Thursday, September 01, 2005

A Former Wilmington Physician Writes from New Orleans

A former Wilmington physician writes from New Orleans
Aug. 31, 2005

This is a dispatch from New Orleans from Dr. Greg Henderson, a pathologist who
recently moved from Wilmington:

Thanks to all of you who have sent your notes of concern and your prayers. I am
writing this note on Tuesday at 2 p.m.. I wanted to update all of you as to the
situation here. I don't know how much information you are getting but I am
certain it is more than we are getting. Be advised that almost everything I am
telling you is from direct observation or rumor from reasonable sources. They
are allowing limited Internet access, so I hope to send this dispatch today.

Personally, my family and I are fine. My family is safe in Jackson, Miss., and I
am now a temporary resident of the Ritz Carleton Hotel in New Orleans. I figured
if it was my time to go, I wanted to go in a place with a good wine list. In
addition, this hotel is in a very old building on Canal Street that could and
did sustain little damage. Many of the other hotels sustained significant loss
of windows, and we expect that many of the guests may be evacuated here.

Things were obviously bad yesterday, but they are much worse today. Overnight
the water arrived. Now Canal Street (true to its origins) is indeed a canal. The
first floor of all downtown buildings is underwater. I have heard that Charity
Hospital and Tulane are limited in their ability to care for patients because of
water. Ochsner is the only hospital that remains fully functional. However, I
spoke with them today and they too are on generator and losing food and water
fast.

The city now has no clean water, no sewerage system, no electricity, and no real
communications. Bodies are still being recovered floating in the floods. We are
worried about a cholera epidemic. Even the police are without effective
communications. We have a group of armed police here with us at the hotel that
is admirably trying to exert some local law enforcement. This is tough because
looting is now rampant. Most of it is not malicious looting. These are poor and
desperate people with no housing and no medical care and no food or water trying
to take care of themselves and their families. Unfortunately, the people are
armed and dangerous. We hear gunshots frequently. Most of Canal street is
occupied by armed looters who have a low threshold for discharging their
weapons. We hear gunshots frequently. The looters are using makeshift boats made
of pieces of styrofoam to access. We are still waiting for a significant
national guard presence.

The health care situation here has dramatically worsened overnight. Many people
in the hotel are elderly and small children. Many other guests have unusual
diseases. ... There are (Infectious Disease) physicians in at this hotel
attending an HIV conference. We have commandeered the world famous French Quarter
Bar to turn into an makeshift clinic. There is a team of about seven doctors and
PAs and pharmacists. We anticipate that this will be the major medical facility
in the central business district and French Quarter.

Our biggest adventure today was raiding the Walgreens on Canal under police
escort. The pharmacy was dark and full of water. We basically scooped the entire
drug sets into garbage bags and removed them. All under police escort. The
looters had to be held back at gunpoint. After a dose of prophylactic Cipro I
hope to be fine.

In all we are faring well. We have set up a hospital in the the French Quarter
bar in the hotel, and will start admitting patients today. Many will be from the
hotel, but many will not. We are anticipating dealing with multiple medical
problems, medications and and acute injuries. Infection and perhaps even cholera
are anticipated major problems. Food and water shortages are imminent.

The biggest question to all of us is where is the National Guard. We hear jet
fighters and helicopters, but no real armed presence, and hence the rampant
looting. There is no Red Cross and no Salvation Army.

In a sort of cliche way, this is an edifying experience. One is rapidly focused
away from the transient and material to the bare necessities of life. It has
been challenging to me to learn how to be a primary care physician. We are under
martial law so return to our homes is impossible. I don't know how long it will
be and this is my greatest fear. Despite it all, this is a soul-edifying
experience. The greatest pain is to think about the loss. And how long the
rebuild will take. And the horror of so many dead people .

PLEASE SEND THIS DISPATCH TO ALL YOU THINK MAY BE INTERESTED IN A DISPATCH from
the front. I will send more according to your interest. Hopefully their
collective prayers will be answered. By the way, suture packs, sterile gloves
and stethoscopes will be needed as the Ritz turns into a MASH

Greg Henderson

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