Sunday, September 11, 2005

A few Comments on Katrina

The fact that I have not been giving my opinions on the disaster known as Hurricane Katrina should not be construed as me having nothing to say. The problem is that I cannot seem to organize my thoughts in order to discuss the matter in a coherent way. For the first week I was glued to my television set (I was on vacation) watching the disaster unfold. It was overwhelming in its scope and intensity.

Since then, I have been watching the left/right political battle regenerate and take on wind. Gusts of hot air from the "I Hate Bush" mob are said to have reached the political equivalent of a category four.

I've been posting articles related to Canada's official response, in lieu of being able to comment about what is going on. I was not oblivious to the breakdown in law and order in New Orleans or the slow response from the local, state and federal levels of government, or the sheer misery of those unwilling or unable to evacuate in time. Few things have shocked me recently as much as the sniper fire which was aimed at hospital workers trying to evacuate seriously ill patients or fired at search and rescue helicopter crews trying do perform their tasks of saving residents of a destroyed city.

Even now there are very disturbing reports about what happened in the first week. The Daily Mail in Britain is reporting (hat tip to Neale News) on one of the most egregious tales.
Doctors working in hurricane-ravaged New Orleans killed critically ill patients rather than leaving them to die in agony as they evacuated hospitals, The Mail on Sunday can reveal.

With gangs of rapists and looters rampaging through wards in the flooded city, senior doctors took the harrowing decision to give massive overdoses of morphine to those they believed could not make it out alive. ...

One doctor is reported to have given grisly details .

The doctor said: "I didn't know if I was doing the right thing. But I did not have time. I had to make snap decisions, under the most appalling circumstances, and I did what I thought was right.

"I injected morphine into those patients who were dying and in agony. If the first dose was not enough, I gave a double dose. And at night I prayed to God to have mercy on my soul."

The doctor, who finally fled her hospital late last week in fear of being murdered by the armed looters, said: "This was not murder, this was compassion. They would have been dead within hours, if not days. We did not put people down. What we did was give comfort to the end.

"I had cancer patients who were in agony. In some cases the drugs may have speeded up the death process.

"We divided patients into three categories: those who were traumatised but medically fit enough to survive, those who needed urgent care, and the dying.

"People would find it impossible to understand the situation. I had to make life-or-death decisions in a split second.

"It came down to giving people the basic human right to die with dignity.

"There were patients with Do Not Resuscitate signs. Under normal circumstances, some could have lasted several days. But when the power went out, we had nothing.

"Some of the very sick became distressed. We tried to make them as comfortable as possible.

"The pharmacy was under lockdown because gangs of armed looters were roaming around looking for their fix. You have to understand these people were going to die anyway."

Mr McQueen, a utility manager for the town of Abita Springs, half an hour north of New Orleans, told relatives that patients had been 'put down', saying: "They injected them, but nurses stayed with them until they died."

I caution that the newspaper is keeping the names of the medical staff and the hospital confidential. They say that is being done in order to to protect the people involved, but it makes it very difficult to verify the story. I'd like to think (and suspect) this will be exposed as an urban myth at some point.

A few things are clear. A number of states in the US south are in a mess. Many people have died, although the death toll may not be as high as feared, and the damage to communities defies belief. Those who say the Bush administration's assistance was delayed, or too meager because the victims are poor and black, are beyond rational dialogue. Believe it if you must, but don't ask me to argue with you.

Oh yes, please donate to the Canadian Red Cross or other charities which are trying to help. The need is great and the money will go to help good neighbours in distress.

Note: The Canadian naval ships sent to assist were delayed as they diverted around hurricane Ophelia, but are due to arrive tomorrow with navy divers, food, medical supplies, and a supply ship filled with everything imaginable (e.g., diapers). More importantly, the men and women of the Canadian Forces are ready willing and eager to lend assistance however and whenever they can.


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