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Bascom Palmer Eye Institute

Gulf Coast Reflection, Sept. 20, 2005

Bascom Palmer doctors with shipment.

Today was a day that started in frustration, but ended well.

Shipping delays had prevented critically important diagnostic equipment, treatment lasers and 200 pairs of eyeglasses from reaching us. Last night we made arrangements with the Emergency Operations Center to bring in 5 boxes by ambulance, in order to speed past the checkpoints and traffic that now plague the road to downtown New Orleans. We remained deployed at the foot of Canal Street last night in order to treat National Guard troops and New Orleans Police Officers, as well as contractors who have sustained eye injuries during the cleanup process.

Dr. Jeanne CalletDr. Jeanne Callet, a Salvation Army physician, showed up at our door this morning, with an urgent request for antibiotic drops. It appears that during the cleanup process, a lot of toxic, infectious dust has been stirred up and many individuals in some of the most flood-ravished areas have been developing eye irritations and infections. Fortunately, (or unfortunately, as the case may be) we are the only operational pharmacy with eye medications in Orleans Parish. We were able to leave her well stocked as we prepared to leave our assignment in New Orleans.

We added Dr. Benjamin Mason to our team today, and sent home Greg Feelove, one of the ophthalmic technicians who played such a valuable role in our mission. As we were driving back through the city we stopped to see the Convention Center. Workers in “space suits” and respirators were dousing everything, carpets, chairs, trash with chemicals to start the sanitization process. The same attempts are being made at Tulane and Charity Hospitals, but the prevailing opinion is that Charity Hospital is so badly damaged as to require demolition. It is hard to imagine anyone living in the previously flooded areas; they are heavily polluted, foul smelling and already blossoming in mold and fungus.

The level of activity has noticeably slowed today. Yesterday, federal employees who live in Florida were sent home to deal with Hurricane Rita. Now, New Orleans is being evacuated again due to fears of a second strike by the end of the week.
Of course, we here in Louisiana have been very concerned about our own families in South Florida, who all fared well during the southern track of Hurricane Rita. It is almost unthinkable to consider that another storm could hit the gulf coast region and compound this tragedy.

After restocking our supplies, the EOC retasked us to the Lamar Dixon Expo system in Gonzales, Louisiana. This shelter is located about 25 miles to the north of New Orleans, and contains several thousand evacuees from the New Orleans area.

As soon as we pulled up a long line started to form, a line that was clearly going to overwhelm our capabilities. Unfortunately, that would leave many of the sickest people unable to be seen and treated. The Red Cross nurse provided triage to identify those with the highest need. Instantly, we were seeing a long line form of those with diabetes, glaucoma and injuries to their eyes. Many had not seen an eye doctor for years; many had left their medications behind or run out. Some were newly diagnosed with glaucoma using our state of the art screening devices and telemedicine equipment. Our night clinic is still running. We are tired and hungry, but there is always one more patient that needs to be seen, one more addition to the line who can’t wait until tomorrow.

h4 .Mike Kelley

mkelley@med.miami.edu