Dr. Mona Blog #2: On the medical frontlines of Hurricane Sandy's - FOX 35 News Orlando

Dr. Mona Blog #2: On the medical frontlines of Hurricane Sandy's aftermath

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CHICAGO (FOX 32 News) -

By Dr. Mona Khanna, FOX Chicago News medical contributor

Hurry up and wait. In medical school, we learned to joke about how much waiting around we did during our surgery rotation. We would rush to the operating room, only to find that the anesthesiologist hadn't yet done the pre-op assessment or the surgery had been canceled because the patient drank a cup of coffee in the morning. That was usually the start of a day of delays and the impossible task of getting back on track. Welcome to disaster deployment.

I've been on a Disaster Medical Assistance Team (DMAT) for almost 15 years. DMATs don't exist in a vacuum. As a paramilitary organization, we function by strict chain of command. When we are deployed, each team member reports to the Chief Medical Officer, Operations Chief, Nurse Supervisor or other senior manager. Everyone is accountable to our Commander and Administrative officer. He, in turn, takes orders from the Incident Response Coordination Team. When a disaster lurks on the horizon, local, state and federal governments spring into action and begin preparations for rescue, recovery and mitigation. The local government is always responsible and accountable for a disaster; it can activate state and federal resources and assets. SO while my team was deployed to New York on October 31, we were in a holding pattern for a few days before we received our first federally-assigned assignment.

12 members of our team were deployed to Brookdale University Medical Center to assist with an influx of patients from a nursing home that was devastated by the Superstorm Sandy. The team worked the graveyard shift, admitting and stabilizing a group of non-English-speaking nursing home patients. The patients hadn't received their medication for 5 days, since the storm became imminent. Many were demented. Some were combative. When the team returned to the ship, another 12 left to cover the day shift. I was asked to stay back at the ship for Force Protection. That means that I was responsible for watching over the health of our team members. It was clear that lack of sleep, all-day travel, staying on a cold, drafty ship and lack of a clear mission had started taking a toll. I dispensed minor over-the-counter medication.

While we were waiting for additional missions, I was approached by one of the administrators of SUNY Maritime College, our hosts. Quick to seize on a public relations opportunity, she told me that a crew from one of the local television stations, NY1, would be arriving to do a story on how the College stepped up to assist in emergency relief operations by opening its doors to disaster workers. I checked with my Team Commander, Randy Crow, and then pulled two of our team members, a nurse practitioner and a paramedic-nurse, to be interviewed. The "crew" turned out to be a young reporter, Leslie Mayes. In our business, Leslie is known as a MoJo, or Mobile Journalist. With the severe scaling back of media resources, many stations are asking on-air reporters to also work as producers, writers, and photographers. Kind of a one-stop shop. Leslie arrived just before two elected officials, Congressman Joseph Crowley and City Councilman James Vacca. She filmed them thanking us for our support and service to their hard-hit jurisdiction. When Congressman Crowley found out I was from Chicago, he said to tell Mayor Rahm Emanuel that "Big Jim" said "Hi" (Crowley was well over 6-feet tall). We had other visitors, too, to the Maritime College. FEMA Corps showed up. These young (18-24 year old) volunteers are in a joint program with the Federal Emergency Management Association and AmeriCorps, and provide general disaster assistance. We were told they were assigned to knock on the doors of those affected by the Sandy Superstorm and apprise them of their FEMA benefits. I wondered how many of them were college graduates who couldn't find jobs in the weak economy.

Later that day I found out that our team had been assigned a different mission. We were to help another state DMAT team that had set up a makeshift medical clinic at York College in Queens, NY. Although our 41-member team would be broken up again, this time in two teams of 8, I was elated that our expertise was needed again! Then I found out that I was assigned to the graveyard shift which began that night. Because of the immediacy of the assignment, we had no advanced notice, so the nighttime crew, myself included, barely had time to eat dinner before we went on shift. Driving to the College in our van was the first adventure. Many freeways were closed and we had to re-route several times. We passed people in long lines waiting for gas, both in cars and with red gas canisters. We were afraid to bypass the lines to fill up our van, because even though first responders were supposed to be the first priority for the limited gas supply, we didn't wasn't to start a riot, so we kept driving. The College was expecting us and an FBI agent opened up the gate for us and allowed us to get out and go inside. Security was very tight, with ATF (Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms) representatives, FBI and local police everywhere, brandishing guns. In times of desperation when there isn't enough food, water, gas and other supplies, people get desperate and resort to crime to get what they need. We learned those lessons the hard way after Hurricane Katrina. This time there was protection all around.

My seven team members and I walked inside the College. We found ourselves standing at the entrance of a huge…STAY TUNED FOR MY NEXT BLOG.

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