My New Orleans Experience, By Ri Venuti, Ph.D by TheContraflow

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									                                  My New Orleans Experience
                                               By Ri Venuti, Ph.D.


        It’s been several month’s, since my return from New Orleans. It has taken me this long to be able
to begin to write about this powerful experience. This account may not be an accurate depiction of
events, but represents my own interpretations.
        Our team, DMAT, CA-4, was activated on Sunday, August 28, 2005, prior to both the Hurricane
and obviously the flooding of New Orleans, and we were demobilized and returned home on September
12, 2005, this I am sure of. All other dates, passing of time, or orderliness of activities, are just a blur, but I
will attempt to recreate some semblance of order. My husband, Guy, left on Sunday (with an hour’s
notice), to drive one of our three team trucks to New Orleans, with five other team members (Michael,
Dave, Ed, Megan and Kevin), two per truck. I would not meet up with him again until Wednesday.
        I left on Monday morning, meeting my fellow team members at the San Diego airport. We flew
directly to Houston (arriving that evening), where all other responding DMAT teams (from the Western
area) were staged. We were briefed, by Colonel Young, who was in charge of operations, and informed
that our orders for a final staging area were being decided upon and that we were to be ready to leave,
within twenty minutes of notification. The situation appeared grim. All hotel lobby televisions played
ongoing reports of devastation and destruction, caused by hurricane Katrina. It appeared as if the hotel
was taken over by dozens of people, dressed in khaki (or navy blue) fatigues, with a multitude of patches,
emblems, and NDMS insignia; all from different teams, but gathered for the same reason.
        When our room was ready (about 11:00 PM), my roommate, Valerie, and I, (already tired from a
night of packing our gear and early AM morning ride to the airport) headed for our hotel room. A good-
night call, from Guy and Valerie’s husband, Ed, indicated they were “on the road,” after two trucks had
broken down, for over 8 hours, while awaiting parts, for repair. We were awakened at 4:00 AM, by a
message, indicating immediate roster in the lobby area. Teams anxiously awaited in the lobby for last
minute orders, as televisions revealed the ongoing devastation. Tension was in the air and team members
were eager to deploy wherever they were needed.
        Five vans were rented and filled with five team members and all their gear. The vehicles were
numbered; with white shoe polish (#’s 1-5). Our orders were to drive to the Louisiana State University
(LSU), Baton Rouge, where another staging site was already accepting injured people. We drove caravan
style, non stop, and arrived at LSU, by late afternoon. The basketball gym was filled with stretchers,
accommodating injured victims. DMAT teams awaited in an adjoining room, awaiting orders. Helicopters
flew in injured/stranded people, and food, drinks, donated clothing and bedding were being distributed,
outside of the gym. It all appeared orderly and functional. By late that evening, no orders had arrived, so
our team drove into town (two miles away), for a bite to eat (little did I know, it would be my last full meal,
for the next twelve days). As we awaited seating, in a family restaurant, friendly people greeted us and
thanked us for “coming to help.” It felt awkward; after all we hadn’t done anything! Five of our team
members sat at a separate table and were surprised to find out that their bill was paid by a couple, who lost
everything in the hurricane, yet, who were so grateful for the efforts of our team. Halfway through our
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meal, our commander (Dr. Jacoby) received a call, from the command center, stating that we had received
our orders. We would be leaving immediately for the New Orleans International Airport, where injured
survivors would be transported. The shrimp stew was wonderful and I hated to leave it behind.
         Team members made one last phone call, to friends/loved ones, as it was uncertain if we would
have cell phone or telephone usage from this point on. Our team gathered outside the gym, in darkness,
for last minute instructions from our Team Commander and a group prayer, led by Chaplain Reeves. As
he has worked for the county Morgue, for many years, he attempted to inform us of the potentially
disturbing sights that we may encounter. Nothing he said would have prepared me for what was to come,
but the group prayer was comforting. We packed our bags into the familiar vans and awaited departure
with ambulances, fire engines, rescue vehicles, and other emergency vehicles. It took some time to
organize, but when everyone was ready, we left, caravan style, to the airport.
         We had a police escort, due to the news of an uprising in New Orleans. Vehicles carrying supplies
were targets for desperate people. The sight of the caravan, at night, was awesome. I have never seen
so many bright, flashing lights – as far as the eye could see – in a sea of darkness (as there was no
electricity). It appeared as though we were the last survivors, after a world-wide catastrophe; eerie, yet, a
powerful sight. The flashing lights lit up the way for all to see. Buildings were missing roof tops, windows
were broken, trees uprooted, cars overturned, street/store signs and traffic lights were mangled and
twisted, lying on the ground, as if conquered by a looming giant.
         We arrived at the airport about 3:30 AM DMAT, TX-1 and 4 had just arrived. Since our cache
(trucks of supplies) was still en route, we used TX-1’s supplies. The air was stale, moist and thick, as there
was no electricity. In the evening, we relied on the dim emergency lights and in the morning/afternoon, we
were treated with ambient light from a large skylight. We set up our tents around this sky lighted area, to
take advantage of the sunlight. DMAT members quickly began to rearrange the main airport entryway,
moving aside all large planters, seats, etc., leaving only the brushed, stainless-steel sculpture, looming
under the skylight.     Teams combined manpower and without hesitation, erected four large tents
(surrounding the sculpture, and under the skylight): one for the “walking wounded/triaged/treated” (Green).
One for intermediate care (Yellow), and one for “critical/emergency care” (Red). and one to house the
FEMA management staff (Management Staff Team (MST), which was later moved to a secluded area on
the second floor. We worked quickly, as we received news of incoming victims. There was talk of five
hundred, or so, people, using the other end of the airport for refuge, otherwise the airport was empty,
clean, and quiet. That would not be true again for many days to come. From this moment on, there was
only chaos, confusion, heartache, suffering, cries for help, and a sense of overwhelming helplessness
amongst us all.
         It appeared as if hundreds of people arrived at once. People were being airlifted in, by every type
of helicopter, and from all services. One after another landed, with a dozen or so helicopters, waiting in
line and circling above the airport.    Their precious cargo was quickly carried, escorted, or taken on
motorized luggage carriers, as quickly as possible. The next helicopter, in line, moved forward almost
instantaneously, causing what seemed like a small tornado, whipping the air about; awesome
flying/piloting.

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        An empty airport was quickly filled. There was no nook or cranny left uninhabited. Hurricane
victims lay on the floor in stretchers, in wheelchairs, and in chairs, if they could sit up by themselves.
There was barely enough room to walk between people, who would reach out to you, crying for help,
grabbing at your uniform, yelling, screaming, bleeding, clutching hold of their injured area, vomiting,
gasping for air, pleading for food and water, etc. Empty oxygen bottles needed to be exchanged, adult
diapers overflowed, open wounds needed medical assistance, and an assessment of critical care needs
had to be made, ASAP. I felt overwhelmed and inept. “Why didn’t I major in medicine?” was a question I
would ask myself several times daily, throughout this deployment.
        Every single patient needed psychological intervention, where do I begin, or do I begin? From that
point on, I went into “automatic mode,” and did whatever I deemed necessary to do. I determined that
healthcare came first; therefore, I made my way through the crowd, attempting to assess those in
immediate need and would either bring help to them or report them and their location to the “triage” staff.
There was cleaning of bodily fluids, which flowed freely onto the small spaces separating each patient.
There were many times I slipped on such fluids, and almost fell atop an injured patient. The tension, heat
and humidity, lack of air, and an overwhelming odor (urine, feces, vomit, blood, and contaminated, water
soaked clothing of many victims) made breathing difficult. Food, water, bandages, trips to the restroom
with mobile patients, holding of hands, the cradling of scared, injured, soles, and searching for make-shift
items for supplies that had quickly ran out, became important tasks. “We have no more of those,” were
words too frequently heard (e.g., diapers, both child and adult, ran out, waterproof blue pads were used,
until they ran out, then there was folded utility gowns, or whatever we could find).
        People were triaged, as quickly as possible. A color-coded tag, which coincided with the colors of
the tents/severity of the conditions/wounds (e.g., minor, major, and immediate). After being triaged a tag
would be placed around their neck, indicating their identifying information, and medical condition, as
depicted by the color they sported on their tag. Attempts were made to partition off sections of the airport,
where all the “yellow-tagged” people waited, and other areas where the “green” tagged people waited.
Critical/emergency care individuals were taken to the red tent (our own “Emergency Room”), and seen
immediately. Black tags indicated deceased or “expected” individuals (those who were expected to die
within a short period of time). All tents were filled to capacity, with over 20 stretchers, however, medical
folks moved quickly and freely through the area, in fluid motion, as if dancing a waltz.
        A quick glance around revealed a mass of people, as far as I could see, in every direction, filling
every nook and cranny, and DMAT staff moving about quickly; administering medical care, triaging,
carrying liters, escorting people about, and frantically searching for replacement items, for supplies, which
ran out. My heart warms, for just one second, as I am removed to a place, void of sound, feelings (unable
to feel the hands of people clutching at me), or smell. A place where I can only see thoughtful, loving,
caring, professional people, giving of themselves, without regard to their own personal needs, in order to
help those in need. Tears well, as I feel incredibly blessed to be part of such an incredible team. I am in
awe of them. Sights, sounds, smells, return and I feel the hands of a small, old (appearing to be late 80’s),
frail-looking woman, lying on a stretcher, grabbing at my boots, to get my attention and faintly saying:
“Help me, I’m dying.”

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            The heat was unbearable. Our clothing was as wet as if it came out of the washer, but not as
clean smelling. No one seemed to care about their own needs/hygiene; as the many helpless patients
came first. The urgent pace continued round the clock. No breaks, no sense of time, no slowing of
incoming patients. Use of the restroom appeared to be an extravagant, but needed, use of time. A quick
splash of water on your face, or rinse of water in your mouth, to substitute for the lack of brushing, felt so
refreshing, until signs later appeared in the restrooms, stating: “Water contaminated, do not drink!” Oops,
too late!
            There was a shortage of wheelchairs and stretchers. The airport was stripped of their stockpile of
wheelchairs, and people who were transported to the airport in wheelchairs (even their own personal ones)
were reevaluated. If they could stand, their wheelchairs were taken from them and given to those who
were worse off. Hundreds of people lay in stretchers, on the floor. When we ran out, TSA tables were
duct taped together (yet another use for duct tape), to carry the injured.
            Evacuees were not only injured by the effects of the hurricane (flying debris, blown into buildings,
etc.), attempts to free themselves (from attics, rooftops, etc.), or by swimming to safety, in contaminated
water (containing human/animal remains, building/car debris, snakes and alligators), but by serious pre-
existing illnesses (e.g., Diabetes, HIV, Hepatitis A/B, Dialysis patients, infected people, who had had major
surgery without follow-up attention).
            By 2:00 AM that night, it was determined that many DMAT members had been up for over two
days and required rest. About a dozen of us were relieved for a couple of hours. We went downstairs, to
the luggage area, and crumpled onto the flat luggage carousels; lined up as if we were neatly packed
luggage. At this point in time, the difference between upstairs and downstairs was unbelievably different.
It appeared as if we were plucked from “hell,” to a resort; quite darkened and peaceful, and far enough
away from the cries, moans, and utter chaos of the first floor. Although our “beds” were hard, we quickly
began to pass out. Moans of comfort could be heard from surrounding bedfellows.
            After ten minutes of bliss, I heard a, faint, and then loud, authoritative, impinging voice state: OK
everyone, get up – NOW – RIGHT NOW - We have a thousand people coming in the next five minutes!”
Brief moans turned into hurried sounds of exhausted people fumbling for boots, clothing, etc. We were
“on” again. Up one flight of stairs (the escalators were not working, of course – oh, how I wish they were!),
into what appeared to be a night terror, only we were very much awake. Helicopters flew in, non stop,
ambulances were lined up, four deep, as far as one could see.                Colored emergency lights flashed,
seemingly, from everywhere.
            On many occasion, I was plucked from the crowd, by a fellow DMAT member, as there was
another psychiatric emergency. Many homeless and frightened evacuees (both adults, adolescents and
young children), who had not had their medication in days, presented with severe psychiatric symptoms,
requiring immediate restraint or sedation, as there was no immediate transportation, or facility, which was
able to accept them, at this time. Children with severe developmental needs (acting out uncontrollably and
aggressively toward themselves, their parents, and medical workers), and their distraught parents, also,
presented difficult, unusual, and most challenging of circumstances.



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        There were many grossly overweight people, who presented yet another set of problems. They
could not fit onto a regular stretcher or gurney, in a wheelchair, or chair. Transport was difficult, as many
did not fit in conventional ambulances, buses, or helicopters. One individual arrived in the back of a large
pick-up truck, having been transported on her front door, which had to be removed from the hinges, so that
she could fit through the opening of her door. Such individuals could not be helped to the restroom, as
many of them could not walk. Both male/female were given urinals and a gown with which to cover up
what they could.     Some were too large to sit up, thereby, requiring assistance to use such urinals.
Females who could not reach parts of their bodies, requiring the need for personal hygiene assistance,
cried for help, as many had had the need for “a change” in several days, which was, also, detected by the
strong odor that prevailed around the area of the floor where they lied (above and beyond the heavy odor
that permeated all airspace). There was a man (approx 350 lbs), who “took over” a small telephone booth.
I am, to this day, amazed that he could have squeezed himself into that small place, but after “losing
everything,” this was his new (temporary) home. There he remained for three days. Food/water, etc., was
brought to him, by caring DMAT members.
        During our first two nights, security was quite scarce. OK, VERY scarce - we had two police
officers manning the front entrance of the airport, with thousands of injured, desperate people. At one
point in time, I asked one of the officers, to assist me in restraining a large, out-of-control psychotic man,
who had been off his medication for three days. The officer stated that he could not “leave his post.” I
bartered with him (OK, so I used my psychological skills to make him feel guilty as hell!) and he agreed to
temporarily change positions, so that he could lend a hand and very large muscles. Man the post, I did.
        Days and nights melded together. We knew it was daytime, when the sun’s rays peeked through
the octagonal skylight, in the center of the main room, and through the large picture windows, lining the
terminal extensions. Then, the familiar yellow haze, emanating from the emergency lights, dimmed many
areas, indicating night. It was during this time, that the situation appeared most ominous.
        Cell phone usage was quite sporadic. Sometimes one could get through to a friend/loved one and
other times, you would hear the familiar fast busy signal or the recording: “Due to the damage from the
hurricane, many of the lines are . . .” When I could get through, it was like a little bit of home! I tried to not
alarm everyone as to the inhumane and unsafe conditions; however, I think my quivering voice said it all.
        Evacuees arrived, nonstop, day and night. At this point in time, the line of incoming patients,
awaiting triage, began outside the terminal (about 50 deep), and throughout another section of the airport
(about 75 deep). Ambulance drivers stood alongside their patient, and relatives waited alongside their
injured loved one, until they could be checked in. They carried with them all their worldly possessions.
Some only with the soiled, wet clothes that they wore, others with a small trash bag filled with their
treasured belongings. What does one grab in an instance such as this?
        DMAT members worked in every/all aspects of disaster work, regardless of one’s “job title” or
“expertise.”   They were seen retrieving patients from helicopters; carrying liters/gurneys; pushing
wheelchairs; walking unsteady evacuees, arm in arm; tending to their medical needs; wiping brows;
hugging; holding hands; serving food/water; feeding those unable to feed themselves; caring for infants



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and children of injured parents; and some, who were trained in rescue, as was Kevin, flew in helicopters,
repelling down to stranded people on rooftops and lifting them to safety.
         MRE’s (military rations) were eaten, during the first five days. Being familiar with such delights, I
had the forethought to pack a loaf of whole wheat bread (now stale), and a jar of peanut butter, which I ate
morning, noon, and night, for the next four days. This was a delicacy and I did not mind the repetition.
Fellow team members had to literally hide, when eating other than MRE’s, as it could provoke a dangerous
environment, should desperate survivors (some of which had not eaten in days) join forces to fulfill their
needs.
         On Wednesday, my husband, Guy, and the five other truck drivers, arrived with our
cache/supplies. The sight of him rejuvenated my soul. A quick hug and kiss brought the strength and
where-with-all to continue, at this horrific pace. He had come in the front door and noticed thousands of
people congregating under the overpass, and in the street, adjacent to the main terminal entrance. This
mass would soon grow to approximately 25,000, desperate individuals, within the next two days. Tension
filled the air, as people (who had lost everything) “mulled around,” looking for supplies and attempted to
partition off areas, wherein their families would be safe.
         Lists/requests for supplies were funneled to the MST, to no avail. Requests for the transfer of
severe psychiatric cases went unanswered. I would, later find out that the only communication to the
“outside” was one “Command Phone,” which worked sporadically! It appeared as if we were isolated and
cut off from the world!
         Guy encouraged me to take a break, something which I felt too guilty to do; therefore, he took me
by the hand and literally pulled me in the direction of another area of the airport. I must say, my guilt,
quickly turned into relief as I was led out of the chaos, into a quiet and abandoned area of the airport; a
Shangri-la, of sorts. As we walked, we stumbled across our fellow team Chaplain (Mark), who, in an
isolated boarding area, was caring for six terminally ill patients, transported from a flooded New Orleans
nursing home. Walking into that wing of the airport (D 1) immediately changed my briefly renewed spirit.
Tears welled in my eyes. Six small, frail, bodies, laying on the rug, all in a row. Mark had been caring for
them, since the day before and had spent the night there (also on the floor), so as to not leave them alone.
Such a caring loving individual. He appeared to need a break and I agreed to “cover” for him. Inquiring as
to their status, he replied that they were all considered in severe sepsis. At the time, it was explained as a
total shutdown of all bodily functions.
         Once   home,     I   needed      further   explanation.      Medline   Plus   explained   many   of   the
issues/problems/symptoms with which I encountered: “Sepsis is a severe illness, caused by overwhelming
infection of the bloodstream by toxin-producing bacteria. Normally, the body's own defense system fights
infection, but in severe sepsis, the body's normal reaction goes into overdrive, setting off a cascade of
events that can lead to widespread inflammation and blood clotting in tiny vessels throughout the body.
The forms of sepsis include severe sepsis , which occurs when acute organ dysfunction or failure results;
septic shock , which occurs in severe sepsis when the cardiovascular system begins to fail so that blood
pressure drops, depriving vital organs of an adequate oxygenated blood supply; and septicemia , which is
sepsis that has an infection in the bloodstream itself.            Signs and symptoms of sepsis include: fever,

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shaking, chills, reduced mental alertness (sometimes with confusion), nausea and vomiting, diarrhea,
increased heart rate (greater than 90 beats per minute), increased respiratory rate (greater than 30 breaths
per minute), high or low white blood cell count, low blood pressure, altered kidney function or altered liver
function.”).
         “What do I need to do?” I asked Mark. “Watch for their breathing, and mark their time of death,”
was the answer that I was not ready to hear. He showed me how to give them water, through a large
syringe, kept them comfortable, with water-soaked paper towels, on their foreheads, etc., He left for a
needed break and Guy returned to the Logistics area to lend a hand. All of a sudden I felt helpless. How
am I supposed to tell if they’re breathing?      I began to walk down the row of patients, attempting to
determine if they were still alive. Each and every one of them displayed a mannerism (finger that would
bend periodically, rolling of eyes, shaking, twitching of part of the lip, quivering, and other mouth
movements, which would indicate the intake of air). My heart was taken, after my first walk down this row
of death. Any one of these people could be my 88 year old mother, dying alone, in a strange place. The
air was heavier, than in the main room; and the smell of death, quite different that the smell that permeated
the “other” room. In times past, I would have run from such an odor, but that, too, appeared to subside (if
only a bit), after looking into their sad eyes. At the end of the large boarding area, were a row of three
deceased victims, in white body bags, awaiting transport to the temporary morgue. Nearby was a door,
leading to the passenger walkway, typically leading to the plane, but in this case, had a motorized luggage
carrier/conveyor belt, attached to the end of the walkway. This led to a DMAT refrigerator truck, which was
parked on the edge of the tarmac. This was a convenient means of transporting the deceased to a
temporary morgue, out of the view of healthcare workers or victims/survivors.
         Left to my own inept medical skills, I quickly began to busy myself, with things I “could” do. I wiped
brows, fed them water, through syringes, covered their scant bodies with clean sheets, cleaned vomit,
moved them to a more comfortable position, made name tags and placed them at their head, so that I
could “refer” to them by their first names. Three hours later, Mark returned. By that time, these frail
individuals had won my heart. I agreed to take over the unit and to help Mark with the morgue (as he was
assigned as Morgue Manager, having worked in this area for many years). The surrounding terminal was
littered with papers, food wrappers, eaten MRE’s (military Rations), etc. Respecting the rights of these
individuals, I did not feel they should be surrounded by such liter; therefore, I quickly policed the area and
filled two large garbage bags with trash. I felt isolated, alienated, and helpless. What can I do for these
people? I knelt beside each and every one, looking into their eyes, calling them by name, talking to them,
telling them stories, etc. Some responded, some were comatose. Those that did show some type of
recognition or awareness, that another human being was present, especially tugged at my heart-strings.
My relief, a nurse from another DMAT team, came about 9:30pm that night. I felt both pleased to be
relieved and guilty for leaving. At that time, we wearily retrieved our bags, from the vans (parked on the
first level, outside the luggage area) and commandeered carousels #6 and #7, as DMAT, CA-4’s “home,”
for the next two weeks.”
         Fellow members collapsed, fully clothed, on luggage carousels, some atop their gear, others
passing out as they attempted to remove their boots.          The darkness and quietness (aside from the

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moans/groans of fellow team members) was unsettling for me. Although I was exhausted (had not slept
since Sunday night, over 72 hours ago), my mind raced and I was overcome with guilt. Just above my
head, was “another world.” My husband was lying in front of me, on the luggage carousel, head almost
toughing mine). Our hands met, and one mutual squeeze spoke volumes, for both of us. I felt blessed and
comforted, to have him nearby.
        After approximately 3 hours sleep, we were awoken by our team’s Assistant Commander,
Therese, a wonderful, caring, competent, sweet individual, who, at that time, I felt, was none of the above.
In a daze, I gathered my thoughts, ran to the restroom, donned a clean set of clothes (Ahhhhh), and we all
headed up the stairway to “that other world.” Once we reached the top step, it was if we walked through a
zone, where “energy, umf, and where-with-all,” was handed out, in abundance. We all resumed our posts,
without hesitation. The familiar smell of urine, feces, blood, vomit, illness, humidity, mold, and mildew
permeated the air. Back to reality.
        I returned to my duty station, in terminal D 1 and found that one of my patients had passed, during
the night. Also, ten more patients had been transported to this unit (which I coined the “Black” tent, to
indicate to others where I was taking supplies or where individuals with supplies were to report. All
healthcare workers were aware of the code, without alarming patients or their families). The nurse, who
covered the night shift, was visibly upset.    I later learned that he had never been in contact with a
deceased person and was so distraught, he contemplated leaving the disaster site and returning home. At
best, he would not, under any circumstance, return to the Black Tent area.
        I quickly made my rounds, checking each and every patient, talking to them, making them as
comfortable as possible, checking in new patients (we kept a running log of all names and descriptions. If
they were John or Jane Doe’s, the log indicated: people to contact, in the event of death, and a number
was assigned, which would, inevitably, be marked on the outside of their body bag, to indicate the
contents).   Name tags were made and placed by the heads of my new charges and their medical
information, if present, was placed at their feet. One of the new patients was a very young paraplegic
(unable to move any part of his body, below his neck). His name was “John Doe” and he was 18 years
old. That’s all the information we had. How could this be? I knelt by his side, wiped his brow, looked into
his sad/scared eyes, and began to speak to him. His responses were small, however, I could tell he was
able to comprehend some of what I was saying.            How terrifying – being captive in your own body,
traumatized by the effects of the hurricane, removed by helicopter and laid on an airport floor, with a
stranger attempting to care for him. Heart wrenching! I spoke as if he could understand me fully. I
removed a heavy blanket, as he was drenched in sweat and replaced his linens with lighter weight sheets.
His skin was pale and thin. Limbs flopped over the sides of the stretcher, which was too small to hold his
large frame. I felt like crying and holding him, only imagining his fear. I was flooded by thoughts/images of
my youngest, adult son, Paul (who struggles with brain cancer).
        Mark arrived with the bad news that DMORT (Disaster Mortuary Team) had still not arrived (and
unbeknown to us, at that time, they would never arrive), so that we would have to transport the, now four,
deceased to the refrigerator truck AND identify the nine deceased individuals who had yet to be identified
(Placed in the truck at the onset of the disaster, before the log could be devised/implemented). Mark

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asked: “Are you up to helping me in the truck?” His words were faint and distant. What is he asking me?
Go into a refrigerator truck, with nine bodies, in order to identify them? “Yes, of course, I answered,”
without hesitation. Did I just say that? What are you thinking? As we walked toward the ramp, I prayed:
“Please, Lord, give me the strength to do whatever it is I need to do – Please, Lord – help me!” The
strength came.
         The lock on the huge truck disengaged and the door opened with a loud bang! The loud roar of
helicopters could be heard, from the runway, just yards away.         The air was hot, humid and heavy.
Climbing into the truck, I could see that one quarter, of the forward area of the truck, was filled with black
and white, long zipped bags, three rows of three, side-by-side. The look/feel of the bags were quite similar
to those I use to protect/carry my suits/long dresses/gowns, only much longer. They will never be viewed
in the same manner again.
        Mark led the way and showed me the necessary steps required in competently and respectfully
identifying a body. It was a procedure I never previously thought I was capable of completing. One by
one, each bag was carefully unzipped, sheets/blankets were unwrapped and the remains were identified.
Toe tags were carefully tied, with the proper information and the individual’s name was added to our log.
In the case of no identifying information (John Doe or Jane Doe), complete descriptions of facial features,
eye/hair/skin color, tattoos, jewelry, or any other identifying markers were carefully recorded. A number
was assigned to all individuals and this number was then placed in the log and the corresponding number
was marked on the outside of the body bag, in large print. As each body was identified, he/she would be
moved to the other side of the truck.
        After all nine individual were identified, the four bodies were removed, from D1, and placed into the
refrigerator truck. A quick prayer of thanks was given (as I was able to complete this difficult task), as we
headed up the luggage conveyor belt to the tramway leading to Terminal D1. I could hear the loud roar, of
jet engines; see the dirt/sand being whipped into the air, by the powerful helicopter blades, feel the hot air
being pushed by these blades, as numerous helicopters landed and took off, just yards away from me.
Combined with the chaos inside the airport, the situation felt like the ”end of the world,” an unpleasant
thought/feeling that had never, previously, crossed my mind.
        When we returned, there was word of fifteen more patients arriving! At this point, I was feeling
helpless, and unable to attend to these frail individual’s medical needs. There were no adult diapers or
replacement supplies with which to change them, no more sheets, blankets, or hand wipes and certainly
no one with medical experience, who was able to leave their tents, in the “other” room, to assist my needs.
Out of frustration, I stated, aloud: I NEED MEDICAL HELP! (I will frequently “refer” to the main portion of
the airport, where people were being triaged/treated/waiting for transport, as “the other room,” as Terminal
D1 was quite isolated.)
        No sooner did those words fall from my angry and frustrated lips, that I turned around to see
Chaplain Mark, with two people:         a Chaplain from New Orleans and a nurse, from the Veterans
Administration (VA) Hospital. They volunteered to help! Am I hearing well? Did they say they would
help?!?! I asked the chaplain to pray over each person individually. I accompanied him, the chaplain on
one side of the patient, and I on the other. We prayed, the Lord’s Prayer, in unison, as he “referred to

                                                     9
them by their given name.       Some responded, for the first time, opening their eyes, making facial
expressions never before made, stirring, reaching out for their hands to be held. For the first time, my
emotions came rushing to the surface. I could only sob through the prayers, one by one, as their frail
hands were held and their souls prayed for. The release was unexpected, yet, welcomed (as I had
remained almost stoic, to that point, just focused on what needed to be done). The chaplain and I hugged
after the prayers were said and he promised to check in with me each and every day – a blessing! Maybe
it was my imagination, but after each one was spiritually tended to, the patients appeared more “at peace.”
        The nurse, Ramona, was not part of a disaster group, but came with the chaplain to offer any help
she could. Her own home was flooded and the VA hospital (where she worked) was transporting patients
to the airport, yet, she was there to help – unselfishly dedicated to the care and welfare of others. My
angel! I hugged her long and hard. She then quickly began assessing the medical needs of the patients.
Finally having some relief, I was allowed to leave the unit and attempt to scrounge up any supplies I could.
Returning with armloads of sheets, blankets, diapers, and wipes, which had just been delivered, Ramona
began to tend to the medical needs of the patients. Vessels were needed, with which to empty bodily
fluids. Large water bottles were confiscated from “the other room,” even before they were drank. I felt like
a “Ninja” stealthily sneaking around to confiscate any/all the supplies that were needed. I returned with six
quart water bottles and watered the plants in the hall, on my way to the Black Tent. Ramona showed me
how to empty bags of urine and other bodily fluids, into the empty water bottles, as well as other minor,
medical comfort needs. This “angel” would return daily for 8 hours a day, until the day we left.
        Guy came in periodically to assess my supply needs. His mere presence, warmed my heart and
gave me the strength to continue. The DMAT, Texas-1 Deputy Commander, Bill Day, was assigned to the
MST. After visiting my unit for the first time, and recognizing my urgent situation, stated that he would
attempt to do whatever he could to supply my needs and that he did – another angel! From this point on,
he would come by multiple times, daily, to ask what was needed. Such a wonderful, caring, thoughtful and
dedicated man!
        We received many more patients today (numbers a blur at this point), mostly from a nursing home
that had flooded. Some arrived with medical records/charts, others only with a piece of paper, which read:
“Vital signs stable, flood waters rising, must leave.” The pace was fast and furious, the needs of the
terminally ill were immense and non-stop. Two of our patents passed today. With each separate passing,
I would have to run to “the other room” to find an overwhelmed, drained, and frantic physician, in one of the
tents, who would be willing to come to Terminal D1, to “pronounce” the death of one of our charges. On
many occasion, it served as an outlet, or as most had come to call it “a reason for a melt down.” We all
had them (I had just had one that morning, while praying with the chaplain and patients) and we were
“there” for one another to hold, to comfort, and/or to just listen. On this day, both doctors (docs) teared as
they (separately) entered the terminal. The mere sight of more than twenty, terminally ill, people, laying on
the floor, all in a row, was overwhelming. Both had one of those “melt down,” as previously mentioned.
After completing all the paperwork and “pronouncing” one frail soul, one of the docs sobbed openly,
stating: “I don’t know how you can do this! I work around sick and dying people every day and this is just
overwhelming!” We embraced, we held onto each other – long and hard (no words were necessary), then

                                                     10
we just went on with our duties (current meltdown over), better for having had the opportunity to release
just a “tad” of the built-up tension, anxiety, frustration, anger, and overwhelming sense of helplessness and
sadness.
        Guy appeared in my time of need, as was typically the case. After properly tagging and noting
their important information in “the log,” I needed help to lift our deceased into body bags, as Ramona
feverishly worked at providing the best medical care possible, with the very limited amount of equipment
and supplies. “What can I do for you, honey?” Guy asked, in his typical helpful manner. Little did he know,
my request was a difficult one (Although I had, somewhat, overcome my initial shock/fear of working with
the deceased, he had, yet, to do so). I walked down the end of the terminal and stopped at the foot of the
first deceased patient and calmly asked: “Can you please help me to move “name withheld” into this bag?
The instantaneous look on his face brought immediate tears to my eyes. “The look,” was one of shock,
hesitation, disbelief, and sadness. If his “look” were given a voice, I would imagine it to say: “Whaaaaatt
the hell are you asking me to do?” As was the case for us all, our thoughts/emotions were quickly put
aside, and we focused on the task at hand. Almost instantaneously, he bent down, in unison with me, and
we gingerly transferred this small, frail bundle into the enormous, white bag. A thought I had, while moving
the previous bodies (in the “reefer”) again came to light. I feel silly, even now thinking this: Why do these
small, light-weighted people feel so heavy? Honestly, Guy and I could barely pick up, such small bundles.
Is there credence to the old saying: “Dead weight?” Probably not. I think it was the heaviness of the
situation, our feelings, the heat/humidity, and the horrific smells which lingered in Terminal D1.           An
identifying toe tag was gingerly tied, blankets/sheets were wrapped and neatly tucked in,
paperwork/medical record was gently placed inside, and tender words of “rest in peace “name withheld”
along with a gentle tap/rub of the arm/leg was all we could say/do, prior to zipping up the lengthy white
bag, which held one of life’s most precious possessions. The zipper reverberated in my ears and sounded
much louder than it actually did. It seemed to take an inordinate amount of time to zip, from one end to the
middle, giving up it’s zipper pull to Guy, who would zipper his side of the bag. Did this process actually
take so long, or was it my emotional perception. Once completed, “name withheld’s” assigned number
was written, with red magic marker, on the outside of the bag. We lifted/moved “name withheld” to the end
of D1, near the door, leading to the walkway and “reefer” below. Guy helped to process the second
patient, before leaving to “the other room.” He appeared more, in control, as he worked quickly and
tenderly. A brief hug and a long gaze into each other’s eyes spoke volumes. He knew, I knew, and that
was all that mattered. Blessed am I to be married to such a wonderful, caring, compassionate, soul mate.
The sound of an alarm, indicating the absence of air (from a patient, dependant upon bottled oxygen, to
sustain her life) awoke me from this blessed state and I am back to reality.
        I took a moment to cut flowers, from flower beds that lined the sides of the outside hallways.
Beautiful, white lily’s were cut in different heights and arranged in water bottles; one placed on a table, next
to the deceased, and one placed on a chair, where alert patients could view their beauty. A little beauty
amongst an overwhelming and looming darkness.
        Kneeling aside each patient I would assess their breathing and check for visual changes in their
condition.   Ramona was summoned, when air/mucus/bodily fluid hoses would clog, etc.                 On many

                                                      11
occasions, throughout my deployment, I had the same comment made to me. Faint, and barely detectable
voices would whisper: “You have such kind eyes.” Were they kind eyes, or eyes that could see the fear,
horror, sadness, and confusion in their own eyes?            They were the mother, father, grandmother,
grandfather, sister, brother, friend, etc., who was spending the last days of their life in an airport, far from
their families and familiar/comfortable surroundings. They laid on the floor, while strange people walked
about, knelt aside them, and attempted to comfort them in any way possible. Not enough. Not nearly
enough.
          Some patients were comatose, others constantly restless, and still others cried out. Today, I was
able to obtain some morphine, from the pharmacy, to ease their pain/passing. Ramona carefully estimated
the amount/dosage and administered them some “peace.” One sweet, little lady, “name withheld,” cold not
be kept in one spot. She shivered incessantly and squirmed about, side to side, up and down, and would
be totally uncovered, two minutes after she was carefully moved into her “row,” covered, and tucked in. I
“referred to her as “the little roamer,” for she would work her way over to the gentleman next to her and find
comfort in cuddling up to him, at times sharing the same pillow (a precious sight). Neither seemed to mind,
so I would cover them both.
          Guy put up a covering (using pieces of thick white tent sections), across the opening to the
terminal, in order to give the patients the privacy they needed. A slit was left for entrance/exiting. I marked
the outside of the drape with big red letters, which read: “Keep Out, No Admittance!” This, I hoped, would
prevent people from peering into the area or using the terminal as a shortcut/walkway to the tarmac.
          I received word that a terminal patient would soon be transported to the Black Tent – with their
loved ones! How can this be? The floor is lined with death and dying! I asked Guy, to erect an enclosure,
so that they could have privacy, as well as be shielded from the sadness, that would surround them. Guy,
with the help of Bill (Texas 4) and other team members, erected a perfect enclosure. Using more of the
thick white tent material, a large, totally enclosed, area was erected, door and all.     Guy began to spend
more time in D1.       The amount of patients grew to 49, as did my need for supplies, care, and
preparation/transport of deceased, thereby, he was, ultimately, reassigned to this unit – a blessing!
          My 7:30pm relief didn’t come until 9:30pm that night. Having missed the team meeting, I gave the
pass-down information to my relief, two nurses from another DMAT. They appeared competent, and ready
to administer care. What a blessing!
          I was ecstatic to find out that the National Guard and The National Forest Service had arrived this
afternoon! Both protection AND food! What more could we ask for? The Forest Service set up tractor
trailer trucks, to serve hot meals from and also portable showers. SHOWERS! I hadn’t showered in four
days! I met up with Guy and our fellow team members, who had just had a team meeting. We all walked
outside to have a hot meal, then “home” (Luggage Carousel #6 & 7), to get a change of clean clothes and
toiletries, so we could shower. On my way back from dinner, we met up with the commander of the
National Guard unit, who was settling into Luggage Carousel areas #8 & 9, right next to us! An M16 strung
across his chest, a 45 on his hip, brought a tremendous sense of relief and comfort. He inquired as to the
ongoing situation “upstairs,” as well as “outside,” where over 25, 000 desperate people had gathered.
Upon being updated, he stated that his men were merely “showpieces,” that they had no ammunition and

                                                      12
did not expect any for three days. He further stated that he deemed the situation “too dangerous” for his
unit, therefore he would “pull out in the morning.”       W-H-A-T?   Our sense of relief/safety was totally
crumpled!
        After a refreshing shower, we returned “home.” It was almost midnight and we would be again be
awakened by Therese’s sweet (but unwelcome) voice in five hours. The sounds of a growing, angry
crowd, merely 50 feet from our “home,” echoed through the glass picture windows, lining the opposite side
of our sleeping areas.    One could see people “milling” around the street, outside the windows, and
frequently peering in. Would they riot, as the rumors indicated? Soon after arriving “home,” we received a
message from the commander, indicating that a particular phrase would be stated, over the intercom
(which was the ONLY thing that appeared to work – loud and clear – every thirty minutes or so, as we
attempted to sleep), when/if the airport was “stormed,” by desperate, angry, needy people.          I cannot
remember the exact wording, but it was something to the effect of: “All disaster workers please report to
the conference area for a meeting.” This meant we were to “run” outside the airport – to safety (where
over 25,000 people were??). Where would we run to? What would we do when we got “there?” Who
knew! Needles to say, our safety had been compromised and our much needed sleep would be disturbed.
        Our Security Officer, Bill (an Escondido Sheriff), reported hearing the thumping of many boots, as
National Guardsmen (with no ammunition) and local police, in riot gear, rushed to trouble spots. Shouts
were heard to “get back, or we’ll shoot!” Gun bolts were locked into place, chambering a bullet (an
invisible bullet?), to intimidate. Luckily, they did not know that they were not much of a threat. I did not
hear any of this, as I stuffed my ears with earplugs, as most of us did. Who would want to “see it coming”
or “where would we run to,” anyway? If I could just get a, much needed, hour or two of sleep. It reminded
me of a memorable camping trip, a few years ago, with Guy and my sister-in-law, Judy, and her husband,
Peter. We were in a lovely campground in Big Bear, and sleeping on the ground, in our sleeping bags. It
had been years, since we had camped, in a tent, and our bodies were a bit older and not as forgiving. By
the second night of not being able to sleep, I finally began to doze off, and I remember hearing a bear
outside my tent, his breath heavy and loud. Exhausted from no sleep, I said to myself: “That sounds like a
bear – but, it’s OK,” and fell off to sleep. I’ve digressed, but you get the message. We survived the night,
but with very little sleep. Bill later reported having seen: “six rifles (four of which were AK-47’s), and 14
handguns, in the trash cans, outside our sleeping area, along with unopened bottles of liquor and cans of
beer. I’m glad I was not aware of this, until we arrived at home.
        The next evening would bring the same fear/anxiety, only the crowd grew larger, and the threat
more imminent, after being “riled up” by Jessie Jackson, who came to incite the already angry crowd. I
later heard he spoke of prejudiceness regarding the time it took for evacuation/rescue of the “black
people,” and the substandard care of the evacuees, due to their color/race (I would later hear this stated by
politicians, during the aftermath. Preposterous! I couldn’t believe this would even be said! No one saw
color! They were people in need! I saw both male and female DMAT members holding the hands of
evacuees, rubbing their arms, as they spoke to them, putting their arms around their shoulders, and giving,
much needed hugs. The look of caring, concern, sadness and empathy filled their eyes. This is what “I“
saw.

                                                     13
        In the midst of chaos, confusion, and death, ten babies were born, all healthy. The word would
quickly spread, when a healthy miracle arrived. We bathed in the brief moment of joy/relief – anything to
shift our attention from the heaviness of the ongoing situation. A quick gathering of some team members,
in the Logistics area (where our large boxes of supplies were lined up in multiple rows, ready to fulfill a
supply need for one of the DMAT members), to have a quick bite to eat (now in sac lunches, instead of
MRE’s) would provide for a much needed break. Somehow, we felt “protected,” in that corner of the room,
far enough away (a mere 20 feet), but not. We used humor, laughing at things we would not normally
laugh at – anything to release some of the heightened energy, which was ready to spill over into another
“melt down.”
        There was word of lawlessness in the streets; drive-by shootings, people being raped, beaten,
stabbed, robbed, and shot. The victims of many of these crimes made their way to the airport. Their
stories were heartbreaking. One young man, whose mother had lost her life in their flooded house, made
his way to dry land, after having swam, for hours, in the contaminated water.         He passed out from
exhaustion and was awoken by five men, tugging at his shoes, and rifling through his pockets. He pleaded
for his life, as there were many guns pointed at his head. He was brutally beaten and left for dead, only
clothed in dirty and ripped, cut-off jeans; stripped of everything, including his dignity. The young man was
totally “beaten down,” everything in this world was gone or taken from him. What support do you offer
someone like this? He appeared to be younger than my own youngest son, Paul. I felt the need to just
hug him, and that appeared to be what he needed, as well. He sobbed uncontrollable for a very long time,
then he attempted to talk through the many stitches surrounding his mouth and chin. Many women, who
lost everything, and attempting to get to safety, were taken advantage of sexually and brutally raped. They
arrived with wet, torn clothing, in a state of shock, having walked miles to get to the airport. Some had,
also, been beaten. Who would take advantage of someone in such a position?
        Personal belongings (food, clothing, cell phones, CD players, laptop computers, and PDA’s) were
stolen, from backpacks and gear bags (by the occasional evacuee, who would sneak into our baggage
area). On a few occasions, a team member’s cot, or sleeping bag was stolen – this was the last straw, as
they were robbed of their only semblance of safety and security.
        Large round expandable vents (similar to dryer vents, only 20 times bigger around), were attached
to generators and dragged into the front doors, blowing fresh air (not cool, but fresh). Unfortunately, this
“fresh” air didn’t make Terminal D1, which was segregated from the main room. Friday was a good day.
The electricity came back on. Cheers of delight came from both evacuees, as well as disaster workers.
The lights were bright and although it helped to see better, it reflected the enormity of the situation. In
every direction, there lie/sit/stand evacuees, people to people, with little room to walk. We were, also,
informed that the military had arrived! Young, energetic, caring men and women, from the Air Force – who
were armed! We all cheered with excitement to see their weapons strapped across their chest and on their
sides, knowing they were also loaded. My first question to one of them was just that: “Are your weapons
loaded?” Of course, the young man looked at me a little oddly, but, then again, he couldn’t have known
why I was asking him that, nor was I at liberty to disclose this information.



                                                      14
        I arrived at D1, by 7:00 AM and was pleased to see that the two male nurses had been quite
efficient in changing and feeding, our patients, and with general medical care. I breathed a sigh of relief
(always feeling guilty having left them during the night) and thanked them with a hug. Time for rounds. I
knelt beside each patient, talking to them, wiping/fixing/checking. When I began to talk to “name withheld,”
his normal “stirring,” when he heard my voice, was not detected. I watched for breathing and recognized
that he had died. This was “the little roamers” mate. She remained “cuddled” up to him, unaware of his
current state. I quickly made my way to “the other room,” feeling myself begin to “melt.” I summoned a
doc to “pronounce” “name withheld,” then melted. Luckily, Mark had just entered the room and ushered
me into the “private area,” the enclosure that Guy had constructed, but had not, yet, been used, as the
individual, for which it was erected, had died. There we sat, there I sobbed.
        After having my (second) “melt-down,” it was back to rounds. News of twelve more nursing home
evacuees were being transported to my unit. How can this be? That will make 49 individuals – where will
we put them all? Who will care for them? This is utterly impossible! They would, eventually line both
sides of Terminal D1, the full length of the terminal.
        Anticipating the arrival of the patients, I left the unit to gather up as many supplies as I could. As
was always the case, when I would arrive at our Logistics (Logs) area, Dave, would ask: “What can I get
for you?” Such a hard-working, dedicated man. He knew where everything was and had substitutes in
mind when he ran out of particular items. I relied on his good sense of humor to give me a quick lift.
        After having received the new patients, and in the midst of utter chaos, Guy entered the tent, with
visitors. He was coming back, with additional supplies and was about to enter the Black Tent area, when
he was approached by several individuals, in uniform (Air Force). They stated they had just arrived from
Scott Air Force Base. That’s the base our son, Guy Jr. was recently assigned to, as a pediatrician!!!
Come to find out, this gentleman was Guy Jr.’s commanding officer! During the conversation, a female
officer joined the group, Major Mary McFadden, who he would come to find out, was Guy Jr’s immediate
commanding officer! Coincidence?? I think not.! Chills ran up my spine! Of all the military, in the United
States, my son’s unit was the first to be sent! They asked what was behind the white curtain and he
brought them into the unit and introduced them to me.. Without hesitation, Mary asked me: What is your
greatest need?” Without hesitation, I stated: “People! People with medical experience to care for these
individuals! Within fifteen minutes, five energetic, competent, and caring recruits were at my service. They
cleaned, changed diapers, and helped Ramona administer the medical care needed. Such a blessing! I
teared as I saw them quickly get to work. I don’t believe in coincidence. Although Guy Jr. could not be
here with us (he had scheduled training), he was in spirit. Such a comforting feeling.
        Later in the day, we would hear of a DMAT team, from Washington (WA-1), who were sent to the
Convention Center, to treat patients (we later learned that, due to a shortage of police/military personnel,
there were many instances of rape, pillage, beatings, and child molestation occurring freely and openly).
Shortly after the WA-1 arrived, they were fired upon (by angry evacuees), as were the few police officers
that were there to attempt to control the violence. The DMAT team had to leave their patients, supplies,
and personal belongings (to sustain themselves for 2 weeks), and run for their lives. One of their DMAT
trucks was riddled with bullet holes. Two police officers were shot, one was killed (shot between the eyes).

                                                         15
The team made their way to LSU, in Baton Rouge, where they were debriefed and given time to recover.
Some team members returned home, some came to the airport, days later, to continue their selfless work.
This is who DMAT members are – heroes in my eyes.
            The Air Force was there, not only in man-power, but also brought enough supplies to restock our
entire DMAT cache! They came to save the day! We had diapers, we had blankets, we had small pillows,
we had more stretchers, and we had more pharmaceuticals and we had more food (MRE’s) and water for
the people in “the other room!” A sigh of relief, until I looked down at the 49 suffering souls. A brief
moment of excitement was all I could afford myself.
            Although my unit was continuously chaotic, I would be summoned, from the “other room,” on many
occasions, to diagnose evacuees expected of having a mental illness or when someone was “out of
control,” which was quite frequently. Until this morning (when Air Force relief came), I would have to leave
Ramona or Guy alone, in order to be able to be consumed by “the other room.” It was like another world in
there. The Black Tent area was secluded, so as to allow the patients the quiet, privacy, and dignity with
which to depart from this earth. People would often say: “How can you work in there? That’s the worst
job here!” Well, stepping into the entrance to “the other room,” was, yet, another experience. It was quite
loud and thousands of people milled about. Neither was appealing, just different.
            Scantly clad evacuees laid on stretchers, row after row, with clothing stained from contaminated
flood waters, urine, feces, blood, or vomit. Health care workers did their best to care/cover them, however,
until the Air Force arrived, supplies were short and time was better spent on treating the immediate and,
oftentimes, critical medical needs. The smell was overwhelming. Although I have the ability to block off
the back of my nasal cavity (taught, by my Dad - who was a professional scuba diver/instructor/rescuer , -
at the young age of 9, as part of my skin and scuba dive lessons), this wasn’t enough. The smell was so
acrid, one could actually taste it! The smell/taste was something that became familiar, not pleasing, just
familiar.
            Once the crisis was taken care of, in “the other room,” I would return to Terminal D1, enjoying the
brief time it took to walk down the quiet corridor. Upon returning, this afternoon, I was surprised to see my
“quiet” corridor filled with DMAT members, from another team. It was DMAT-MA1, from Massachusetts,
my home state! I welcomed everyone, with quick hugs and high fives, down the line, to the entrance to D1,
then back to reality.
            Mark came, to inform me that the President was arriving soon. I am to “get into full uniform,” as I
have khaki shorts on, and sneakers, rather than my khaki pants and heavy, hot, black, combat boots.
“What??? Who cares what I’m wearing! I am to leave “all this” to go down to the truck (where we are
storing our gear, to prevent theft), where thousands of angry people are milling around, to change my
clothes??” The order was “always” to take a buddy with you, wherever you go, as the tension, in the
airport was building and danger was always looming behind every corner. I go alone, mumbling all the
way! Taking time for this frivolous chore! Who cares what I am wearing? I return to my post, clothed in
full uniform, already drenched with sweat.          The airport is closed to all incoming air/ground traffic.
Everything is put on hold, as the President flies into the airport. Patients circle in dozens of helicopters,
buses and ambulances are held back – something is wrong here. The President makes his way to the first

                                                       16
level of the airport (near our sleeping quarters), where it is void of patients. He poses with two young,
adorable children, beautifully dressed, and gives them cans of some nutrient drink. He will not come
upstairs amongst the crowd, where he is needed. Mark comes to relieve me, so that I can meet the
President. Upon hearing about the aforementioned, I declined. I have more important work here. If the
President can’t come amongst the people, than I have no need to meet him. I’m sure security, etc., is the
issue at hand, however, my emotions cloud my logical thinking and I am angry – just angry.
         We had several more patients die today. The young recruits helped to gently move them into their
bags and I gingerly placed their “toe-tags” and processed their paperwork, etc. Since our “reefer” was now
half full, Mark asked a Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) representative to have the truck
“taken away.” The bodies were being stored at an undisclosed location. An empty truck was returned,
only to begin filling it once again. Another trip into the truck, with Mark, had to be made, as a couple of
deceased had been placed inside, without, having been identified by us, or given a number. This trip was
easier than the first but, still, not pleasant.
         When someone would die, we would place their body bags beside the door, leading to the
walkway (down the ramp and luggage escalator) to the bottom of the ramp, where the “reefer” was parked.
We would wait until two or three bodies were lined up, so that this lengthy procedure could be conducted at
once. On one occasion, I quickly became angered, as I entered the area (from one of my summoned
“visits,” to the “other room,” to find two elderly patients in that (once empty) area, who had not been
identified or placed in bags. I brought my supplies (gloves, clipboard, with list of names and assigned
numbers, toe tags, body bag, and red marker) to the end of the room and knelt beside the first elderly
woman. I looked for her name, on her medical chart, and began to speak to her, as I entered her name on
my log and assigned her a number. As I reached for a toe tag and began to fill it out, she turned her head
toward me and I just about passed out. My breathing stopped and I couldn’t speak. This woman was
alive! Both women were alive! Was this some sick joke? Come to find out, both evacuees had just
arrived and were placed in the only “open space” seen. I can breath again, but feel somewhat jittery.
         My “little roamer,” appears to miss her companion, and is moving all over the place. Her frail body
was difficult to keep covered, as she moved incessantly. It appeared as if she was looking for her “mate,”
as she was, now, completely in his area. I’ll cover her again.
         The last delivery of evacuees, from a flooded nursing home, arrived. Their condition appeared to
be much better than our current patients. A few were psychotic and required immediate medication, as
they became aggressive and uncontrollable. As I logged in each and every patient, and assigned them a
number, I would continue to make them a name tag (to place at their head), so that they could be called by
name. To my surprise, many of them were conscious and talking! This was quite different than most of
my other patients. Many could drink from a straw, or were fed crackers, or high-calorie drinks, which
arrived with their own supplies and their medical records. Those that came with nothing shared what
others had, until our own supplies came.
         There goes that alarm, again. A woman that was brought in, two days ago, was expected to die,
within the hour. She has lasted for two days. She is connected to a machine that pumps air into her lungs



                                                    17
and sucks out the mucus, which rattles in her throat. Guy is there to change her oxygen bottle and the
alarm stops – thank you!
           Again, I am summoned, by several Air Force recruits, but this time, not to the “other room;” to the
tarmac below, where two bodies have been delivered, by the military, and required processing. I make my
way to the tarmac and begin to unzip the first large green bag. The bag is different than the ones we have
been using. It’s dark green, and much thicker. The zipper is thick and hefty. Why am I even thinking
about such a thing? Inside I see a large black blanket, which is soaked by contaminated water. The smell
is horrific. As I begin to unwrap, I hear voices (behind me), state: “Venuti – Venuti – do you think it’s any
connection to that new doc, Guy?” I turn and state: “Yes, that’s my son!” One of the female recruits
immediately begins to cry (any reason to have a melt-down in conditions, such as this!). “He’s the best
doctor, I love him and my kids love him,” were here kind words. I continued with my difficult task. Once I
opened the blanket, I discovered a very large, young man, different from the elderly, I had previously
processed. I was pleased to see he had identification, and contact information, however, upon closer
examination, I discovered that the note was hand written, in red, by himself! I fought back the tears, as I
read the note: “Please contact my wife, ________. My home number is __________ and her work
number is ____________.         He had written this note, aware that he was going to die. His leg was quite
difficult to unwrap/lift, I prayed for strength. One shoe was missing, what’s the chance of that? I didn’t
have to remove a shoe, which can be quite difficult, as swelling (from the flood water) or rigidness occurs!
I’ll take any help I can. I completed processing this gentleman, along with the second individual. Pleased
to be done, I removed my gloves and gave/received hugs and kisses from all of my son’s colleagues. I
don’t know who needed that more – them or I.. Again, I felt my oldest son’s presence (Guy Jr.).
           The New Orleans’s chaplain returned daily, now clad in army fatigues, as he is an active reservist!
Such a start contrast to his black suit, he wore on his first day. He continued to pray over all patients.
Even those who were uncommunicative, responded favorably, with a sigh, blink of the eye, movement of
their hand, or a moan. Amazing, the comforting power of prayer. The chaplain introduced Mark and I to
two gentlemen, clad in orange tee-shirts. They were, also, volunteer chaplains and offered their help, as
well as their staff of about 20 volunteers. Unbelievable! They returned the next day, in full force. They
prayed, found supplies, escorted evacuees to the restroom, emptied trash cans; whatever was asked of
them. They made their “rounds,” in the Black Tent, as well as the “other room.” They were an incredible
help. I wish I could remember their organization, or even what their easily recognizable orange tee-shirts
stated. I only remember the word “Volunteer” written on the back of their shirt and the immense help they
offered.
           Guy and Mark received word of two bodies, that were left outside the door airport door, next to the
tarmac. No one knew who left them there, but there they were in the hot sun. The bodies were identified,
marked, names added to my log, and they were transported to the “reefer.” I could see that Guy was
getting better at this. I’m not sure this is a good thing for us all.
           Today, I breathed a little easier, with the added help, however, the continued heaviness of
“sadness and doom,” lingered in every crevice of my body. The Air Force recruits were wonderful today.
Many thanks/hugs were given. My shift ended at 7:00pm. By 7:30pm I’ve passed down all patient

                                                        18
information to capable nurses. Exhausted from the day, Guy and I met our team members and walked to
the tarmac for dinner. The hot food is comforting and filling. A team meeting is held at 8:30pm each
evening, just time enough to get a bit to eat, after our shift is over. We meet at “home,” (Carousel #6-7)
and discuss the day’s events. Tonight we will sleep better, just knowing there are military personnel here
(with ammunition!), not enough to control the thousands of people now posing immense threat but,
nonetheless, some armed military. Most team members had laid on the floor, or slouched against the
luggage carousel, resting for the first time, since 5:00am, that morning. Many fought off sleep, during the
meeting, and when it was over contemplated sleep or shower, sleep or shower? Sleep won over, in most
cases, as it did with Guy and I. This is a choice I would not normally make, however, this was not a normal
situation. A quick brushing of my teeth was all I could muster up. I sat alongside Guy, as he took off his
black combat. The smell just about knocked me over. In the distance, I could hear other sighs of disgust,
as other DMAT members took theirs off. “Oh, Honey, I exclaimed! That’s the worst smell! Yuk!” I stated
this, as I unlaced my own boots. Ohhhhhh Noooo! Mine were just as bad as his! We laughed so hard, we
cried! Other bursts of laughter could be heard, as others would experience their own unpleasant odor.
Like I said previously, any excuse to laugh.
                                    th
        It was Ed and Valerie’s 25 wedding anniversary today. They were the only other couple on the
deployment. We had already become friends, but being on deployment together just seemed to confirm
that they would be “forever friends.” They were sleeping next to Guy and I and after wishing them a
“Happy Anniversary,” they could be seen falling off to sleep, holding hands across their cots (they had
“quieter ones!). Such a tender moment. They would later say, it was the best anniversary they had ever
spent together, certainly, the most memorable. Wonderful, dedicated, thoughtful, people.
        Guy went around our area and unscrewed most of the bright fluorescent lights, leaving the area
much darker than it was on previous nights. Looking forward to a “better” night’s sleep. I dawned my ear
plugs, and eye cover (“must-pack items,” for DMAT members) however, could still hear “that woman,” on
the intercom's speaker above us (stating: “Would the parent of a small child in blue . . . .”). “If I get my
hands on that woman!” was heard more than once throughout the night.
        Since different DMAT members worked separate shifts, one could hear the talking, laughing, and
generalized noise of other DMAT’s in the area and immediately next to us (in Carousel #5). They would
make noise putting up their recently issued cots, which were new and made so much noise, when you
moved one inch on them, that they kept us up, most of the night. We were, also, given them, however, we
(as many other team members) opted for the Carousel, as the cots were so loud, one could not turn over,
without waking yourself up, never mind the person immediately next to you (as we slept in rows). Sounds
of broken bottles and an angry crowd could, also, be heard in the background. By this time, the corridors,
prior to the Luggage Area, was inhabited by evacuees, who lined the corridors. It was difficult even
walking through them. Unmanageable children were everywhere.           Trash, urine, piles of feces. Not a
pleasant place to walk through. Noise emanated from this area, as well as from the angry crowd just
outside the glass windows. Nonetheless, we were able to get more sleep this night, than in previous nights
(about 4-5 hours) – probably from sheer exhaustion.



                                                    19
         After a better night’s sleep, a refreshing shower, and a warm breakfast, we headed to our posts.
To our surprise, almost all of the thousands of people, milling around, outside the airport, had been bused,
or flown out of the airport, to other shelter areas. As the threat of the airport being “stormed” increased, the
military worked all night, in order to evacuate most of the angry crowd, as the Vice President (Al Gore)
would be arriving today. Another show? No! He walked through the people, shook hands, gave his
time/ear to many, brought supplies, and took 250 evacuees, with him, in his private jet. He would return
the next day, with more supplies and, again, transport more people. He had my respect. If I was not too
busy, with new arrivals, I would have been honored to shake his hand. A quick peek at the surrounding,
empty, area, brought relief. It looked like the aftereffects of five combined Rose Bowl Parades (if any of
you have seen the horrendous aftermath of trash), however, the trash was not as menacing, as the angry
crowd.
         Two of our newer patients were young, females, who were severely handicapped (chronological
ages 15 and 18, mental ages, approximately 2 years old).            Neither could talk, and moved around,
oftentimes salivating uncontrollably. Another heartache!
         The Army arrived today; more relief and more supplies. There was talk of the military needing our
area to offload patients to helicopters, in order to expedite their evacuation to shelters/hospitals, in nearby
states. This was disheartening, as my patients had undergone enough confusion and turmoil and moving
them would be detrimental to their well-being. I fought long and hard (taking my plea to anyone in charge
of anything), but to no avail. After each agency “flexed their muscles,” we would be moved to Terminal D2,
across from our current area (D1).
         Our “reefer” would have to be moved to the other side of the airport, next to the ramp, which led to
D2.   Our enclosure had to be taken down, as was the door/covering to our unit.              More work, more
aggravation, but it occurred quickly and with the help of many recruits. Our new area was freezing! The
patients shivered, although they were given green, wool blankets. Guy immediately began to put up the
white tent material, blocking off our area, and inquired about having the air conditioning turned off. The
unit could not be isolated from other areas, so we would have to “live” with the frigid condition.
         Guy began to cover all the air vents, with cardboard and duct tape, which made a big difference,
however, the air remained too cold for comfort. Returning to D1, to assure that all supplies had been
transferred, I stood at the entrance to the terminal and could see large soiled areas, evenly spaced, up one
side of the terminal and down the other. The only clean spots, were where the patients/stretchers lied.
Large spots of bodily fluids marked the spots of much suffering, sadness, and death.
          After getting settled in Terminal D2, I couldn’t help but look out the window, giving a clear view of
the busy tarmac. Dozens of helicopters, raising much dust, were landing, emptying their precious cargo,
then returning with, yet, another full load of evacuees. It was an awesome sight. I stood there in awe, to
my left, 49 frail, sick people, and to my right, what appeared to be a “war zone.” I noticed a Colonel
standing next to me, who voiced: “Awesome, huh?” I reiterated my thought about the situation and stated:
“I have never been in war, but I imagine it to be a similar experience.” He replied: “I’ve been in battle
many times and this is one hundred times worse!” My thoughts/beliefs were justified, not that it helped
matters, but . . .

                                                      20
         FEMA and military officials would make their way to Terminal D2, to assess the situation. They
would briefly stop to look out the windows, at the ongoing traffic on the tarmac, then direct their attention to
the people lining the terminal, in two long rows. With confusing looks, they would inquire as to why these
patients were isolated from “the other room,” and when informed of their status, they would pathetically
hang their head, shake it back and forth and say: “How can you work in here?” How could we work
anywhere in the airport?!?
         Ramona continued to show up, daily, to volunteer her medical expertise (such dedication!).
Although we spent many days together, we didn’t have time to talk about our private lives or families. All I
know of her is that her home was flooded, she had no electricity, and that she was here, with me, every
day of the week, instead of home, attempting to get her home in order.
         The day was intense, however, manageable, with the extra help. I could, for the first time, use the
restroom, without guilt. I enjoyed my quiet, alone time there, not wanting to give up the stall, as it would
mean returning to the chaos.
         A few more souls passed today. The ritualistic preparation was completed quickly, but with utmost
respect. The ”“reefer”” would, again, need to be transported/emptied. Mark would arrange for this task.
         More and more military were visible, and settled in, in the terminals beyond D1 & D2. A large
American flag hung, from the ceiling, just beyond our area. Their presence was awesome. I know we will,
all, sleep better tonight!
         I was making my final rounds, as I was preparing to end my shift. I heard a faint noise coming
from “name withheld.” As I knelt beside her, our eyes met. Her pale blue eyes were seemed kind and
appeared to sparkle. I asked her if she was speaking to me and she began to sing – a love song – one
that was unfamiliar to me, but I knew my mother would know the words. My eyes quickly filled with tears
and my chest became heavy with sadness. I felt I could have a “melt down,” right here and now. “NO!” I
ordered myself! This is a very special moment, one I should enjoy, cherish, and be very thankful for. I was
able to listen to this self talk and my sadness soon turned to joy. I told her she had a beautiful voice and
she reveled in the compliment, singing even louder, and straining her vocal cords. Her frail, soft voice
quivered with each and every word she sang. She would hold the last note of the song as long as she
could, her faint voice trailing off. I asked her to sing another song, and that she did. One of the recruits
passed by and I thought she would enjoy having a larger audience. I summoned her to “listen to the
beautiful love song,” and “name withheld,” immediately after eyeing         her, began to sing as loud and
deliberate as she possibly could: “Go a-www-aaa-yyyyyy. I don’t knowww youuuuu. Go a-www-aaa-
yyyyy,” over and over. The recruit apologized for her intrusion and quickly left her point of sight, returning
to her duties. I apologized, as well, for upsetting her. I asked her to continue singing to me, and she did
so – my own concert! I motioned to Guy, who was across the room, to listen discretely, and he was able to
hear her faint, sweet voice. She sang until she drifted off to sleep. Such a sweet moment – a precious
gift. The next morning, I would see an empty space where she laid. She had passed shortly after I left.
         Laundry service was provided by the National Forest Service. A weeks worth of the smelliest
clothing I’ve ever worn was placed into a large net bag (whites, lights, and darks all put together,
something I would ordinarily never do at home!). The bags were washed in very large washing machines,

                                                      21
along with many other DMAT member’s bags I can only imagine what the rinse water looked/smelled like!
Ugh! The bags were then thrown into mega dryers. The clothes were half-cleaned, dried, and quite,
wrinkled, but better smelling than when they went in! We were all grateful, who could be fussy at a time
like this?
         With added military presence (smile), came more aircraft. Most of the initial evacuees had been
flown to hospitals or shelters, in nearby states. Incoming evacuees were, now, being triaged, treated, and
evacuated, all within the same day! Unbelievable! One of the Colonels, also a medical doctor, came into
D2 and inquired as to the status of the many individuals, now on stretchers (since moved from D1) and
lined up/down the terminal. I could immediately sense his sadness and uneasiness with their current living
situation (something I felt from day one).    He hesitated, as if thinking long and hard, then asked me if I
wanted him to transport the healthiest patients, to a hospital, in a nearby state. What? Do I WANT? OF
COURSE I WANT! I was overjoyed, overwhelmed, and happier than I can remember. I instantaneously
hugged him (so much for rank!) and he stated: “I needed that!” Within five minutes, ten medics were
taking vital signs and reading records. They tagged the handle of the cot, with duct tape (yet another use
for duct tape!), indicating those that were stable for transport. There were, at least fifteen tagged! I quickly
and happily began to record those that were leaving. I said a quick good-bye to each of those leaving, as I
patted their arm or leg. Everything happened so quickly.
         After they were transported, across the way, through D1 (where I was originally set up), they were
walked through the ramp onto a nearby aircraft (not the luggage escalator to the “reefer!”). The Colonel
returned, looked at me, looked at the remaining patients, and stated: “The hell with it! We have more
room let’s take them all! Even if they don’t make the flight, it’s better than leaving them here!” My heart
leaped for joy; we teared, we hugged, I logged, and he helped to escort.
         The room was quiet and empty. I stood at the entrance and looked down the terminal – the
familiar stains - evenly spaced (beside where stretchers once laid), were quite visible, as they were in
Terminal D1. A sad reminder. I stood there, with a sigh, and said a prayer for the safe journey of all our
patients, either to a sanitized hospital, with an abundance of comfort care, or to a “better place.”
         Ramona and I began to clean up the terminal floor. Empty “fluid” bottles, tubing, gauze, pads,
cups, feeding tubes, rubber gloves, droppers, etc., were placed into red (hazardous) bags.             Medical
supplies were neatly stacked and order returned to this once chaotic unit. I brought the narcotics back to
the Pharmacy, now located in the New Orleans Airport Tavern! Initially they were located in a “reefer”
truck, outside the front of the airport, and heavily guarded, however, with the growing crowds, they were
moved to this prime location, still cordoned off and heavily guarded by men in uniform and very large
weapons! Suzanne and Michael, our fantastic, team Pharmacists worked with other DMAT members, from
other teams. I especially gave thanks to Michael, who kept the Black Tent a “priority” (even through the
shortages), and provided us with enough morphine to keep our patients comfortable (those who needed it).
Such a wonderful, caring man.
         Once the Black Tent was cleared/cleaned out, I returned to the “other room,” where there were
many in need of medical, psychological, and spiritual assistance. I could see many of the “orange” shirt
volunteers milling around and helping wherever they could. The pace continued to be fast, but controlled,

                                                      22
at this point. Patients, on liters, were now in neat rows, within each marked area (Green, Red, Yellow). A
long line of liters, four across, made their way toward the entrance, to be carried onto the next aircraft.
Another line of walking wounded, and wheelchairs made its way to another area of the airport, where other
aircraft were taking them to shelters in another state. None knew where they were going, and many did
not care, as long as it was safe, dry, and far away from New Orleans.
         I was called for a little old lady, who was apparently “bothering” everyone, by pushing her walker
into people’s feet and into the injured evacuees laying on liters. She was not oriented (to person, place, or
time) and appeared to be suffering from advanced dementia. All she wanted to do was “go home.” She
shuffled about, with her walker, bumping into everyone, and stating over and over: I’m going home!” She
was escorted to the Yellow tent and given a mild sedative, to relax her. I helped her onto the cot and held
her hand until she fell asleep. The man on the next cot, injured from the hurricane, cuddled his eighteen
month-old grandson, who was separated from his parents, during the hurricane.
         Many children were separated from parents and loved ones. Some arrived totally alone, others
accompanied very sick parents. Children were held, watched, and comforted, until a representative from
Social Services could transport them to their facilities, where they would be cared for, until their parents
were either found or were well enough to care for them.
         Dogs were now appearing in the airport. Veterinary Medical Assistant Team (VMAT) members, as
well as some of our DMAT members, cared for stray and injured animals. They were treated quite well
(bathed, fed, shots were administered, and some dehydrated animals were given fluids through IV’s!).
         Today was a much better day. I can’t begin to express the sense of relief I felt when the last
patient left the Black Tent. I hoped/prayed the area would no longer be needed. The public restrooms
were now cleaner than during the chaos of the first week. The smell of bleach was everywhere. Floors
and cots were sanitized by this strong cleaning fluid, however, it did not cover the putrid smell that lingered
in the air. I can only imagine what it would have been like, after all this time, had the air-conditioning had
not come back on!
         At this point in time, evacuees presented with more complicated issues.          Aside from injuries
incurred as a direct/indirect result of the hurricane, they were now                   without life-sustaining
medication/treatment (diabetic, kidney dialysis), as well as psychiatric medication, for over a week. Many
had been recently rescued (cut from a hole in their roof), and had been up to their neck in contaminated
water.   Most had not eaten or drank in over a week.          Dehydrated, malnourished, sick, people, with
compromised limbs (body rot) arrived one after another. There were many elderly people, who did not
have the strength to break through their rooftops to reach safety. Unlike previous days, the amount of
incoming patients was less than the number of outgoing patients, however, the severity of illness was
greater. A man was brought in with an alligator bite (taking off most of his calf), after attempting to swim to
safety, in contaminated water, which filled the streets. Gunshot victims arrived, as well as victims of
assault and rape.
         Dave surprised us, this morning, with freshly brewed coffee! What a treat! I hugged him, with
gratitude. I hadn’t had freshly brewed coffee in over a week! Yes! The aroma was wonderful. News of



                                                     23
this “treat” quickly made it to other DMAT’s and they lined up with their cups and smiled, ear to ear, as their
cups were filled. Dave made many friends that day.
        Many families were separated. Some members were rescued first, treated, then transported to
shelters in another state. Children were without parents; couples were separated; adult children were
separated from their invalid parents.      It added more “fuel to the fire.”      Having lost all their worldly
possessions, and suffered injuries, they had to endure the worry of being separated from their loved ones
and the horror of anticipating their death/disappearance
        Newspaper/Television reporters and cameramen were everywhere. They were in the way and
intrusive. Cameramen would stick their cumbersome cameras into the tents, where people lay exposed,
injured, and in the worst possible condition they had ever been in. So much for dignity and privacy (why
we set up the tents). They would attach their huge microphones to long extension poles, so that they could
stand on a chair, outside the tent, and capture every cry, moan, and scream. Unbelievably intrusive!
Would they have been so dedicated to “getting the story,” if it had been their significant other, sibling, child,
one of their parents, lying on the gurney, writhing and screaming in pain? I think not. When we “could” get
through to friends/family members, they would tell us of television news reports, which focused more on
sensationalism, than on reporting the actual facts. I learned that Oprah Winfrey had sent her private
surgeon, Dr. Oz, and a team of reporters to the airport, days ago, when the Black Tent was located in D1.
During the night, Dr. Oz was viewed on television, dramatically exiting the white protective covering to the
unit and stating something to the effect of: “Through these curtains lie people who are dying, with no
medical care or help! Grandmothers and Grandfathers, just like our own, are lined up on the floor, left to
die!). Upon hearing this, I was outraged! My veins cursed with blood, my pulse rose, my face flushed, and
I felt as if I was going to explode! How could he! How could SHE! Our team vowed to not give any
“comments,” or to pose for pictures (OR mention Oprah in front of me!). Jake, our Commander, would
have the unpleasant job of dealing with “those” people.
        Someone hand wrote a, “Disaster Workers Prayer,” and taped it to the side of the “Red Tent,” as a
“thank you” for the help they received. I wish I had had the time to write it down, but it had been removed,
before I could copy it. It was quite touching. Everyone appeared to be thankful for their lives, their rescue,
their treatment and medical help, and their GOD. Not once did I hear the familiar questions asked, during
difficult times: “Why me,” “What have I done to deserve this,” or “Where is God when I need him?”
Instead, I heard phrases such as: “I’m blessed, so blessed to be alive,” “Thank you for your help, you’re
such a wonderful person,” “Thank the good Lord, for all he’s given me,” “Praise the Lord, for he shall
provide,” “The Lord must have other things in store for me.” I had never met so many traumatized people
who’s spirit was lifted by their faith, it was quite a moving experience. Aside from mentally ill or brain
damaged individuals, I had only encountered one young man (probably in his late teens), who was rude
and demanding of immediate medical care. When informed that his paperwork was completed and that he
would be seen in order of arrival, he became angry and belligerent, yelling out four letter expletives. A
scared, frightened, young man, probably homeless and without the comfort of family.
        The outside streets were being cleaned of the incredible debris, left by the evacuees. The air is
humid, but much cleaners than indoors.          I take some deep breaths and try to stretch my tense

                                                      24
neck/shoulders. To the right of the front door, I see an old man, with a long gray beard still sitting in a row
of seats, which were taken from vans, in order to make room for supplies. I have seen him here, for almost
a week, in the same row of seats. Ambulances still line the street, but in a row of two, rather than four
deep. There is still, however, a long line of patients, coming from the ambulances, down the sidewalk, into
the adjoining section of the airport, and through the center part of the airport, where people at the Intake
table would check them in.
        I was summoned by a fellow DMAT member, who needed me to evaluate a three year-old child,
who’s mother reported that five men broke into her apartment and raped her daughter in another room.
Needless to say, both the child and mother were given priority care. The little girl, was neatly groomed and
beautifully dressed. Her hair was tied in “pigtails” and her smile revealed two deep dimples. She required
a breathing treatment, but would not cooperate with the medical staff. Back at Logistics, Dave provided
me with an adorable puppet, which helped to establish rapport (The puppet would, then be used for many
injured/frightened children). She loved the character and would talk to it and listen for it’s responses,
rather than look at me. We walked/talked and finally made our way to the Yellow Tent, where she was
coaxed into taking a breathing treatment, for her asthma. I knelt beside her, encouraging her with the
puppet, until the treatment was completed. She became somewhat rambunctious and poked me in the
eye (without warning), scraping my cornea (I was later made to wash out my eye and put in antibiotic
drops, for the next four days). The child was given an internal, which would have “freaked-out,” most
children this age. It appeared as if the child had previously been violated, only because of the ease at
which she participated. The examination did not show signs of recent abuse. The mother, now receiving
prompt treatment was further questioned. Hours later, we would learn that she invented the story, in order
to receive immediate care. The question of prior abuse, remained, but could not be proven. The mother
was taken into custody, for filing a false police report and the child would be taken by Social Services. A
sad case, any way you look at it.
        I was summoned to the entrance of the airport, where a rather large man sat in one of the triage
chairs. He appeared to be catatonic. The man was “forced” to leave his flooded home, by the National
Guard. I attempted to comfort the man, whose large, red, swollen nose indicated alcohol abuse. His
clothes were wet and dirty and an awful odor emanated from his body. He appeared to be in shock. After
attempting to establish rapport, I asked him to explain what happened. It took him about five minutes to
form a word, on his lips: “M-m-m-m-y-y-y C-c-c-c-c-a-a-a-a-t-t!” was all he could say for a long while. It
seemed as if he was made to leave his cat behind. After much time had transpired, he was able to tell me
that he was “forced to leave my home – I’ve never been anywhere else before. They wouldn’t let me find
my cat. She’s the only thing I had in this world. You might as well give me a cup of cyanide to drink.” The
man was not, in fact suicidal, however, quite distraught.
        Yet, another emergency brought me to the Yellow Tent, where an out-of-control, aggressive,
developmentally disabled teenager fought off his parents and numerous medical workers. He was there
with his parents and older brother (I would later discover he was mentally disabled, as well), who
attempted to remain in a flooded home, without his medication, as long as they could, anticipating just this
problem. He sat in his wheelchair and was belted in for safety. It seemed as if the patient experienced

                                                     25
difficulty being amongst people. That was a problem, as the tent was full, and the airport packed! I
attempted to talk with him, but to no avail. He was beyond talking; - fearful - frightened – angry – and
seemingly attending to internal stimuli, but not responsive to simple commands. I was quick to move out of
the way of his flying punches. He took pot shots at everyone around him, bit his parents, and tried to hit
them with his head. He began to throw his head back violently. We feared for his safety, as he began to
slip down his wheelchair and strangle himself with his seat belt. It took his parents, myself, and three other
DMAT members to help restrain him. His parents stated that the more he was restrained, the more
aggressive he would become. That was true, however, letting him go was detrimental to his own health,
as well those around him. He was injected with Haldol/Ativan, however, only became more aggressive.
As he continued to slip and could not be held, soft restraints were ordered. Keith was there, to quickly and
gingerly dress him in these bracelets/anklets. He fought furiously, bucking, spitting, attempting to punch,
etc. All the while, Kevin, spoke to him in a calm manner, donning his restraints properly, to assure that he
would remain safe. What a sweet, kind-hearted man. Two additional shots would have to be given, before
this patient gave up his battle, became limp and began to drift off. We all breathed a sigh of relief. While
we were attempting to control this individual, his brother, wandered off, aimlessly walking through the
crowd. We caught up to him and when he had reached the far end of the main room, he just stood there -
face against the wall. His mother and I walked him back to the Yellow tent, where his brother laid sleeping,
on a cot (where he was transferred, after he fell asleep). His brother, accepted treats from me (health
bars, chips, water, etc.), however, was uncommunicative and quite paranoid.                 The helpless look of
frustration and sadness adorned the parents’ drawn and tired faces. My heart ached for the difficulty these
parents must endure, on a daily basis.
        Leaving the Yellow Tent, I heard the faint sound of a guitar. Could it be? I entered the Green
Tent, to find a tall, thin, man sitting on a cot, with dirty, wet, cut off jeans. He and his wife (sitting on a chair
next to him) had just been rescued from atop his house. The only thing he could save was his old – very
old – guitar. I asked him to play another song and that he did. I knelt beside him so that I could take full
advantage of some “missed” music. I never thought such an old guitar could sound so good. Everyone in
the tent moved along to the music. I asked him if he would sing and he asked for requests. “Gospel, I
asked?” “All right then, he stated,” and began to sing about Katrina, the flooding, devastation, and his
Savior. Tears welled, yet, I was determined to cherish this moment. He sang a mighty song, attracting
more and more DMAT members, from nearby. Everyone clapped and moved to the welcomed beat of the
music; the words perfect for the occasion.          After listening to him sing two songs, I felt refreshed,
rejuvenated, and blessed – very blessed. Everyone began to pull money from their pockets, tipping him for
his entertainment. He made over $50 that afternoon, but it would not equate to the glorious gift, he freely
gave to us all.
        I saw a woman crying, as she waiting in line for transport. I inquired as to her tears and she stated
that her husband had gone to the restroom, two hours ago, and had yet to return. I assured her that I
would find him. Armed with a good description of his clothing/facial features and lack of hair, I searched
every nook and cranny of the airport, but couldn’t find him! I gave his description to the local police and
military, who radioed his description to all. Two hours later, I STILL could not find him! The woman

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missed her flight, not wanting to be separated from her husband. She was elderly and had mild symptoms
of dementia . . . could she have imagined her husband got lost? Had he died and she was imagining him
here? Not unusual questions to ask, as events, such as this, transpired frequently when the elderly are
under stress. I continued to look and finally stumbled upon him. I escorted him back to her and they
boarded the next plane, slowly walking arm and arm.
        It was only now, after the amount of military outnumbered the evacuees, that we felt safe. They
had cleared out the evacuees lining the downstairs corridor, and only military personnel occupied this area
(leading to the Baggage Area, our “home.”). Sleep would come easier that night. The area was dark and
we felt safe, what more could we ask for?          After our meeting, and a warm shower, I donned my
headphones and listened to music, from my IPOD. Soooo relaxing! Guy was already asleep, trying to
fight off a migraine headache. The music brought me to another place - so peaceful - so - - then the sound
of “that woman” talking loud and invasively from the loud-speaker above: “Attention – Attention - Would
the parents of a lost little . . .!” I’m going to hunt that woman down and do great bodily harm!
        The next few days would be at a much slower pace. Hundreds of patients arrived per day, rather
than thousands, and the triage, treatment and transport out of the airport, was fast and efficient.
        Between the Green and Yellow Tents, under the octagonal skylight, was an empty pharmaceutical
box, with a checkerboard magic markered on the top.           “Sweeties” (those sour tasting, pastel-colored
candies, resembling the size of an aspirin, only with indentation in the middle), were used as checkers.
Innovative way to pass the time last night!
        I was, again, summoned to the Green Tent, where three fragile looking females sat on chairs, all in
a row. I wasn’t sure who the patient was, but would soon find out that they were all withdrawing from a
lengthy heroin addiction. The two females on the ends were in their thirties and the younger female, in the
middle, appeared to be no more than 14 years old. I was informed that they were all withdrawing from
heroin and the younger female had taken “some pills.” Upon much interrogation and attempts at keeping
her awake, I found out that she had taken an overdose of Tylenol, to ease the withdrawal aches and pains
(not as a suicidal gesture). She would be immediately transferred, by ambulance, to the nearest hospital,
so that her stomach could be evacuated. One of the females, on the end, stated that the young looking
individual was her “fiancé!” DMAT members put this information on the form, that would follow them to the
hospital as there was no way to disprove her young age, at the time (since they “lost” their identification).
Social Services would have to investigate at the hospital. All three had been walking/swimming in the
greatly contaminated water (bodies, animals, and toxic materials had over a week to “marinate” in this
water) and required tetanus shots. “Ohhhhh Noooo,” each and every one of them would reply! I asked the
first female why she didn’t want a tetanus shot and she loudly stated: “I hate needles!” “What!” I quickly
replied. You’ve been a heroin addict for over twenty years and you’re afraid of needles? This needle will
be the healthiest you’ve ever had!” Our eyes met and we both burst into laughter. We hugged and she
agreed to the needle, tightly closing her eyes and stiffening each and every muscle in her body. The other
two females followed in suit. They were, then transported to the hospital.
        On Thursday, the pace slowed considerably.         We actually had the opportunity to talk to one
another and to take some pictures (which did not reflect the enormity of the situation, but did document the

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“set-up.”). Photography is one of my hobbies – At an event, I’m always the one with the camera. But not
here. Although I brought along a disposable camera, I was unable/uninterested in taking pictures (a first!).
Luckily others did, and I have their copies.
        The military was slowly taking over the operation of the airport and people, still being rescued,
trickled into the triage area. Our team became restless (being use to the fast/chaotic pace of the past two
weeks) and we requested to be re-deployed to another area, still needing medical assistance.
Unfortunately, MST thought it would take too long to pack up, move to another location, set up and begin
to work. Our team would be “demobilized” late that afternoon. We packed our personal belongings, while
arrangements were being made for our departure (airline tickets home, etc.). We were all given a brief
medical screening, then congregated under the octagonal skylight. We sat on empty boxes, talking and
reading the first paper, we had seen, in two weeks! Jake had asked a friend, who came in from the
surrounding area, to bring him a paper. It was read and reread, by dozens of team members.
        I debriefed most of the team members, as we sat in an open telephone cubicle, for privacy. A brief
discussion of the member’s experience, was elicited, expected signs and symptoms of disaster workers
were reviewed, external support inquired about, and my personal information (home/cell numbers and
email address) were written out, prior to “checking them off” as “able to travel.”
        Guy, Ed, Dave, Michael, and Megan left early, to drive our fully-stocked DMAT trucks to a local
school for the Deaf, in Baton Rouge, where other DMAT teams awaited orders, but had no supplies with
which to deploy. By this time FEMA’s name was not well received. A heavily armed escort would help
assure our vehicles, supplies, and team members arrived safely to their destination. The men were duly
impressed by the flashing lights, sirens, and manner in which the entourage would cross through an
intersection. Prior to arriving at the next intersection, two police cars would pass the long line of vehicles,
arrive at the intersection, position their cars to block off all traffic and officers would stand at attention,
heavily armed with shotguns and automatic machine guns. After the entourage would pass, they would
quickly reenter their vehicles and take their place in line. This process would occur at each and every main
intersection. The men would later state it was like “a scene out of the movies!”


        It was dark before we were cleared to leave New Orleans. Upon exiting the Louis Armstrong
International Airport, I experienced mixed feelings of guilt, regret and relief. For the first time, I was able to
view the damage and devastation, from the hurricane, that I had not previously seen. After having been
stranded at the airport, for two weeks, it seemed odd to venture outside the confines of the airport. We
caravanned to Baton Rouge (about 5 hours away) and met the 6 team members, driving our trucks. It was
so good to see Guy, as it seemed as if we hadn’t seen each other for so long. Faculty at the School For
The Deaf, served us hot, comforting food!         Their hospitality was wonderful.      We talked with DMAT
members from other teams, who had slept there, in the auditorium, for a week, waiting for supplies, so they
could deploy. We left them with our fully stocked trucks and again caravanned to Houston, where we
would leave for home the next day. We arrived at our hotel at about 3:30 AM. Guy and I were able to get
a room together. Such a treat! Knowing we had to be up and ready by 10:00 AM, we took a short shower
and collapsed in the bed. A bed – a real bed. I assumed we would both pass out immediately, however,

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after about five minutes, we both began to talk at once. “Can you sleep? No, it’s too dark. Can you? No,
it’s too quiet and comfortable. We laughed uncontrollably – you mean we miss the luggage carousel, the
noise, the lights, and “that woman” screaming through the intercom? Morning came quickly and we met for
a quick breakfast and off to the airport. Many normal experiences such as driving on the open highway;
sleeping on a bed in a clean hotel, with running water, arriving at a clean and orderly Dallas Airport and the
comfortable plane flight (I had never before thought of an airline flight as comfortable!) appeared foreign. I
felt out of place and guilty for enjoying the pleasures of electricity, clean clothing, running water, and many
food choices.
        When we arrived at the San Diego airport, we were greeted by applause, cheers, and whistles, as
we came down the escalator to the “Baggage Area.” Who was this applause for? For us? Why? We
were coming home, but we had left everyone there, still trying to make sense of the death, devastation,
and disruption of their lives. We were inundated by reporters and cameramen. Needless to say I was
hesitant to give out any “specifics” or information that could be misinterpreted.       Some reporters were
sensitive to the situation, however, others asked intrusive questions aimed at sensationalizing the situation.
Guy and I gave a very brief statement to a reporter, however, denied participating in a television interview,
as I was not ready to discuss the events that had transpired. Our son, Paul, greeted us – such a happy
reunion! Team members hugged one another – long – hard – meaningful hugs. We had been through an
incredible ordeal together. Together, we had been though an experience akin to combat. On the way
home, if felt funny passing familiar sights. When we arrived home, we just sat in our son’s truck, awestruck
by our home. My eyes met Guys and the tears streamed down our faces. When we entered our home, it
seemed quite strange to both of us; as if we were guests in someone else’s home. We had no energy for
unpacking or washing the many loads of laundry that awaited us. With teary eyes, we wandered about our
home, hand in hand, as if seeing every room for the first time. We both felt terribly guilty to be able to
come home to a “normal” life, when so many thousands had lost everything.           It appeared as if we were
“plucked” from another planet (filled with tragedy, sadness, devastation, and destruction), to a paradise.
How blessed are we? How guilty are we? That night, and for many nights thereafter, we would prepare
for a wonderful night’s sleep, however, the night was too still; the room was too dark; and our heads were
too full. When we did sleep, our dreams brought us back to the Louis Armstrong International Airport,
where we frantically searched for needed medical items, food, and adult diapers. The dreams continued
for the next two months.
        For the first two weeks, after our return, I felt as if I was in a haze and experienced a myriad of
symptoms, including: headaches, fatigue, lethargy, disrupted sleep, and vivid dreams. I would awaken
with a sore mouth, from clenching my jaw and grinding my teeth. I felt numb, withdrawn and disconnected.
It was difficult to remain focused, as memories of my experience flooded my mind. Flashbacks were
triggered by all senses (vision, tactile, auditory, and olfactory). I recall going to Vons, on Saturday (the day
after our arrival home), for milk, bread – just the essentials. However, I found myself pushing the cart
around, as if in slow motion, admiring the fully stocked shelves and remembering what I would have given,
just days ago, to have some of those adult diapers, etc.



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An elderly man passed by and I remember saying to myself: “The poor man, he needs a diaper change,”
as the acrid smell of urine lingered in the air. I quickly moved to another isle, but the strong odor of urine
lingered. I remember thinking that he must have just come from this isle. However, after going to the other
end of the store and STILL having the strong smell of urine present, I realized it must be a recurrence of
memories, but, by this time, it felt as if “I” smelled! By this time, the smell was nauseating. I returned
home and asked Guy to “smell me.” He laughed and stated that I “smelled great,” since I had showered
just before leaving for the store! The olfactory hallucination was so strong, that I had to shower again, to
alleviate the imagined odor.
        For a few weeks following our return, I felt a profound sense of sadness and grief, for the past,
present, and future anguish of the people of New Orleans.         They had lost loved ones, homes, jobs,
possessions, and memories. It was difficult for me to fathom walking away from my home, with nothing but
the ragged, sewage-soaked clothing that I wore. The daily luxuries I had previously enjoyed, without
thought (e.g., running water, espresso coffee, clean clothing, a neat and orderly home, etc.) elicited
feelings of guilt and a sense of extravagance. I was overwhelmed by guilt, disgust, and embarrassment,
about how accustomed I had become to such amenities.
        I was preoccupied with thoughts about the deployment (rumination about events that had
transpired and about the many faces I had encountered) and felt a strong need to discuss the experience.
Family, friends, and coworkers initially seemed interested, but whenever I tried to explain the
circumstances, they would quickly convey that they had “heard enough.” They wanted to hear, but did not
want to hear how tragic or devastating the circumstances had been. I felt blessed that my husband, Guy,
had deployed with me, since it would have been quite impossible to explain the intensity of the
deployment.    We had each other to discuss the different aspects of the deployment and began to
understand the cues which triggered thoughts, memories, feelings, emotions, etc. When this happened,
our eyes would meet, and nothing needed to be said; it was fully understood.
        Television allowed me to relive the effects of the hurricane and of the breaching of the levees;
events I had not previously seen. After viewing the situation once, I found it difficult to continue watching
the coverage, as it dredged up many unwelcomed thoughts and memories that I could not yet make sense
of. The chaos which I became accustomed to at the airport, was gone, and my life seemed to move at a
very slow (normal) pace, but I felt compelled to fill each and every moment with something meaningful; as
it felt extravagant to waste time.
        Environmental cues evoked vivid recollections. On one occasion, I attempted to move a large
houseplant and asked my husband for help. He replied: “Sure honey, what can I do for you?” He asked
again, then again, as my mind wandered elsewhere. I remembered having asked him the same question
at the airport, with a similar response, unaware that the help I needed was in preparing the remains of an
individual who had died.
        Upon our return home, I often felt angry, as life “went on” as if nothing had happened! People
commented sympathetically (e.g., “What a shame. Those poor people. I wish I could help. I’m glad it’s
over.”), however, they did not appear to understand the depth of the disaster, its implications, how it had
affected the lives of so many thousands of people, or the length of time that the disaster would impact their

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lives. Of course, many people had helped, by donating money, supplies, etc., but many did not want to
acknowledge the death, destruction and helplessness, as doing so would remind them that a similar
disaster could happen to them.
        Although there were thousands of people with whom I had contact, at the airport, I can still recall
many stories, in vivid detail, a year later; those memories that will be easily recalled for a very long time.
When I shop, I still admire the fully stocked shelves and think about how desperately many of those items
were needed at the airport. Other memories are evoked by familiar cues, such as the sound of zipping or
unzipping a garment bag (reminding me of the zippers on the body bags); seeing an elderly individual, or
the acrid smells of a nursing home or baby in need of changing.            Familiar smells, significant songs
(background music used on DVD’s of our deployment) or particular phrases still bring vivid images,
thoughts, and emotions to the surface. I wish my recall for other important information came as easily!
        It’s been some time, since my deployment to New Orleans. I have noticed many positive changes
in major areas of my life, such as: thoughts about death; dying; a deeper commitment to my faith; an
ability to push beyond my comfort zone, to take on difficult challenges that I would have previously not
entertained; a greater commitment to people, rather than materialistic comforts; and a greater respect for
the military and all individuals who respond to emergencies. It brings to mind a quote from Phillip Brooks
(1975), a Protestant Bishop of Massachusetts, who wrote “No man or woman, of the humblest sort, can
really be strong, gentle and good, without the world being better for it. Without somebody being helped
and comforted by the very existence of that goodness.” My heart overflowed with respect, love, and
admiration for all who volunteered their time and attention to the needs of others, during our response to
Hurricane Katrina. I especially felt honored and blessed to have worked with our DMAT-CA4 team, for
their selfless giving went beyond what was expected of a first responder. They hold my respect and
gratitude for their selfless giving, as it went beyond what was expected of a first responder.
        Will I be ready for our next deployment? Each and every disaster is different and poses unique
issues/problems. However, I hope that I now have a new assortment of “tools,” in my professional bag. I
am fully aware of the effects of trauma on first responders and am hopeful, that I will be more prepared.




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