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I want the rest of the country to hear about some of the good things that happened in the face of this horrible tragedy. I evacuated St. Charles Parish Hospital in Luling, La., with some of our patients, staff, and others from the community on the Sunday before the storm. We headed to DeSoto Regional Hospital in Mansfield, La., in an ambulance, two cars, and four school buses. Because it took us so long and our patients needed to rest, we had to divert to Lafayette, La., to a special-needs shelter. Its physicians, nurses, and other staff were wonderful to us. We stayed there three nights, then moved on to Mansfield, La., where we joined the rest of our hospital's patients and staff.
The people of Mansfield opened their arms and welcomed us. They sheltered us and fed us and made us feel at home. A man we met in a Wal-Mart paid for our supplies because he wanted to help.
I want to thank the staff, nurses, and physician who evacuated patients with me and our hospital's leaders who never let us down. We were all blessed.
SALLIE HERRLE, RN
I'm the assistant director of nursing at a nursing home in Baton Rouge. We've taken in an entire nursing home from the New Orleans area, bringing the total number of residents from 165 to almost 300. The evacuated residents started arriving by buses the day before the storm hit, and were placed in our dining rooms and dayrooms on mattresses. The residents came with their medicines but little or no clothing and not much else-for instance, no medical records. This is now their home.
Some of the staff from New Orleans arrived with the residents, but not enough to care for so many people. Some of them brought their children and families as there's nowhere else for them to go. All staff members have been working 12- to 16-hour shifts continuously.
My job has changed tremendously. I've been providing basic care such as feeding, changing linens, bathing, and grooming the displaced residents as well as our own. I feel helpless, sad, and overwhelmed. The cries of the residents and some of the staff when they learn they have nothing left to go back to and that we don't know what happened to their families are sometimes too much to handle. Their faces will haunt me for the rest of my life.
I've been a nurse for only 6 years. I never imagined that I'd experience anything like this. I give special credit to my director of nursing, Sharon Thoms, RN, who sets an example for all of us. Please pray for the victims and survivors and those who continue to help and comfort the unfortunate.
JAMIE GAUDIN, RN
Baton Rouge, La.
Five days after Hurricane Katrina struck, Tulane Medical Center in New Orleans evacuated its remaining staff, their families, and their pets. Patients and their families had previously been evacuated. My employer, Southwest Medical Center in Lafayette, Louisiana, acted as a staging area for several hundred of these evacuees, who came by bus after being rescued by helicopter.
Staff and family members eagerly discussed their time at Tulane. Nurses told stories of seriously reduced food supplies and generators that worked only intermittently, forcing them to care for patients with only flashlights for illumination. Some expressed regret at having to leave staff and patients still waiting to be evacuated from nearby Charity Hospital. Others told of walking through high floodwaters to take Charity Hospital all of the remaining drinking water, food, and supplies once Tulane's evacuation seemed definite. Many didn't realize the extent of devastation to New Orleans until they were in a Blackhawk helicopter flying over the city.
Before the hurricane, most of the staff had packed only about 3 days supply of clothes in a small suitcase. Many didn't know if they now had any other possessions besides this.
After they arrived in Lafayette, evacuees were asked to fill out a questionnaire, including where they planned to go now. Some had difficulty answering this, and some had no answer at all. One man there with his family looked at me and said, "I guess we're homeless. I was told on the bus that our neighborhood was flooded." Looking at his paperwork, I saw that he was a physician.
It seems surreal, but as I write about my experiences helping the evacuees of Hurricane Katrina, Hurricane Rita is about to hit Louisiana and we anticipate significant damage. Ironically, people who have been helping Hurricane Katrina evacuees are now evacuees themselves.
GWEN LEIGH, RN, MSN
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