Oklahoma Tornado Dispatch #2: A Nurse With a Focus on a More Orderly Disaster Response

The recent tornadoes in Oklahoma are the occasion for a new series on this blog. We will be receiving and publishing updates from Red Cross nurse volunteers in the coming days. This is the second post in the series.

By Sheryl Buckner, MS, RN-BC, CNE, assistant professor at the University of Oklahoma College of Nursing and a volunteer with the Oklahoma Medical Reserve Corps since its inception. Sheryl’s past work history includes critical care, home health, and home-based case management; she is currently co-principal investigator for Nursing Initiative Promoting Immunization Training (NIP-IT), which is a free Web site for nurses and nursing students to learn about immunizations and includes a module on mass-response immunizations.

May 23, 2013. Moore, Oklahoma. Laurel Schneider, a Red Cross volunteer nurse, takes the blood pressure of Moore resident Alexandria Fenlason, Locals were welcome to stop by emergency aid stations around the area for medical needs from supplies to tetanus shots and prescription replacements. At such disasters, Red Cross workers meet with many affected families to help connect them with other resources and tools for their recovery. Photo by Talia Frenkel/American Red Cross

May 23, 2013. Moore, Oklahoma. Laurel Schneider, a Red Cross volunteer nurse, takes the blood pressure of Moore resident Alexandria Fenlason. Photo by Talia Frenkel/American Red Cross

I’m a Medical Reserve Corps volunteer. After witnessing the aftermath of the response to the bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal building in Oklahoma City in 1995, I thought there had to be a better way of handling disaster response volunteers.

I met Cindy Reiger, a fellow nurse, at an Oklahoma nurses’ convention some months later when she was presenting about disaster response. I talked to her afterwards and decided I wanted to help in some way. I eventually helped her write a grant which resulted in the Oklahoma Nurses MRC, and we later joined forces with the statewide effort to become the Oklahoma Medical Reserve Corps (OKMRC).

Now, when our state has any kind of disaster, agencies can call the OKMRC for assistance. I’m so very proud that ideas about disaster response that Cindy and I, as well as others, had so many years ago are now working as we intended.

I now volunteer when I can, and that’s how I got the call to help the Oklahoma chapter of the American Red Cross (ARC) with disaster case management. I had been a case manager for a decade, so I felt this was something I could do to help. I attended training through the ARC in the morning and then started seeing people in the hospital that day, as well as making follow-up calls to those at home. I remember the amazing sense of grief and sadness I felt for these people when I got home, but I also felt how the work of the ARC gets people back on their feet.

It’s gratifying to know that little things can help people so much in a disaster. For example, I had a call from a home-based social worker. Her patient, who’d been discharged from the hospital with significant injuries from the tornado, didn’t have her driver’s license to get her pain medications. Something as simple as walking a person through how to get a duplicate license became crucial. Another needed maternity clothes for her daughter who lived with her. One of the women in the hospital needed new glasses.

I was also fascinated by just how much it seemed to help victims and their families to have someone to talk to about what had happened. Many told me “You are the first one to call me about this” and expressed so much gratitude that someone knew they needed help. These people and their families were truly traumatized by what happened. One family member talked about the trauma of not knowing if her parents had survived, then thinking they had not survived when she saw what had happened to their house (her parents did survive, it turned out, but had significant injuries). Many were so much in shock that they hadn’t even started thinking about a plan for recovery.

I think that’s the benefit of the ARC—it helps them begin making a plan to start along a path to recovery. I’m grateful to be able to help.

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Senior editor/social media strategy, American Journal of Nursing, and editor of AJN Off the Charts.

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