Sunday, August 28, 2011

Hurricane Irene on east coast brings back memories...

 Ambulances riding out the storm
Hurricane Irene is just leaving her mark on us here in Pa, the thought of this hurricane brings back some of the most humbling, exciting, and terrifying memories I have had during a hurricane. In 2008 just days before the Labor Day holiday, I was working, and running calls with my local department, when we received a call from our EMS council. It was an alert to notify us of a pending deployment of our regional EMS Strike Team. Immediate excitement filled me, we hoped for one of these days to come. I spent hours upon hours, on conference calls gathering details and hearing that a deployment was becoming inevitable, that during the past few days the state of Louisiana had requested Pennsylvania for their assistance. I was filled with excitement and joy for this trip having little idea of what was in store. When word became official, it was determined that our service would send an ambulance but no one else from my department was going to be able to make the 13day trip with me, however two members from a neighboring department in the county would go along. We drove straight through and 50 ambulances from Pennsylvania's statewide strike teams were joined together in Alexandria, Louisiana. Immediately ambulances were deployed to New Orleans where they were evacuating hospitals, nursing homes, and private residences to airports and evacuation shelters. The sad truth was, some of these patients we picked up weren't even going to make it till the storms arrival let alone through the evacuation process. Multiple patients in critical care expired on the tarmac waiting for planes and choppers to evacuate them pre storm,Patients were being bagged for hours, and sadly enough a patients family member who was just riding along coded on the bench seat, from an apparent MI. It was like action  scenes from a movie. Business were boarded up, gas stations were patrolled by  armed national guard.  Life in the evacuation shelter was anything but pleasant. It was a large steel building that had just been built, still didn't have a certificate of occupancy, but was needed in this emergency. 10,000 evacuees could and would be housed in this building, including a section for us EMS responders and the national guard, plus a section for "MASH", a critical care unit, plus a section for evacuated pets. Showers for the EMS personal consisted of grabbing a zip lock bag that had a bar of soap, a towel and wash cloth stuffed in it and entering the trailer portion of 18 wheelers where "personal"showers were separated with a few curtains and a garden hose with a nozzle on the end the "waste" water would then drain straight through the trailer to the ground below. Sure we tried to make our own fun, while we were stuck in the shelter during the storm itself, made friends with other EMS personal, the National guard, and several evacuated children. We played in the rain and wind, watched roofs blow from homes, trees bend and snap like they were tooth picks, made kites out of cardboard, but not all was fun. We took part in shifts working with the general population in the hospital area or makeshift ER for the thousands of evacuees., in the CCU we visited residents and tended to their needs dispensing medications, and updating charts. We kept the children in the play area occupied with games, and coloring along with the help of the red cross. We took a lot of time to visit the general population where we met some wonderful people that told us of their experiences during hurricane Katrina, many of which tried to ride out that storm. I felt like I was in a third world country, but I couldn't be more proud of the experience I was part of. A terrible and disgusting experience I noted was, when even the shelter lost power, eventually more and more started going downhill, to the point, that sewage started backing up and coming through the floor of the shelter in the CCU. It was miserably hot, and patients laying in the CCU were  dying of heat exhaustion, and others were breathing in the sewage that rose from the floor. Children had been running barefoot through it for hours, until finally the area was  caution tapped off and cleaning crews were able to assess the situation, dressed in full bio hazard, suits at this point, it was too late the damage was done, and I knew that this was real life, and what I was seeing really did happen. The day after the storm had cleared we were deployed for a search and rescue mission.Few residents were taken from there homes to evacuation shelters or hospitals in Texas if they needed immediate care. We regrouped at a storm abandoned hospital Lane  Regional medical center, where we "camped" for the night. EMS personal had run of the hospital and many took advantage of exploring, that night you could find EMT's and Medics sleeping everywhere and anywhere from patient rooms, to the Labor and Delivery unit, to on top of OR tables. The following morning the Pennsylvania STRIKE team was moved to Zachary, Louisiana where they would be "headquartered" and dispatched on assignments from a Baptist church for the next 11 days. While ambulances were on  missions the remaining EMS personal cleaned tree and other debris from the church and neighboring homes and made roads passable again. On the missions personal was repopulating homes throughout the state with evacuees or still evacuating people who remained at home, but were left with unlivable conditions.Southern Hospitality surely was alive and well in Louisiana then, but I definitely believe I have had a life time fix of MRE's,Rice and jambalayaThese 13 days definitely made the biggest  impact on my life and my career in EMS, I could keep writing about the deaths I saw, the people I met, and the damage another hurricane had  on an area that was still hurting from Katrina 5 years before, but the real blessing would have been for you to have been there and lived it with me. (Be sure to click the link at the bottom to read my story in the local newspaper)

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