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Sunday, September 4th 2005

Katrina

Like other large Texas cities, Houston especially, San Antonio is taking in perhaps as many as 50,000 New Orleans refugees. In San Antonio a former Air Force base, KellyUSA, is serving as the processing center. The sickest can be flown in there and the rest arrive on buses.

I spent five hours there today volunteering and generally embarrassing myself with my ignorance. I really did make a fool of myself more than once. One lady was describing the Superdome and how horrible the conditions were and I was like, “Yeah, with the air conditioning out.” She sort of raised her eyebrow, “That was the least of our worries.”

I shut up and pretended I knew what I was doing concerning her history and vitals.

The vast majority of the people I saw came to the med section (beyond the fact we were immunizing everyone for Hep A and Tetanus) because they had left behind medications in New Orleans. Many diabetics, etc. Among these patients however I was surprised by the number suffering from mental illness. Not just stress from the event itself but pre-Katrina conditions. There was a near manic man looking for a refill on any number of drugs, who claimed he had bug bites all over him, and was unable to complete a thought before he started a new one.

I suppose these were just the “type” of people who couldn’t make it out of the city.

I actually felt kind of useless on the medical side. I’m not sure how much good I did taking the pulse of someone who was just looking for a refill of Vicodin. What seemed most useful is just being a good listener and a general helper – leading the blind man to the bathroom, helping a mother find her daughter amongst the hordes of people.

Finally, I was amazed at the generally good mood of these refugees and their attitude considering what they went through. It was really incredible the disposition they came in with:

“Are you okay today?”
“I’m great today, how are you doing? You been here long?”

Who shows concern for a volunteer when you’ve lost your home and in a new, strange place? Incredible and really humbling.

Five hours does not a great act make, but as soon as these exams are done I’ll be back. I think having gotten over some “confusion” I’ll be a much more effective volunteer next time.

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