Thursday, March 02, 2006

Dr Elks Medicine Show

Dr Elk’s Medicine Show

Blasting west along I-10, Fiona was in the last stretch of a thousand mile hell-ride she had begun long before dawn this morning. Stopping only for gas, food and exhaustion, the Dakar had remained a faithful servant, as bike and rider… woman and machine coming together on this mad dash to the Gulf. As the mendacity and mediocrity of her institutional and governmental leaders expanded to record (if not outright criminal) incompetence, her anger and frustration with the response to such a public health catastrophe grew with each passing day. How could a person look at what was happening along the Gulf Coast and not feel an obligation to help?
Fiona was now in the last few miles of  her high speed, cross country run, and she was very tired, buffeted by wind and rain squalls, slowing but never stopping her. She had ridden cross country before on a bike, years ago as a wild teen dropout, bought a motorcycle and took to the road. But that was a long time ago, and her body was not as quick to forgive episodes like this nowadays. This was the first time she had tried such a long run in such short time. Given the urgency, even at 2 weeks post impact, things were as bad, if not worse in some places, one of which she was headed to know. As Fiona was contemplating this thought and others, suddenly the 650 cc GS motorcycle (with attached sidecar, packed to the gunwhales with MRE’s, bottled water, assorted tools and survival gear) had a near-miss with the debris of a metal billboard. A gust of wind had picked up the piece of sheet metal from the side of the road, hurling it like a missile, missing the front tire and slamming with a ‘thud’ off Fiona’s crash armor. She barely had enough time to realize what had happened, much less react, and it was all she could do after the fact to pull the bike over to the side of the highway, dismount, undo her full face helmet, and puke.
   “Damn that little prick! Damn him all to hell!” she screamed, cursing the small, stupid man in the Executive Mansion for the 1728th time in the past 24 hours, reverting to Charleton Heston Mode for emphasis. She made a very weird site out there along the side of the highway, a BMW Motoraad ridden by a small woman with short red hair and lots of freckles dressed as a fugitive from some kind of ‘Mad Max’ alternate universe, hurling her lunch and cursing a blue streak. Fiona had been on the road since before dawn, and though she was very close to her destination, it had been the most stressful and dangerous motorcycle ride of her life.
Fiona stood after a few moments, and steadying herself, walked back over to the bike, fished around in the bowels of the tank bag and took out a thermos of stale, cold coffee. She took are large swig, swished it around, spat on the pavement, repeated, and took a large gulp. It tasted awful, but she needed the caffeine.
  “So, this is Mississippi.” she said to herself, looking off into the evening gloom. But instead of the usual fry shacks and used car dealerships, it was utter destruction. Suburban McMansions ripped apart like Lincoln logs. SUV’s by the dozens floating in the bayou. A 150 foot, 300 ton shrimper, the Spartina Marie, lay on its side, 2 miles from the coast. This close to ground zero, no structures of any significance remained undamaged, and a great many completely destroyed. The ugly blight of giant metal highway billboards had been turned into an abstract artist’s version of a post-industrial-apocalyptic mutant forest of scrap metal.
     Fiona took another good, long swig of bitter coldness. She could see more debris and dead animals along the side of the road. Due to the danger of flying debris and worsening weather from Rita, Katrina’s evil sister lurking off in the Gulf, Fiona had cut her speed way down, making a long journey more so. Even though she was tired and in need of food and sleep, she was determined to get to New Hancock by curfew. The last thing she wanted was to crack up herself or her bike in the last few miles of his journey.
Further west on I-10, she followed the interstate, then turned for the exit that would take her into New Hancock. As she descended the highway off ramp and turned left at the bottom, Fiona noted a couple of flashing blue lights and a large industrial grade work light about a ¼ mile ahead on the right.
Slowing and pulling over to the side of the road, Fiona came upon a unit of soldiers from the Florida National Guard. As she rolled out of the darkness, Fiona must have looked a very peculiar sight indeed, helmet and leather duster covered almost black with the remains of dead lovebugs, large swarms of which she had to ride through earlier in the day. Killing the Dakar’s engine and doffing her helmet, she proceeded to explain to a fresh faced sergeant from Dade County (a claims adjuster when not confronting insane biker chicks in the middle of disaster areas) what her business was.
  “Uh, Ma’am, can I help you?” stuttered the nice young man carrying a machine gun.
“It’s more like, can I help you?” replied Fiona, undoing the chin strap on her helmet.
   “Uh…I don’t think I know what you’re getting at, Ma’am?”
  “The reason why I’m here. Why else to you think I came all this way, packed all this equipment and suffering a butt rash the size of Arkansas ever since I hit Hattiesburg? I’m here as a physician to help however I can. I’m pissed off about this continual circle jerk of politicians posing for pictures while my fellow citizens get screwed, and I decided to come down here and do something about it. These are my bona fides, and I would greatly appreciate it if you could let me by so I can get to the relief station set up in town. I’m down here at the request of a colleague to help provide medical care at a first aid station.”
Fiona was off the bike now, stiff, sore and beat but very glad to get off the machine. She had taken off her helmet, revealing what was not a conventionally pretty face. Indeed, at first glance, she could have been mistaken as ‘plain’ or ‘average.’ Nothing could have been further from the truth. Fiona Elk was about as far from ‘plain’ or ‘average’ as a woman could get. In fact, many folk, after the briefest of interactions, come away with the impression of her as a cross between Janis Joplin, Lt. Ellen Ripley (the Sigourney Weaver character in “Aliens”) and a matronly sort of Cub Scout Den Mother, tough as nails but loving and gentle, teaching the kids how to start a garage band, skin a rattlesnake for their survival merit badge, or how to bake cupcakes for the bake sale.
       Sergeant Mandrake (as denoted from the patch on his battle tunic) looked at Fiona quizzically for a moment, then took the proffered documents (Fiona’s hospital ID, physicians license and business card) and held a brief conversation with his assembled comrades, all of whom were now staring intensely at the small woman with the motorcycle and of town plates.
Dr Fiona Elk, MD, Associate Professor of Emergency Medicine, Jesuit University Medical Center, Washington, D.C. had come a far distance. Unfortunately, she had failed to make curfew by about 30 minutes. And though the nice young men with machine guns were pleasant and polite, they were firm in that she was NOT going to be allowed in without an escort.
“I’m sorry, doc. Orders.”
“Yeah, I know all about orders. All right, sarge. Is the cell service around here working?”
“It’s been intermittent at best, Ma’am. I was able to call my wife about an hour ago, but otherwise it’s pretty haphazard.”
Fiona took out her phone, and seeing that the antenna signal was good, punched in the numbers and waited. Lloyd picked up on the 3rd ring.
“Lloyd, this is Fiona. From D.C. I talked to you yesterday. Did you get my email? I’m here now, just outside the checkpoint. I just missed curfew. Can you get me in?”
  “Wow, you made it. Cool! You mean, you really came all that way on a motorcycle?”
said the wide awake and enthusiastic voice at the other end.
“Yes, I really did. And I am really, really tired, and I would like to just put up my hammock and sleep for a little while. So, you think you can get me into your camp?”
  “Yeah, sure, Fiona! Anything you need! I got a nice cop from Florida here at my side and he is right now, as we speak, getting into his patrol car and coming to fetch you, so he should be there in about 5 minutes.”
Fiona rung off and thought about the long, strange journey she had undertaken. Her anger at the ‘official’ response to the gulf disaster had grown with each passing day, and it was made all the worse by keen avoidance for blame or accountability, or even outright fraud in the midst of such an awful and completely predictable disaster. The final straw came 2 days ago, when, hard at work in her vocation as an ER doc in the nation’s capital, the intoxicated congressman she was taking care of (who was so drunk he had fallen down some stairs and cut open his head) began to rant mercilessly about all those “Useless niggers and white trash down in Crackerville, drowning in their own filth.” Perhaps it was that, or the fact that while Fiona was sitting there, stitching up this pig’s head, he suddenly made a grab for her tit. Or maybe she was just fed up with all of it, her life in the big city, her big deal and highly prestigious but (increasingly) frustrating position as clinical faculty at a prestigious medical center…whatever it was, by the time she had been pulled away from the distinguished gentlemen from Virginia’s throat (which she had grabbed with both hands and attempted to strangle with all her strength in response to the Family Research Council’s  “Family Man of the Year” groping of her) by several of the congressmen’s aides and hospital security staff, she had decided that the only thing left to do was to go down south and see what she could do to help.  Hospital administration eagerly assisted her on this course, as they suspended her pending their “investigation” of the events surrounding here care and subsequent attack on the Democratic-turned-Republican congressional representative from Stony Mount. Getting out of town for a while had suddenly become an option not previously available to her, given the hectic and busy schedule of a woman in her position. That led to a series of phone calls, which led to email contacts, which is how she found out about this particular spot on the coast of Mississippi that had sustained the greatest damage yet was still in desperate need of help. Which led to her being escorted by a Florida Highway Patrol officer, blue lights flashing, past the checkpoint into town, and finally to the end of her journey, the New Hancock Café.

    Fiona was guided into the parking lot of the remains of a strip mall along Route 90, pulling into a maze of old school buses, retrofitted for long term living while mobile and painted all manner of colors, along with a number of tent’s and even a few Tipi’s set up further back. With the fury of Rita threatening not far off shore and local bayous already beginning to flood again, a large number of the volunteers had already left, leaving the entire parking lot feeling like an abandoned logistics depot, with all manner of canned goods, bottled water, food and MRE’s stacked head high. However, a hardy and dedicated band of volunteers had chosen to stay, and it was with the Rainbow family that Fiona hooked up with. Think of a mix of earthy, crunchy hippies, salty road dogs, new-agers, geeks, freaks, rednecks, bikers and angry young punks who spontaneously showed up in the middle of a disaster zone to help out their fellow citizens. A week before Katrina a wandering caravan such as this would have been run out of town. Now, they were not only welcomed with open arms for the aid and sustenance they were providing, gratis, to the good citizens of the gulf, but were camped directly in front of the police station and given around the clock protection from looters and other bad folk. Fiona knew she had come into a completely different world than the one she had left in D.C., and all through the next week, her time and experience here would do more to effect her life than anything before.
   Lloyd and Fiona made an unlikely team over the week to come. Lloyd, the nice Jewish boy skipping his 4th year at Harvard Med to be here (“a form of independent study” he called it) and Fiona, the cool biker chick/ ER doc, running a MASH like aid station, seeing all manner of ailments, from cuts to vaccinations to the more serious cardiac and emergent medical stuff. Despite the chronic lack of sleep, the sweltering heat and humidity, the smell, the trash and hardship, they couldn’t work hard enough. When they weren’t seeing patients, she was hauling ice or putting up tents while he ran a forklift, or they would both hang out with Weasel, an older biker brother with a long white beard, down from North Carolina on his KLR 650, helping out the elderly folks clean up their homes, volunteering their time. As the threat from Rita declared itself elsewhere and the relief operations resumed in full gear, in the following days it was to become a great and grand mix of America; hippies, punks, Baptists from Texas, 7th Day Adventists from Florida, Shriners from Jersey and Rotarians from Michigan, straight, gay, black, white, brown, from all over the country…from all over the globe…they all came together, as common citizens, to help their neighbor and fellow members of the human family. The support from FEMA or the Red Cross, despite the help of a few dedicated individuals on the ground, was almost non-existent. Despite that (or maybe because of it) this newly formed community became a place of life and love and even laughter once again.
    Fiona was cynical enough to know that it would not last, this new utopian vision in the midst of such apocalyptic destruction, but she was also enough of an idealist to still hope for something better. And to be honest, this feeling of community and partnership was something very potent and unique, much stronger than any drug she had ever taken. It left her wanting more. “It allowed me to live in a society that is better than the one I live in now” she later wrote in an email to a friend, “and allowed me to be the person I knew I could be.” Alas, like all good things…

  …it came to an end with a phone call from one J. Mitchell Hopkins, MD, chief of staff, Jesuit University Medical Center.
“Fiona, I need you to come back here. The hospital lawyers have some questions for you about your assault on the congressman.”
  “Look, I’m a little busy here. And that son of a bitch groped me. He’s lucky I didn’t have a scalpel in my hand or I might have slit his throat.”
“Now, Fiona, you shouldn’t say such things…”
“Can’t this wait until I get back. And besides, why haven’t you responded to my request to bring down a medical team?
   “Dr. Elk, the disposition of hospital personnel must be coordinated at the Federal level, and that is not your area of responsibility…”
“Listen to me as hard as you can and try to concentrate on the sounds coming out of my mouth. I am willing to put together a volunteer team of EMT’s, RN’s and doctors, all on my own time. All I need from you is that huge Tonka toy you conned half a million dollars out of the Department of Homeland Security for.”
“Doctor, as I have explained to you time and again, I am afraid the deployment of the Disaster Response Unit is also out of your area of responsibility. Now, if you don’t mind, I would greatly appreciate it if you caught the next flight back here and made this meeting with hospital counsel. There are very serious ramifications…”
                 She hung up on him in mid sentence, turning off her cell phone so he couldn’t call back. “OK Jackoff,” she said quietly. “You want a meeting. You got it.”
    The flight from Gulfport to Washington National was crowded but uneventful. Among the passengers, Fiona noted a few of the more prominent political apparatchiks from inside the beltway up in first class, living it up on the public dollar after a short run down to the distressed Gulf states for photo ops with the rubes, before jetting back home in time for afternoon cocktails at the Cosmos Club. She managed to keep herself under control until the plane landed, when after she had deplaned, she spotted one of the more officious executive branch geeks, the hapless and most recently infamous Assistant Secretary of Disaster Response, give an incoherent and completely self serving interview while dodging questions regarding his last posting as legal counsel for the Daughters of the American Revolution, his only professional qualifications.
   “You’re doing a great job there, Brownie. Keep up the good work...Wanker!” she yelled out as she casually walked by, making direct eye contact with the fool before she moved on.
    “Now, Dr. Elk, what you really have to understand” started J. Mitchell Hopkins, MD, FACS, distinguished chief of staff at Jesuit Medical Center, “is that we take the safety and security of our patients here very seriously…”
They were sitting in Hopkins’s penthouse office, with a commanding view of the DC skyline beyond and the university quad below. In attendance were several hospital lawyers, but the only ones engaged in conversation were the two physicians in the room. The discussion was far from collegial.
“Stop. Stop right there. Now you listen to me, and you listen to me good. I just came out of a place where the closest working hospital is over an hour away. The stink and the heat and humidity cling to your body 24 hours a day. I met families that lost everything they own, including loved ones. I took care of one woman, she had fallen and broken some teeth, and while I was treating her in the stifling heat of that place, she just started crying and sobbing. I told her it was OK and she would be fine, then she told me that no, it wasn’t going to be fine, it was never going to be fine, ever again. And then she told me her son and his family had been missing since the storm, and his house was completely destroyed by the high water…”
There was a silence in the room for a moment.
“Fiona, that’s very heartwrenching but I don’t think you understand just how much influence Congressman Dooge has on the appropriations committee for N.I.H. which is directly responsible for a lot of our funding. Now, I am certain he regrets his behavior, but really, Doctor, your own conduct in this matter has been less than professional…” started Dr. Hopkins.
“You know, I will never really understand your kind. With people like you, it’s all just so much smoke and mirrors. You want a grand P
  “For reasons I can’t understand, whether it’s incompetence, or laziness, or both, this august facility, with it’s rich history of service to the nation, with all of the resources at it’s disposal can’t spare sending not much more than the functional equivalent a few band aids and Tylenol. You are a joke, our conversation is over, and this meeting has been a waste of my time. You’ll get my resignation when I’ll have a chance to type it up. I quit.”
About 20 minutes later, after she walked out of Hopkins’s office and leaving the assembled suits with expressions of disbelief, Fiona was in the hospital garage, after first carefully lifting the keys to her new ride. The EMS office, as usual, was unlocked and unoccupied. Looking back on it, it’s really amazing the medical center didn’t lose more vehicles that way. After all, you would think something like a $500,000 specially equipped disaster vehicle would be a little more carefully guarded from damage or theft. Indeed, Fiona was planning on writing an email to that effect to her former colleague, Dr. Hopkins, along with her letter of resignation, whenever she got around to doing so.
The DRU was a substantial machine, not unlike the heavy rescue squad she used to drive as a volunteer EMT all those years ago. She settled into the driver’s seat, switched on the batteries, turned over the diesel engine, and as it roared to life, she took a moment to look around and familiarize herself with the interior.
Shifting into drive and pulling into late the afternoon traffic, Fiona eased onto Foxhall Road and out of the city. Seat belt on, window rolled down and air blowing freely into her face at 70 mph, Fiona tuned into a local radio station. She was last seen heading south, listening to Cream’s “I Feel Free.”

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

Democracy to Dictatorship in 5 years or less...

Democracy to Dictatorship in 5 years or less…

Charlottesville, Virginia
December 19, 2005

Brothers, Sisters, Citizens, Comrades!
    I think by now that my thoughts on freedom, democracy, respect for individual liberty and the inherent, inalienable rights of all people, not just those lucky enough to be born in our great country would be plain for all who are regular readers of this blog (all 2 of them). Alas, the news that the continuing criminal enterprise that constitutes the administration of George W. Bush has engaged in blatantly illegal domestic spying on our own citizens comes simultaneously as no great revelation and yet another outrage against our constitutional form of government.  It’s not enough that George II conducts illegal wars of aggression dressed up in the language of democracy and liberation, or that he bankrupts our country at the expense of his rich buddies, or that his environmental policies will make the planet an unlivable place to live for our children and generations to follow. No, apparently that is not enough. It’s not enough that “terror suspects” are captured off the streets of other sovereign nations, and sent to secret prisons to be mercilessly tortured (is there any other kind?), whether or not they actually had anything to do with terrorism or even have committed any crime at all.
     No, now it appears that we are living in a dictatorship, where the actions of the political elite are now considered above the law. I am not sure which is worse: The cheap political hacks that are running this country into the ground, or the mainstream media that eagerly does its bidding. My outrage and indignation at the level of incompetence, mediocrity and outright lies of the current administration is matched only by my disgust of the whores of the media-industrial complex, all too eager to please the powers that be for “access” to the highest levels of idiocy that now constitutes our federal government.  How could such a state of affairs exist in our once grand democratic republic?
     Now comes the news that our own government is now spying on us based on not on the legal findings of a judge (as set forth in a rather quaint document called The Bill of Rights) but on the capriciousness and whims of one man. And a rather stupid one at that. To those who say that we should let the president do what he thinks best in the “Global War on Terror,” my response is, would you feel the same way if Bill Clinton (or, God forbid, perhaps even Hillary someday) decided to engage in the same type of criminal behavior? Why, the pundits and pinheads at Fox News, Newsmax, Free Republic , The Wall Street Journal and others of their ilk would fall into fits of apoplexy of such anger and derision as to require the administration of large amounts of tranquilizers, administered at short range with a dart gun, to prevent the amassed  blowhards of various stripes from running amok in the streets, spewing out their collective hot breathed rantings at the blatantly illegal and unconstitutional acts of the Commander in Chief.
  I pulled the following article off the MSNBC/Newsweek website. I think it speaks for itself:
Dec. 19, 2005 - Finally we have a Washington scandal that goes beyond sex, corruption and political intrigue to big issues like security versus liberty and the reasonable bounds of presidential power. President Bush came out swinging on Snoopgate—he made it seem as if those who didn’t agree with him wanted to leave us vulnerable to Al Qaeda—but it will not work. We’re seeing clearly now that Bush thought 9/11 gave him license to act like a dictator, or in his own mind, no doubt, like Abraham Lincoln during the Civil War.
No wonder Bush was so desperate that The New York Times not publish its story on the National Security Agency eavesdropping on American citizens without a warrant, in what lawyers outside the administration say is a clear violation of the 1978 Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act. I learned this week that on December 6, Bush summoned Times publisher Arthur Sulzberger and executive editor Bill Keller to the Oval Office in a futile attempt to talk them out of running the story. The Times will not comment on the meeting, but one can only imagine the president’s desperation.
The problem was not that the disclosures would compromise national security, as Bush claimed at his press conference. His comparison to the damaging pre-9/11 revelation of Osama bin Laden’s use of a satellite phone, which caused bin Laden to change tactics, is fallacious; any Americans with ties to Muslim extremists—in fact, all American Muslims, period—have long since suspected that the U.S. government might be listening in to their conversations. Bush claimed that “the fact that we are discussing this program is helping the enemy.” But there is simply no evidence, or even reasonable presumption, that this is so. And rather than the leaking being a “shameful act,” it was the work of a patriot inside the government who was trying to stop a presidential power grab.
No, Bush was desperate to keep the Times from running this important story—which the paper had already inexplicably held for a year—because he knew that it would reveal him as a law-breaker. He insists he had “legal authority derived from the Constitution and congressional resolution authorizing force.” But the Constitution explicitly requires the president to obey the law (emphasis mine…SKDRED) and the post 9/11 congressional resolution authorizing “all necessary force” in fighting terrorism was made in clear reference to military intervention. It did not scrap the Constitution and allow the president to do whatever he pleased in any area in the name of fighting terrorism.
What is especially perplexing about this story is that the 1978 law set up a special court to approve eavesdropping in hours, even minutes, if necessary. In fact, the law allows the government to eavesdrop on its own, then retroactively justify it to the court, essentially obtaining a warrant after the fact. Since 1979, the FISA court has approved tens of thousands of eavesdropping requests and rejected only four. There was no indication the existing system was slow—as the president seemed to claim in his press conference—or in any way required extra-constitutional action.
This will all play out eventually in congressional committees and in the United States Supreme Court. If the Democrats regain control of Congress, there may even be articles of impeachment introduced. Similar abuse of power was part of the impeachment charge brought against Richard Nixon in 1974.
In the meantime, it is unlikely that Bush will echo President Kennedy in 1961. After JFK managed to tone down a New York Times story by Tad Szulc on the Bay of Pigs invasion, he confided to Times editor Turner Catledge that he wished the paper had printed the whole story because it might have spared him such a stunning defeat in Cuba.
This time, the president knew publication would cause him great embarrassment and trouble for the rest of his presidency. It was for that reason—and less out of genuine concern about national security—that George W. Bush tried so hard to kill the New York Times story.
© 2005 Newsweek, Inc. Jonathan Alter, reporting

     So then. What is a patriot to do? Write my congressman? Pen a letter to the editor? Confront those in power and tell them to go to hell? Have a protest? Refuse to pay taxes? March on the White House leading an army of White Trash and Proud Negroes, Freaks, Geeks, Stoners, Nerds, Aging Hipsters, Angry Young Punks, Brothers, Sisters, Gay, Straight, Unaffiliated, armed with slingshots, baseball bats, motorcycle chains or perhaps shotguns loaded with rock salt and bacon fat, take over the reigns of our government and restore our once grand constitutional democracy by mob rule? What is the course that we must follow? Are we to let our great nation, founded by the likes of Thomas Jefferson, George Washington, James Madison (fine Virginians and patriots all, despite their profound faults and prejudices), protected and defended at great cost in blood and treasure over the past 230 years, only to be turned into a parody of a brutish police state by a cheap, two-bit authoritarian regime, who’s efforts would be laughable if they weren’t all too real?
    Friends, I don’t know what the answers to these questions are. I think we are all going to have to look within ourselves and find our own course of action to take. But I want to end this short communiqué with a quote from another great American (and Virginian) Patrick Henry. “Give me liberty, or give me death.”

Your most humble servant,

Subkommander Dred

Saturday, November 26, 2005

Senator Robert Byrd and the war in Iraq

Comrades, friends and fellow citizens;
There are a great many politicians in our country today, from both of the major parties, that seem to strive for a level of mediocrity that not only cheapens our republic but threatens its very existence. However, Senator Robert Byrd of West Virginia is not one of them. His eloquence and rhetoric are matched only by his love for our country, and as evidence I thought I would post his most recent speech in the Senate.

Senator Byrd on Iraq and VP Cheney
Mr. President, if we look out the window in most of our great country, we can witness the season change. The air has become crisp with autumnal chill. The leaves on the trees change color: from the exuberant, green lushness of the summer months, to the tired brown, yellow and red of autumn, much like the graying hair of a man advancing in age.

Nature can sometimes mimic human events with a subtlety that no words can quite convey. As our country heads into the season that is celebrated with the love of family and home, Americans should also look across the landscape of America and reflect upon the loss of so many young Americans in the twelve months since autumn last fell upon us. In the past year, more than 820 service members have lost their lives in Iraq.

The evening news features pictures of American troops who have perished in service to our country. I am struck by these colorful mosaics of these troops: the green and blue of their uniforms, set against the background of the bold colors of our flag. Each of these proud troops holds an expression of pride and courage, even though many of them appear to be so young -- 18 or 19 years old.

I can only imagine the grief of their loving families during this time of the year, as the somber tones of fall contrast with the joy of being with family during the upcoming holidays. I pray that God will comfort those who have suffered losses, that He will bless the fallen in their everlasting life, and that His hand will protect those who still serve in harm's way.

That so many have sacrificed during this war in Iraq is reason enough to ask questions about our government's policy in that faraway country. Our troops continue to shed their blood, and our nation continues to devote enormous sums of our national wealth, to continue that war. Whether one supported or opposed the war at its outset: no American must ever surrender the right to question the government.

The Constitution protects the American people from unjust laws that seek to stifle the patriotic duty to question those who are in power, but it is the courage of the American people that compels them to actually speak out when those in power call for silence. If anything, attacks on the patriotism of freedom-loving Americans may result in even more Americans fighting against attempts to squelch the Constitutional protections of freedom.

Since our country was sent to war on March 19, 2003, two thousand and seventy-three Americans have been killed. Nearly 16,000 troops have been wounded. Our military is straining under the repeated deployment of our troops, including the members of the National Guard. More than $214 billion has been spent in Iraq. Urban combat takes place each and every day in Baghdad. Veterans hospitals in our own country are threatened by budget shortfalls. And yet, Americans are still left to wonder, when will our brave troops be coming home?

I opposed the war in Iraq from the outset. But our troops were ordered to go to Iraq, and they went. The question is now: When will they come home? The Administration has so far laid out only a vague policy, saying our troops will come home when the Iraqi government is ready to take responsibility for its country. That sort of political doublespeak is small comfort to the mothers and fathers of our fighting men and women.

Wednesday evening, the Vice President of the United States even claimed that criticism of the Administration's war in Iraq was "dishonest and reprehensible." The Vice President's comments come on the heels of comments from President Bush, who said, "What bothers me is when people are irresponsibly using their positions and playing politics. That's exactly what is taking place in America."

The President and the Vice President need to reread the Constitution. Asking questions, seeking honesty and truth, and pressing for accountability is exactly what the Framers had in mind. Questioning policies and practices, especially ones that have cost this nation more than 2,000 of her bravest sons and daughters, is a responsibility of every American. It is also a central role of Congress. We are the elected representatives of the American people. We are the men and women who are tasked with seeking the truth. But instead of working with the Congress, instead of clearing the air, the White House falls back to the irksome practice of attack, attack, attack, obscure, obscure, obscure.

The American people are tired of these reprehensible tactics. Circling the wagons will not serve this Administration well. What the people demand are the facts. They want their elected leaders to level with them. And, when it comes to the war in Iraq, this Administration seems willing to do anything it can to avoid the truth -- a truth that I believe will reveal that the Bush Administration manipulated the facts in order to lead this nation on the road to war.

The Administration claims that the Congress had the same intelligence as the President before the war, and that independent commissions have determined that there was no misrepresentation of the intelligence. But neither claim is true.

The intelligence agencies are in the control of the White House. All information given to the Congress was cleared through the White House, and the President had access to an enormous amount of data never shared with the Congress. There was a filter over the intelligence information that the Congress received, and that filter was the Administration which was actively engaged in hyping the danger and lusting after this war in Iraq. Remember the talk of weapons of mass destruction, mushroom clouds, and unmanned drones? The so-called proof for war was massaged before it was sent to the Congress to scare members and leaked to reporters to scare the people.

No independent commission has stated that the case for war was indisputable. Commissions have looked at how the intelligence fell short. But none have yet examined possible political manipulation.

Even the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence stalled in its examination of possible White House manipulation. My colleague from West Virginia, the Ranking Member of the Intelligence Committee, Senator Rockefeller, is rightly pressing for answers.

Right now, we are engaged in a mission with no definition. That is troubling, because without a clearly defined mission it is impossible to determine when our mission is truly accomplished.

This week, the United States Senate had the opportunity to establish some very basic benchmarks for progress in Iraq, benchmarks that would have clearly outlined goals and provided accountability in meeting them. The proposal, offered by the Senior Senator from Michigan, Senator Levin, was a modest, flexible approach that would have given our troops, their families, the American people, and the Iraqi people some basic guide posts. Unfortunately, the Senate could not see the wisdom of this approach.

It is vital that we have benchmarks against which to gauge our progress. That is how we can measure effectiveness and, most importantly, how we know when the job is done.

The Administration's strategy of keeping our troops in Iraq for "as long as it takes" is the wrong strategy. Who knows how long it will take for the Iraqi government to institute order in that fractured country?

Unfortunately, the questions that the American people are asking about the missteps and mistakes in the war in Iraq are not being answered by the Administration. Vice President Cheney has dismissed these important questions as "making a play for political advantage in the middle of a war."

Perhaps the Vice President should question White House aides about using war for political advantage. For example, on January 19, 2002, the Washington Post reported that Karl Rove advised Republicans to "make the president's handling of the war on terrorism the centerpiece of their strategy to win back the Senate and keep control of the House in this year's midterm elections." Does the Vice President have anything to say about that?

The Vice President also lashed out at those who might deceive our troops: "The saddest part is that our people in uniform have been subjected to these cynical and pernicious falsehoods day in and day out." Was the Vice President was trying to clarify some of his past statements on Iraq?

On March 24, 2002, the Vice President said that Iraq "is actively pursuing nuclear weapons at this time."

On August 26, 2002, the Vice President said, "Simply stated, there is no doubt that Saddam Hussein now has weapons of mass destruction. There is no doubt that he is amassing them to use against our friends, against our allies, and against us."

On March 16, 2003, the Vice President said, "We will, in fact, be greeted as liberators."

Are these the "pernicious falsehoods" that the Vice President believes our troops have been subjected to? That is, of course, a rhetorical question. Far from questioning his own statements about the war in Iraq, the Vice President's comments are a ham-handed attempt to squelch the questions that the American people are asking about the Administration's policies in Iraq. The American people should not be cowed by these attempts to intimidate us. The American people should not allow the subject to be changed from the war in Iraq to partisan sniping in Washington. Instead, the American people must raise their voices even louder to ask the Administration the same simple questions: What is your policy for Iraq? When will the war be over? How many more lives will this war cost? And when will our troops return home?

Mr. President, the holiday season is almost upon us. Americans will soon gather together to give thanks for the blessings that have been bestowed upon our families. But as we gather, there will be an empty seat at many tables. Some chairs will be empty because a service member is serving his country in a faraway land. Other seats will be empty as a silent tribute to those who will never return.

Each of these troops has fought to protect our freedoms, including the freedom of Americans to ask questions of their government -- the people's government.

The whole picture -- the truth -- is that the continued occupation of Iraq only serves to drive that country closer to civil war. American troops are now perceived as occupiers not liberators. The longer we stay, the more dangerous Iraq becomes, and the more likely it is that we will drive the future government farther from a democratic republic and closer to religious fundamentalism and, not insignificantly, the more American and Iraqi lives will be lost.

I for one believe that it is time to say "well done" to our brave fighting men and women. May Almighty God bless them -- one and all. Let's say, job well done, and start to bring the troops home.

Wednesday, November 02, 2005

All Hallows Eve

All Hallows Eve

November 3, 2005

Dear Comrades;
    It has been sometime since I have addressed you, and I do apologize for my absence. It would appear that my Clark Kent alter ego has kept me busy of late. Rather than bore you with tales from the local neighborhood Trauma Center, instead I shall focus with this communiqué on an episode that happened very early on Sunday morning. As it so happened, the Subkommander had just arrived home around 1:30 am from a rather bracing Motorradfaht in the middle of a brisk autumn night. I had returned from a midnight run in the Blue Ridge Mountains (a rather harrowing tale in an of itself, including heavy fog and curving mountain roads astride a BMW Dakar) and was listening to some music on my headphones when I heard a very loud cracking noise, as though someone were attempting to break into something, outside the heavily reinforced, slit Lexan window of The Bunker.
    Of course, I ceased my recreational music activity and listened keenly to the sounds of some person (or persons) were attempting to break into my next door neighbor’s porch. I heard no voices and could see no one since they were on the opposite side of a wooden fence, a tall one that obscures the view from anyone looking into the back yard. But I could clearly see the door being crashed and battered in a way to make the lock or hinges give. In fact, the hooligan was making a bit of a racket, and I am surprised I am only one that bothered to alert the authorities to his presence. Naturally, my first inclination was to lock and load my shotgun and creep warily outside to surprise the enemy in the act of sabotage. I had even planned the short speech I was going to give once I had the drop on the criminal, up to and including racking a round into chamber, a noise which has a rather intimidating effect on the most aggressive of criminals.
    A point of clarification is in order here. Although I hold the rank of Subkommander, I have never particularly been a big fan of firearms. I am not opposed to them, and indeed, believe that the right to keep and bear arms is a valuable civil liberty. As such, I support it wholeheartedly. After all, I am a native Virginian, thus being a proper southerner would cause me to also have a genetic predisposition to firearms.  However, as a rule, I don’t go out into my back yard in the middle of the night carrying a loaded weapon capable of blowing a hole in someone the size of a baseball.  I have this to be a sound policy to follow, and see no reason to alter it either now or in the foreseeable future. And since the local authorities would take a dim view of such activity, with the local Gendarmarie in this locale reasonably competent, I resisted my urge to live out a Dirty Harry fantasy and called the cops. The following unfolded within 50 feet of my observation post here in The Bunker:
     I could see the cops pull up in the apartment complex behind mine, and could even see them depart from their vehicles. Flashlights in hand, illuminating a cool Halloween night, the light darting along the lawn and the sides of the apartments as they approached the perp. I watched in silence, with the light out, so that my presence would remain unbetrayed. The cops were curiously unstressed, no weapons out, just walking along quietly with their torches on. The rounded a fence and walked down the short slope of the ground, surprising the scoundrel in mid bash/slam/bop to the fence.
COP 1: Okay pal, just hold it there and keep your hands where we can see em…
CULPRIT: OH…I know what you’re thinking. And I totally understand what you think is happening but I have an explanation…
COP 2: Buddy, have you had much to drink tonight?
CULPRIT: Uh…well…not much…I mean…uh…um… I might have had something to drink…I think…A couple of beers, maybe…
COP 2: You got any ID on you, pal?

   It was at this point that the criminal walked away from the fence, and hence out from under his protective cover, that I could finally see who the local Johnny Laws were talking to. It was a thoroughly intoxicated frat boy wearing an ankle length red dress and a diamond tiara in his air, like some kind of “Princess Di meets Godzilla” fantasy he was finally able to fulfill, fueled by distilled spirits, hormones and incredible stupidity.
    Apparently, the jolly young lad had been out drinking excessively during the course of the evening, attending several frat parties at the local university, many of which were costume in nature, and hence the assumed rationale for this particularly boy’s  raiment. During the course of the conference between the cops and the frat boy, they ascertained his name (Jordan S) and the name of his friend whose house he was breaking into (Charlie H), his major (Horticulture), his age (20), and various and other assorted facts regarding this fools life. Fortunately for Jordan, Charlie showed up out of nowhere a few minutes later, not quite as intoxicated, but also not wearing a dress. After vouching for his friend, the cops let Jordan go. However, Jordan, being an essentially brainless, and thus typical frat boy managed to annoy the cops to some degree at this point, rating a stinging tirade from one the cops, telling him that he could still throw him jail for being an underage drunk and stop acting like the spoiled, entitled little dick that you are and you better drag your sorry ass inside and go to bed and God help you if I ever catch drunk in public again, you schmuck!
   This got Jordan’s attention. So he did just that, retreating into the house with Charlie, dress and tiara intact.
    That’s the latest from the Bunker. More later as it happens.

              Your most humble servant,
                 Subkommander Dred

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