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Bascom Palmer Eye Institute

Gulf Coast Reflection, Sept. 21, 2005

Evening in New Orleans

Six people were crammed on the floor last night, as we slept in our Vision Van at the Emergency Operations Center parking lot in New Orleans. This morning we were reassigned to the River Center evacuee shelter located in Baton Rouge. Because of the threat of Hurricane Rita, our friends on the Helicopter Carrier USS Iwo Jima have gone to sea to prepare to deploy their landing craft and search and rescue helicopters to the eventual landfall of Rita. We, likewise, are under mandatory evacuation from New Orleans, along with many of the troops.

We are working closely with the Red Cross here, as they have been providing a clinical medical operation here since the shelter opened. They had pre-identified some diabetic and glaucoma patients that they wanted us to see, as had Dr. Jeanne Callet of the Salvation Army.

As always, the line formed quickly in an orderly fashion. Our entire day was filled with patients with serious eye conditions. Over 20 individuals were newly diagnosed with glaucoma and counseled to seek ongoing care as they relocate to new housing during coming months. Glaucoma is a serious vision threatening disease that can cause permanent damage. Often described as the “silent thief” of vision, people with this condition often have considerable, irreversible damage before they are even aware of it. Glaucoma screening is an important part of our mission here, and we are thankful for the support of the Congressional Glaucoma Foundation.

Examining children in the Vision VanWe were also happy to see all the children lined up to get on school buses, and we were able to fit a number of them with glasses to aid them in their school work.

Doctors Moshfeghi and Couvillion flew back to Miami after a grueling assignment of long hot and endless days, that often had clinics run from dawn until 10 P.M. Bruce Bailey, an ophthalmic technicians at Bascom Palmer in Miami, joined Dr. Benjamin Mason, Ramon Diaz and me this evening, bringing in more glasses and supplies so that we can continue our work here.

Tonight there will only be four of us on the floor, a state of luxury that we haven’t enjoyed since the beginning of our trip. Communications with the outside world are tough; there are so many more people living in Baton Rouge since the storm that the cell networks and hotels are overwhelmed. Traffic is awful, and we spend inordinate amounts of time just getting to the airport as we do our rotations in and out of Louisiana. On the bright side, we did get to shower in a gym, which was a real refreshing treat after downtown New Orleans’ portable showers, chemical toilets, and brushing your teeth in a parking lot!

Mike Kelley