Dr. Mona Blog #4: On the medical frontlines of Hurricane Sandy - FOX 29 News Philadelphia | WTXF-TV

Dr. Mona Blog #4: 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

Establishing a Base of Operations in Long Beach, NY. After working the graveyard shift treating at York College treating patients displaced by Superstorm Sandy for a few nights, Randy Crow, our Team Commander, received word that our entire team was needed for a difficult and unique challenge. We were being sent to the hard-hit city of Long Beach on Long Island, NY. Similar to the Jersey Shore and Rockaways, residents on Long Beach were suffering from a lack of electricity, water, sewer, gas and phone service. We were thrilled, partly because to date our team had been broken up and sent on smaller missions, so this was an opportunity for all of us to work together, as we had trained to do.

The single bridge that provides access to Long Beach was blocked and guarded. Our graveyard shift team pulled up in an SUV and were let into the city only after identifying ourselves as disaster workers. Residents weren't yet being allowed re-entry because of the devastation of Superstorm Sandy. Many parts of the city were in shambles. Water marks on the outside of houses were 6-feet high and taller. Some of the residents who hadn't left had dumped the damaged first floor contents of their buildings in tall heaps of garbage in front of their homes. The piles of furniture, furnishings and black trash bags would be left there for days, as garbage pick-up hadn't resumed – even by the time we left a week later. Wood furniture was already rotting from being waterlogged.

We joined the rest of our DMAT team as they were erecting tents in which to house our Base of Operations (BoO) at the Long Beach Recreation Center and Ice Arena. The large adjacent field was surfaced with Astro-Turf. We jumped in and helped putting up tents and connectors, setting up generators, stringing lights, unloading medical supplies, and organizing the medical treatment areas. We worked from a cache of medical and support supplies and equipment provided by the National Disaster Medical System (NDMS).

We would be providing medical care based on the red-yellow-green-white-black triage system. By classifying the needs of people with a color system, we can quickly identify, organize and treat those with the most severe injuries first to minimize complications and the loss of life. Red is the label for those who can't survive without immediate attention, yellow is for those who are stable but whom require treatment, green is for those who need treatment, but in whom the treatment can be safely delayed, white is used for those whose injuries are minimal or who are displaced but uninjured, and black is used for those either deceased or imminently terminal. Throughout our tenure, we did not receive any patients who we would have categorized black.

It was getting dark and the lights we were assembling with generator power weren't up yet. One of the boxes of supplies contained packages of headlamps that needed to be assembled with batteries and straps. Some of us scrambled to put those together so we could see while we continued working. Every single one of us had our own flashlights, of course – those are part of our own personal supplies – but not all of us had hands-free headlamps. Shortly afterwards, the lights came on and we only used the headlamps when we used the porta-potties or entered the sleeping tent at night. Because we were a 24-hour operation, there was always someone asleep in the sleeping tent…I continued my graveyard shift duty and so I tried to sleep during the day. That was a next-to-impossible task since there was so much activity and noise just outside the tent during the day.

The city of Long Beach was really struggling. Although there were residents who lived there year round, it was mostly known as a resort community, so a lot of the houses were empty when Superstorm Sandy hit, since it was off-season. Nonetheless, for those that were still there, the community has really banded together to try and help each other out, with donated supplies from all over the country. In addition to losing the services mentioned above, the Long Beach Fire Department (287) lost its fire trucks when they were irreversibly damaged by the flooding. In response, some fire departments from all over the country had sent fire truck replacements. The Recreation Center that was next to our BoO was filled with donations – clothes, cold weather gear, diapers, soap, shampoo and hygiene supplies, canned food, protein bars, cereal, socks and shoes, makeup, lotion, fans, heaters and other appliances – almost everything imaginable. Volunteers were there during daylight hours sorting and stacking the items, since there was no power for lights after dark. Residents lined up outside with bags to carry the items they needed to take back home.

Since we were living in tents without showers, Local 287 was kind enough to offer to share its showers and locker room with our team. We rotated 2 team members through at a time on our own time. I was lucky enough to grab one shower in the week that we were there; most of my team members got one or two showers. Given the circumstances, I think most of us favored sleep over showers! To say that we existed in an austere environment is probably an overstatement, and those of you who have gone camping in cold weather probably understand. We were eating MREs (Meals Ready to Eat), those are the preserved carbohydrate-laden food packages supplied to the military and other workers. We had the same challenges that residents of the city had – grocery stores, restaurants and other places that supplied "wraparound services" such as food, water, fuel, sewer and waste management, were closed, so we relied on federal support. And we thought living on the ship was a stretch!

Almost before our tents were up, we started seeing patients. We had a lot of requests for medication refills. Residents told us their doctors' offices were closed, their pharmacies were closed or their medication had been washed away. The number one medical condition we treated over and over again was… STAY TUNED FOR MY NEXT BLOG!

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