Regardless of who’s responsible for aid not reaching the people of Puerto Rico, it’s very instructive to look at what’s happening there and learn from it as we consider our own preparations for emergencies. We may not have it as bad as they do . . . but we can’t guarantee that. Health care, in particular, is critically important – and critically lacking.
Melted medications. Surgical procedures conducted in sweltering 95-degree heat. Malfunctioning X-ray machines.
This is the reality doctors in Puerto Rico are facing almost four weeks after Hurricane Maria devastated the island.
“We’re practicing disaster medicine in real life,” said Dr. William Kotler, a senior resident in emergency medicine with Florida Hospital in Orlando, who spent two weeks volunteering on the island earlier this month. “We improvise if we have to, with very little resources.”
. . .
The physicians have been visiting up to three towns a day, providing care and distributing supplies.
The teams have brought with them dozens of boxes of catheters, insulin, IV antibiotics, portable ultrasounds, X-ray machines and other critical medical supplies. Florida Hospital has been flying in additional supplies to the island every three days since the first medical team arrived.
“Just this [past] weekend, we flew in nearly 2,000 pounds of supplies,” said the hospital’s spokeswoman Samantha Kearns O’Lenick.
The physicians said they’re concerned Puerto Rico could be headed toward a full-blown health crisis.
. . .
Dr. Raul Hernandez, an internist based in San Juan, is bracing for an outbreak — possibly deaths — from waterborne diseases. He said Leptospirosis, a bacterial disease spread through the urine of an infected animals such as rodents, is becoming a growing concern.
Due to a lack of safe drinking water, people are drinking from whatever water sources they can find — rivers, creeks, he said. If that water contains urine from an infected rat, disease will spread, he said.
So far, at least two deaths have been attributed to Leptospirosis.
Hernandez is also worried about his geriatric patients. He has been unable to contact several of them and worries whether his diabetic patients have insulin that hasn’t spoiled in the heat and proper nutrition, given the food shortages. He’s also concerned his patients won’t be able to get prescriptions at pharmacies.
Dr. Miguel Acevedo led the second team of emergency physicians from Florida Hospital … “They say it could take six to nine months for power to be restored fully in Puerto Rico. No hospital can plan to survive on generators for that long,” he said … What doctors are dealing with in Puerto Rico is a “Mad Max kind of situation,” said Acevedo.
“The reality here is post-apocalyptic,” he said. “You can’t understand the seriousness of it unless you see it.”
There’s more at the link, and also in this article, which goes into far more than the health care situation. It describes destroyed homes, flattened farms, lack of electricity, potable water, food, sanitation, etc. (A similar situation appears to be affecting the Dominican Republic as well.)
I’ve heard many people say that things could never get that bad in the continental United States – that things are so much better organized here that we’d soon sort things out. I’m not so sure. If we had two or three major natural disasters occurring days or weeks apart – for example, “the big one” (earthquake) in California, a hurricane on the Gulf Coast, another on the Atlantic coast, and perhaps a volcanic eruption along the Ring of Fire where it crosses Washington state or Alaska (which might very easily be triggered by a major earthquake in California) – the demand for aid from all the affected areas would simply overwhelm our resources, which are not unlimited.
As far as health goes, remember that many of us (including yours truly) are dependent on daily doses of medication to maintain our health. Many of us have suffered previous conditions that might recur under the stress of a disaster (e.g. heart problems, mobility issues, etc.). If health care isn’t available for us, those conditions might just kill us – even if health care was not strictly rationed during the emergency, being provided to those considered to have the best chance of survival, while the rest of us, older and/or sicker than “average”, would be left to our own devices. That’s not something to take lightly – because it’s happened before in this country. Remember what happened after Hurricane Katrina?
After reading those articles, I’m going to adjust my own emergency preparations to ensure that I have more supplies of health care essentials, at least 90 days’ supply of prescription medications, and more potable water than I think I need. You never know . . .