Wednesday, September 14, 2005

Kudos to Local Volunteers; Update on Astrodome

It's been a few days since the last post. Here's what's up.

The citizens of Houston have been abuzz with activity since the first busload of evacuees arrived on the evening of Wednesday, September 1. The caravans of busses didn't begin arriving until Thursday evening, September 2, so that's when everything really got into full gear. Since then, you can't drive more than a few blocks anywhere in the city without seeing a spontaneous citizen- or church-sponsored drive or donation center set up in a parking lot for Katrina evacuees. As far as the people of Houston are concerned, taking care of the evacuees has been a top priority. In the grocery stores, you see shopping carts full of what are clearly donations for the various shelters, both the huge city and county shelters (George R. Brown, Reliant Arena, Reliant Center, and the Astrodome) as well as local church and Red Cross shelters. When you talk to people in Houston, the question isn't whether you've volunteered but where and when. The outpouring of donations of time, money, and goods has been really wonderful, and we're proud to be just two of the many volunteers in this awesome effort. The George R. Brown Convention Center shelter stands as a model of the kind of organizational effort that we're capable of. It's a warm, welcoming facility that really makes good on our invitation to welcome and care for evacuees during this time of crisis.

We have continued to make pharmacy runs for the OTC pharmacy on the Dome floor. We've become pals with the night shift and they keep a running list for us. We cannot thank enough the folks who have contributed money and boxes of supplies to help keep the pharmacy stocked. The medical staff sends its thanks as well. Night before last, we were asked to bring saw dust and "pooper scoopers" to help them clean up the vomit on the floors -- there's an intestinal bug going around. Naturally, bugs of various kinds are going to go around when you have that many people in a space together. So last night, we arrived around 8:00 p.m. with the saw dust and scoopers along with several boxes of supplies that had just arrived in the mail. We wanted to pass on what we learned.

* All medical facilities in Reliant Park (including the Astrodome, Reliant Center, and Reliant Arena) were to close at 11:00 p.m. last night. Medical staff received this information at 8:00 p.m. Many arrived for the night shift only to be told to go home. Many already there left only because they had direct orders to do so.

* All facilities re-opened at 8:00 a.m. today. From today forward, we were told that medical services will only be provided between the hours of 8:00 a.m. and 5:00 p.m.

* Between the hours of 5:00 p.m. and 8:00 a.m., we were told that the only medical care available will be the emergency care that's available via EMS transport to a hospital.

* Medical staff were required to leave at 11:00 p.m. last night. Some medical staff asked lay volunteers (including us) to stay if we could to monitor the elderly and babies while they slept and identify anyone having trouble breathing and report it to the EMS worker stationed at the Dome for the purpose of making contact with an ambulance if necessary. They had an incident the night before in which a 45-day-old infant did go into respiratory distress overnight. No ambulance would be guaranteed stationed at the Dome.

* No medical supplies whatsoever, including band-aids, fever reducers, aspirin, cold & cough remedies, anti-diarrheals, insulin, glucose, etc. were to be given out until the pharmacy opened at 8:00 a.m. (unless and until the patient developed a medical emergency requiring an ambulance). This means, of course, that fevers, coughs, colds, and other ailments last longer and add to the pool of already-quickly-spreading pool of bugs going around. This is especially difficult on the very young and the very old.

* Before leaving at 11:00 p.m., the dedicated medical staff did tend to a potential tuberculosis outbreak, taking the potential patient to the hospital for testing and alerting the family and those on nearby cots that they may need to get tested. Fortunately, it appears that the patient was not suffering from tuberculosis, but some other ailment with similar symptoms. Also fortunate is that it was caught before 11:00 p.m.

* We were told by a Red Cross volunteer that all evacuees will be moved from the Astrodome and Reliant Center into Reliant Arena before the Sunday football game in Reliant Stadium, immediately adjacent to both of those buildings. Any remaining evacuees will be housed in the much cleaner, well-lit, and more easily monitored Reliant Arena. All services for evacuees will be centralized in that building. Medical services will also be housed in that building and will continue to be available during normal business hours.