needed for a large
group of people, often in wilderness settings, makes
them particularly able to respond in a way of great
significance to such a disaster that has befallen our
country. Thus, in some way, shape or form I am going
down there at the end of the month to do whatever I
can to help out. Of course, if any of you are so
inclined, I would be more than delighted to have you
come along and contribute in what ever way you could.
Right now, I am thinking about renting a van and
loading it up with tools, material and whatever other
relief supplies I can beg, buy or steal (all for the
common good, of course) and drive down. I am looking
to leave Town on 9/22 and return here on
However, and this is the weird part that I am
having a hard time with, if you could see your way to
sending along a few dollars to help out with this
endeavor, it would go a long way to making this trip
worthwhile. I figure that between the cost of renting
the van, the fuel to get there and back and procuring
enough supplies to have an impact will cost in the
range of $2000 to $3000 dollars, which for a man of
modest means such as myself is a considerable sum. For
that, you get a week of me (and whoever else I can get
to come along) working in the disaster zone, doing
whatever I can to help out. If I have to, I’ll charge
the whole deal on a credit card and deal with
consequences later. It’s not the optimum solution, but
I am quite willing to do so if need be.
Friends, I realize that this is not the usual rant
you would have expected from your humble working boy.
But we are living in unusual times, and since it has
become obvious that our elected officials, at all
levels, are not up to the task of providing for the
common defense and protecting our citizens from all
enemies, foreign or domestic (this includes hurricanes
and inept disaster planning), I have come to the
conclusion that until our government can get their act
together and start looking out for the interests of
the common citizen, it is up to us for make the
promise of America ring true again.
Call me crazy. Call me angry. Call me frustrated.
But most of all, call me an American.

Your most humble servant,

SubKommander Dred