By Diane St. Denis, a retired ER nurse and a Red Cross Services advisor for the state of California. These are a number of brief excerpts from e-mails she sent to colleagues and friends and family as she was deployed to Oklahoma. They have been very lightly edited to capture the experience involved in having to rapidly respond to a disaster: exhaustion, people converging from all over, what it takes to bring order out of chaos and then be interrupted by a fresh onslaught of damaging and dangerous tornadoes; meeting with both gratitude as well as distrust of outside help from very independent local people, condoling those who have lost everything. For other posts in this series by Red Cross volunteers in the Oklahoma City area where the tornadoes struck in May, please click here.
May 22: I was called up to go to Oklahoma. I slept thru my alarm . . . and rushed to get to my plane, empty stomach, no coffee or tea. We landed about 10 minutes late, so I ran from terminal C to terminal B in Salt Lake City. I ran into some other Red Crossers in Salt Lake City as we were boarding the plane.
Finally, after driving around in roll & go freeway traffic, we made our way to HQ. There are three RNs from California here so far, but they are using a lot of spontaneous volunteers. Turns out, one of the hospitals is giving their nurses paid time off to “volunteer” with us to benefit the community.
My mantra for the next few days: flexibility, good humor, flexibility, good humor, flexibility, good humor!
May 24: Day three is done, and I am exhausted. . . We are going to partner with the Oklahoma MRC (Medical Reserve Corp), so we are training them in the ways of the Red Cross. Mercy Hospital is also recruiting volunteers for us. The emergency response vehicle (ERV) folks will be handing out meals and some supplies, and the nurses will knock on doors in the area (if there are doors left to knock on) and canvas neighborhoods looking for people with health-related needs. We will be replacing medications, eye glasses, dentures, durable medical equipment, and medical supplies. We will also make referrals to other agencies.
We are very lucky because so many local businesses are willing to supply some very expensive services for free. I hope we have enough locals to supplement our national volunteers. A whole bunch of regular volunteers started arriving today.
May 28, Day 7: It’s been quite windy the past few days . . . yesterday FEMA decided there was a tornado watch . . . and they made all of us close up shop and call it a day.
I saw some of the devastation in Bethel Acres. There were some damaged homes, but many were just piles of 2 x 4s and other debris. At an intersection there is an area to bring debris, where it is being sorted and burned. There are workers trying to restore power. Trees were completely uprooted.
Independent people. It’s amazing to see the determination in the people of Oklahoma to clean up and start over. No one is feeling sorry for themselves. So many of the people are living in pretty rural areas, and there is a mistrust of government agencies. They will not come looking for us. One Red Crosser was met at the door by someone pointing a gun at her. She was very polite, and they ultimately agreed to hear what we could offer, and then they actually accepted some assistance.
Gratitude. At another place, the daughter living with her grandmother was overwhelmed when the nurse came in. She started to cry, and said all she ever wanted was to be a Red Cross nurse. One of the other nurses gave the first nurse an RC pin, and the little girl was so thrilled. Tonight, while sitting around the pool with some other Red Crossers, a gentlemen came by, asked our names, and thanked us for coming. This is repeated over & over. It’s nice to be appreciated. Read the rest of this entry ?