Emergency room Nurse Karin Feltman has sent these e-mails to her friends and family while volunteering in Mississippi.
hey all...sorry this is a "mass" email, but i wanted everyone to know what i am up to, and didn't have time to write everyone individually. i am leaving Sunday to go to mississippi to help provide hurricane relief to the people down there.
i am going to work with a group affiliated with the episcopal diocese of miss, and will be staying in long beach, miss... there is a medical clinic/shelter set up in the coast episcopal school there, and that is where i will be working/staying. i will leave this sunday, and return on the 9th of october. i am driving down, and will stop in arkansas on the way to spend the night. it is about an 16 hour trip one way. tim is lending me his durango so that i don't have to try to cram all of my supplies in the jeep. i will be doing cleanup, sheltering, and helping to provide medical care in the clinic- basically doing whatever they need me to do. there is power at the school now, but cell phone reception is sketchy. i may get to sleep on the floor of the shelter, depending on how many people will be housed there, but was asked to bring a tent just in case the floor space runs out. i will sleep on the ground in a sleeping bag on an egg crate. they will provide some meals, but sporadically, so i have been asked to bring food to help sustain me in the event that the meals aren't available. i have stocked up on energy bars, trail mix, tuna in a pouch, etc... yummy haha. i have also been asked to bring tools such as shovels, brooms, trash bags, etc... to help with the cleanup process. i think my shopping during the past 2 days will keep walmart in business for awhile they say it is extremely hot and very muggy right now, and the mosquitoes are showing up on radar. not fun. anyway, that is what is new with me. :)
the hospital is sending some stethoscopes with me to pass out to the medical teams, and many friends have provided donations to help cover supplies, gas, and time off work...i even had some vacation hours donated to me. the outpouring of support has been amazing. thank you so much to everyone that has helped out... and if you aren't able to help out in any other way, send your prayers. i need them, and so do the people down south. well, i am off... i will be checking email until Sunday at about noon, and then i am headed out, so hold off any emails between Sunday and oct. 9th. :)
just a quick update..i am here in mississippi. it is HOT- at 9pm last night, well after the sun went down, it was still 91 degrees. i am sleeping in my tent and will be for the duration. lots of bugs and "critters". the shelter that i am working at is both a medical clinic, and a supply shelter (food, clothes, toys, personal needs, etc...for the residents of long beach). yesterday the medical clinic saw 250 patients. i will be busy. today is a hard labor day... the clinic is closed because we are moving all of the supplies (thousands and thousands of items) into a "tent city" so that the school where we are based can reopen this week. we are basically setting up a "M.A.S.H." type facility. no air conditioning, of course. tarps for walls. lots of flies. we will do our best. the work is back breaking but rewarding. the food is good so far, but the people feeding us are leaving friday and we will be back to eating the power bars and trail mix. i haven't gotten to see much of the surrounding area, yet, but what i have seen is pretty devastated. lots of debris on and near the roads- like sofas, signs, chairs, clothes). oops- gotta' run and get back to work. it is a 7:30a-6:30p work day every day. by the way, send some prayers. hurricane rita is scheduled to hit the coast, with some serious storm consequences here as well- and my tent isn't that sturdy i will give you more of an update when i can.
hey all. i thought that i would send you a quick update. we have been busy, busy, busy. after setting up the MASH tent and restocking all of those supplies, we had to UNstock them again because the weather from hurricane rita threatened to blow in the walls of our tent and we didn't want to lose our supplies. then, when the weather passed, we had to put it all back up again. in the middle of this, our medical clinic was up and running full force.
we saw 180 patients in our medical tent yesterday and nearly a thousand in the supply tent. my work day was from 9am until 9:15pm yesterday. we are doing hundreds of tetanus and hepatitis A vaccines, wound treatments, rehydration, minor surgical procedures, IV starts/meds (my job, usually), medication refills (nearly all of the pharmacies, clinics, and doc offices were flattened in the area), mental health support (we need more help here), etc... the people here are severely traumatized. they burst into tears a lot, and are just devastated. many of the people in this area are elderly and they have lost everything they have ever had. it is also a very poor community, and many of them have their entire family living here...so every member of their family is now destitute and they have no one any place else to turn to.
i took a tour of the area a couple of days ago, and there are no words to describe what i saw. i was told that in long beach (where i am now), 10% of the houses are still standing (not undamaged, just standing) and i guess i expected that the other 90% would be flattened. well, what they are is MISSING. they are no longer there. there will be a slab foundation, front steps, and nothing else. there are cars in trees...there are trucks on top of cars...there are ships a mile inland just sitting on the road...there are cargo containers (like train cars) embedded into what is left of some of the buildings left standing- and these are full of what was once frozen chicken , and is now rotting chicken. the stench is amazing...in one town, i saw what used to be a mcdonald's with nothing left but the swivel chairs bolted to the foundation. no building, no counters, nothing...just the chairs still bolted down with nothings around them. there is a walmart where the night manager locked the 40 employees into the store so that they wouldn't leave work to evacuate, and the building was hit by a 40 foot wave and GUTTED...it killed everyone inside. you can see the shell, and nothing else. for miles, there is milk, and juice, and stuffed animals, and clothes, and bedding material, and toys strewn everywhere. there are thousands and thousand of plastic walmart bags stuck to the trees 50 feet up- it is really eerie. i am not doing this justice. the devastation was total and complete. i tried to imagine what this place looked like with houses and cars and families present, and it is impossible. i tried to imagine what i would feel if this was MY home- the place that i knew and loved. i tried to imagine that everything i knew and was comfortable with was suddenly wiped off the face of the earth, and i couldn't do it. i cannot fathom what this must be like for these people. they are so thankful for the help that we are providing. out hot, steamy, makeshift tent and secondhand supplies are the high point of their lives right now. that is beyond pathetic.
we are giving vancomycin to one lady twice a day, and to show her thanks she bought us a huge cake that said "thank you for helping" and flowers to put on our dinner table. she is living in a 3 room house with 11 people, and she is thinking of US. these people are so amazing, and so humble and thankful. it has made this very difficult experience one of the most rewarding that i could ever hope to have. well, i need to run. church starts in 2 minutes in the gym and i need to be there. then i set up my tent again and prepare to sleep outside for the next 2 weeks. i had to take it down during "rita". hopefully, the weather has mostly passed. it is 100 degrees with 98% humidity, but that beats torrential rain and winds. i had to sleep in a classroom on the floor with 12 people the past 2 nights so that i didn't blow away. sorry if this is rambling, but i am writing as fast as i can and don't have time to edit. i miss everyone very much, and will see you soon.
hey all. i thought it was time for another update on the mississippi vacation (NOT) front things here are going well, but i realized for the first time today that i am exhausted i am working 10-12 hour days, 7 days a week. we are busy, too. we see between 150 and 250 patients in an 8 hour span, with 3-4 nurses caring for them on most days. i really miss our staffing it is amazing to me that the group we have works so well together, considering we don't know each other, and are all using equipment that is unfamiliar to us, or is old and outdated. the EKG pads i used were so melted that i had to scrape the goo off of the paper backing and stick it on the patient before i could place the pads on the skin. i also started an IV sitting on a gravel road (which is where the patient was laying), dressed in a yellow isolation gown and mask because they were afraid of infectious disease. it was 100 degrees wit h the heat index, and i kept dripping on the patient he did say that he didn't even feel the IV. i talked the pharmacist into buffering some lidocaine for me, and i am using it with every IV start. for those of you who don't work in the ER, this is what we use to numb the skin before the start so that it doesn't hurt. the people here thought i was crazy at first for using it, but now all the nurses are doing it since the patients are going on and on about the great IV experiences.
today was my 8th day in a row, and i worked 8am-8:30pm. i am usually still working even when i am off duty, since all of the volunteers know that i am an ER nurse and come to me with their various ailments and injuries. tonight i got a nasty case of heat rash and athlete's foot. wait- clarification- the PATIENT had a rash and athlete's foot, not me haha. they also find me for abrasions, insect bites, diarrhea (from brushing their teeth with the water from the faucet, no doubt), splinters, you name it. i am glad to be able to help , but i would give every penny in my account for an 8 hour night's sleep in a real bed my tent is holding up to the weather so far, but it looks like heavy rain tonight, so the real test is yet to come.
speaking of insect bites and tents, i think my tent is sitting on a fire ant mound. if you don't know what fire ants are (and i certainly didn't), they are tiny, evil little creatures with a voracious appetite for flesh. when they bite you, your skin feels like it is on fire (hence the name) and the bites form these nasty pus pockets. many people develop fever and chills, but i have avoided that so far. the reason i found out that my tent is on a fire ant mound is that i crept out of my tent one night, thinking that i would be sneaky and avoid the long walk to the building to go to the bathroom. i went around the side of my tent and crouched down in the grass, feigning looking for my lost contact (at 4am, and i don't wear contacts, but no one here knows that...haha). after i was done, i crawled back in the tent and immediately felt this terrible burning on my feet and ankles. i shined my flashlight on my legs, and they were covered with hundreds of tiny little black ant s. the blisters were already forming on my feet. i started screaming and jumping around. i managed to jerk off my scrub pants and fling them out of my tent...and then went to stomping out the ants. i only had flashlight light to go by and every time i put the light on the ants, they played dead so that i couldn't tell which ones i had killed and which ones were only faking. i would then move the flashlight beam somewhere else, and i would feel them attack again. this was quite a fiasco, and i am sure looked quite comical from the outside. not so funny IN the tent. i sprayed my DEET inside the tent before i laid back down. i am surprised i didn't die of asphyxiation
last night, i was awakened by what i found out are "swamp coyotes". they have this really odd cry. i could hear a pack of them in the woods outside the tent area, and the sound went on for about an hour. i have found out that the regular "yelps" of the coyotes used to draw mountain lions, so over the generations, they lost the yelp and developed this other voice that is unknown to the lions. something like that. i stopped paying attention to the story when i realized that it meant that there are mountain lions in the woods outside my camp, too. very creepy i already saw a black wolf on the road in arkansas. toto, we're not in kansas anymore strange critters around here, i am telling you. i adore the little tree frogs, though. some are as small as a dime, and bright green. they are really friendly and will sit on your finger and just hang out. every time i see them, i am reminded to F.R.O.G.- fully rely on god. keeps me going when this place threatens to overwhelm me
for the last 2 days, we haven't had any hot water....NONE we are showering in ice cold showers, but you have no choice because you get so sweaty that you have to take at least 2 showers a day. the people here are so nice, though, that many of them have offered for us to come to their homes to shower. i can't get over their hospitality. it has made me realize that i can strive to be much more hospitable and less self centered. there is a huge room for improvement, because i am nowhere near as gracious as these people, and i can more afford to be. i feel truly blessed to be able to come and help them because i have no doubt they would have done the same. they are trying to help US in any way that they can while we are here. it is amazing. we are seeing a shift toward some serious mental health manifestations now, though. people are coming out of denial and numbness and really starting to break down. some are angry, some are despondent- it is very sad. it is hard on the workers, too, to be surrounded by such raw emotion and tragedy all the time.
that is really all i have time for right now...i have more to write, but that will have to wait until another time. i want to tell you about all of the functions of this shelter, and i will write about the honest to goodness miracles that i have seen here- especially the cat deliverance. that ought to get you curious :) i miss my dogs, i miss my cats, i miss my bed, and i miss all of you- but i am having a great experience. thanks for the thoughts and the prayers.