Gulf Coast Reflection, Sept. 26-30, 2005
Our plane from Memphis finally put us back in Miami early Sunday evening, and back at work early Monday to assess the damages and needs for the victims of Hurricane Rita. Dr. Puliafito carefully assessed the situation and some of the hundreds of examination records from our previous clinics in Baton Rouge and New Orleans. After careful review, he determined that we really had no option but to respond, given the devastation upon devastation compounding the aftermath of Katrina and Rita.
Monday thru Wednesday was spent recruiting the next team and resupplying our inventories of glasses, medical supplies and medications. Thursday at 5 a.m., I met Angel Perez at the optical store to pick up hundreds of new glasses to take with me to Baton Rouge.
Our new team met at the airport for a 6:20 a.m. flight to Baton Rouge via Atlanta. Arlana Moshfeghi, MD, an ophthalmologist doing a fellowship in pediatric ophthalmology, is a former New Orleans resident and medical director of our new team. Kathryn Nelson, OD, a Bascom Palmer optometrist and Stephanie McMillan, COA, a Plantation office technician, completed the rest of the medical team.
Thursday was spent obtaining our medical credentials and assignments, as well as ambulance passes to enter the closed areas. The Louisiana Office of Public Health is working around the clock to deal with the constant influx of medical and EMS workers that arrive and depart daily to outposts from Baton Rouge to Port Orange to New Orleans. Having worked closely with out Disaster Response Team for several weeks, they suggested that we deploy to Lafayette and assist shelter residents in Southwest Louisiana, and then determine where to respond to next based on our own assessment of the situation.
Friday, we opened up our mobile vision van at the Cajundome in Lafayette, La. The Cajundome is a large sports arena that is home of the Ragin’ Cajuns of the University of Louisiana, and the Louisiana Ice Gators of the East Coast Hockey League. Attached to the dome is a small convention center.
The entire complex is jammed with cots, and people sleep in every room and hallway separated by about 2 feet of space. Many of the residents are 3 time evacuees. They were sent to Lafayette from New Orleans after Katrina, then all residents were evacuated to Shreveport as Hurricane Rita approached the coast. After shifting to Shreveport , the Shreveport shelter closed and they were bussed back to Lafayette’s Cajundome. An additional 1500 evacuees arrived Thursday night to live in the shelter, as well. According to a Red Cross volunteer, they have processed over 10,000 residents and volunteers through the facility during the past 30 days.
As always, a line formed immediately upon our arrival and we set up as rapidly as possible to start working with patients. Paul J. Azar, Jr., MD, a local ophthalmologist, has been acting as the Medical Director of the shelter for the past month, helping to cut through the red tape to get patients the best possible care. Many physicians have volunteered to help, although most come for only a week and leave exhausted by the grueling pace and conditions. The shelter residents themselves are very appreciative of the help and services, and tolerate long lines and packed living conditions without complaint. I am not sure that I could maintain such good humor if I were put in the same conditions, particularly if I had lost my home and virtually everything that I owned.
Our clinic closed about 7 p.m. that evening with a promise to reopen the next morning for all those we couldn’t serve that day.