Maria Revisited

Today, I was “channel surfing” on the TV and I came across the Fox Network’s Weather News and watched a “back then” report about Hurricane Maria crashing into Puerto Rico.

I pulled out my telephone and started looking at some of the pictures I took the morning I got there…the first one was taken three minutes after midnight…the morning after the hurricane hit. We were all wearing flashlights on our heads while we unloaded the plane ourselves.

The moment the medical team arrived, we were literally and figuratively, plunged into darkness. Literally because the only lights available were our flashlights and figuratively because the communications were so difficult that, for several days, we had no news from “the outside world”.

I learned a lot from that program.

5 years

It’s amazing that it’s been five years since my first post.

There have been some changes since then.

  • I’m no longer 53.  I’m now 58 years old.
  • My mother died in 2016 at age 98.
  • I retired in November 2017 at age 56.
  • My wife retired in May 2018.  She was a teacher and had to finish out the school year.
  • Our daughter is 21 and is in her senior year at university.

 

Things that haven’t changed.

  • I’m still a disaster response worker for the US Dept of Health & Human Services.
  • I’m still a substitute school bus driver.
  • I still run about 5 miles (8k), or more, nearly every day..unless I’ve gone hiking.
  • We still have the cat and the two dogs.  The cat is 19 years old, one dog is nearly 12 and the other dog is 9 years old.

 

 

Waiting

I’ve probably said this before.  Even so I’ll say it again, “Waiting is a large part of a disaster response.”

And, that is what we are doing right now.

The typhoon doesn’t appear to have damaged the medical and medical support systems to the point of needing outside assistance.

But, that could change, so we wait until we are needed or things stabilize enough that it is certain we are not needed.

It’s not glamorous, but it’s the norm.

Going Home

I’m sitting in the airport in North Carolina and am waiting for my flight home.

My hope, that we would not be needed, came true.  We begin to work when the state is unable to deploy resources of their own to handle their medical needs.  So, when we get involved…things are pretty dire.

We had nothing to do, so we trained..a lot.

“Running codes” (the code blue stuff on TV)…what personal gear we carry with us on a deployment (not as easy as it seems)…patient evaluation and triage (who we treat first when the needs outstrip the supply)…the different triage systems…the ethical considerations surrounding triage…practice doing high quality CPR…completing the necessary travel paperwork…things to consider when we are selecting an area to set up our tents, and  many, many other things.

As I was starting to say before I started on a tangent, North Carolina’s residents appear to have a good disaster medical response system.

Luck has a lot to do with it and I’m sure the state officials would agree– the storm could have been a cat 5 when it made landfall, the storm surge and flooding could have been much worse and far fewer people could have evacuated.

Still, the responders–professional, volunteer and ad hoc (the latter being the true first responders), should be proud of how they handled this “mess”.

Homeward Bound

We left Puerto Rico at noon today–it was pouring rain and the streets were flooded–and flew back to Atlanta.  The plane was so heavy that it couldn’t take on a full load of fuel, so we had to stop in Florida to take on more fuel before continuing to Atlanta, GA.

In 26 days, I’ve had just two showers that were other than scalding hot or very cold and I laundered (hand wash in buckets and line dry) my three uniforms twice.

Comfortable shower, clean uniforms, shined boots, good food, soft bed.

I wish the folks in Puerto Rico had it this good.

Meet Fred

Please don’t take this post as “we’re not doing anything”.  We have been working 7 days a week with two 12 to 14 hour shifts per day since two days after Maria hit the island.  Responders must have some rest time if they are to remain effective over the long term.  If a responder gets sick, it’s doubly bad…now there is one more person that needs aid and one fewer person to render aid.

Internet access is not reliable, we have no TV, broadcast radios have poor reception and we haven’t seen a newspaper since we got here.  Our only “news” is the official IAP (incident action plan), which sets out the goals for the time period, any safety issues that might arise, the plan for meeting that time period’s goals, and all sorts of other useful information.   It is not an entertainment newsletter.

I think the lack of “provided entertainments” is a good thing as it gives us chance to use our imagination….even if some don’t react well to this. 🙂

Anyway, while I was relaxing during my rest time, I noticed a spider sitting outside on the window ledge.  When I leaned down to get a better look, he turned around to face me, brought his “gloved hands” in front of his mouth and began moving them up and down–making him look like he had a huge mouth.

We named him Fred.

I couldn’t get a good picture of Fred, so I’m posting a picture of a Fred look-alike that I found on the internet.

Fred’s body is about 2cm (not quite an inch) in length, so he isn’t as scary as the picture would indicate.

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Whip Spider

Puerto Rico

I’m typing this on a smart phone, so it will be short.

I’m in Puerto Rico helping provide radio communications for medical teams working in the area.

Compared to people at home on the mainland, we (the responders) are probably less informed of the goings on in Puerto Rico.  We don’t have a television, nor do we get newspapers and internet access is very, VERY poor….

I do know, in great deal, the things going on in the building (a hospital) where I am working…but that’s it and that’s just a very tiny part of what is happening…….and I’ve been asked to not post any details of where I’m at.

We are busting our backs to get help, but there is so much to do in order to get the help there and then on to where it needs to go.