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Dispatch from New Orleans by Greg Henderson, M.D.
Netlore Archive:  Greg Henderson, a doctor who participated in a temporary hospital in New Orlean's Ritz Carlton Hotel, describes conditions in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina

Description:  Email flier
Circulating since:  August 2005
Status:  Authentic
Analysis:  See below

Email example contributed by Mitch G., 1 September 2005:

Subject: Thoughts and Prayers

Thanks to all of you who have sent your notes of concern and your prayers. I am writing this note on Tuesday at 2PM. I wanted to update all of you as to the situation here. I don't know how much information you are getting but I am certain it is more that we are getting. Be advised that almost everything I am telling you is from direct observation or from reliable sources. They are allowing limited Internet access, so I hope to send this dispatch today.

Personally, my family and I are fine. My family is safe in Jackson, MS, and I am now a temporary resident of the Ritz Carlton Hotel in New Orleans. I figured if it was my time to go, I wanted to go in a place with a good wine list. In addition, this hotel is in a very old building on Canal Street that could and did sustain little damage. Many of the other hotels sustained significant loss of windows, and we expect that many of the guests may be evacuated here.

Things were obviously bad yesterday, but they are much worse today. Overnight the water arrived. Now Canal Street (true to its origin) is indeed a canal. The first floor of all downtown buildings are underwater. I have heard that Charity Hospital and Tulane are limited in their ability to care for patients because of water. Ochsner is the only hospital that remains fully functional. However, I spoke with them today and they too are on generator and losing food and water fast. The city now how no clean water, no sewage system, no electricity and no real communications. Bodies are being recovered, floating in the flood. We are worried about a cholera epidemic. Even the police are without effective communication. We have a group of armed police here guarding us at the hotel that are admirably trying to exert some local law enforcement. This is tough because looting is now rampant. Most of it is not malicious looting. These are poor and desperate people with no housing and no medical care with no food or water trying to take care of themselves and their families. Not unlike us now at this point. Unfortunately, the looters are armed and most dangerous. We hear gunshots frequently. Most of Canal Street is occupied by armed looters who have a low threshold for discharging their weapons. We hear gunshots frequently. The looters are using makeshift boats made of pieces of Styrofoam to access. We are still waiting for a significant national guard presence. There is none.

The health care situation here has dramatically worsened overnight. Many people in the hotel are elderly. There are many small children. They cannot get out. There is no place to go. Many other guests have unusual diseases. The are unfortunate. We have better medical letter. There are INTL physicians at this hotel who were attending an HIV convention. They, along with we, have commandeered the world famous French Quarter Bar and have turned it into a makeshift clinic. There is a team of about 7 doctors a PA and a pharmacist. We anticipate that this will be the major medical facility in the central business district and French Quarter.

Our biggest adventure today was raiding the Walgreens Pharmacy on Canal Street, under full police escort. The pharmacy was dark. It was flooded. We basically scooped up the entire drug set up into garbage bags to remove them. All under police escort. The looters had to be held back at the door at gun point by the police. We ran.

After a dose of prophylactic Cipro I, I will be fine.

All in all, we are faring well. We have set up a hospital in the French Quarter Bar as I noted above and we have started seeing patients. Many have come from the hotel, but many have not. We are anticipating dealing with multiple medical problems, medications and acute injuries. Infection and perhaps even cholera are anticipated major problems. Food and water shortages are imminent.

The biggest question to all of us is where is the national guard. We hear jet fighters and helicopters passing overhead, but no real presence, and hence the rampant looting. There is no Red Cross and no Salvation Army.

In sort of a cliche' kind of way, this has been an edifying experience. One is rapidly focused away from the transient and material, to the bare necessities of life. It has been challenging to me to quickly learn to be a primary care physician. We are now under martial law here so for us to return to homes, if there are any, is impossible. I don't know how long it will be and this is my greatest fear. Despite it all, this is a soul edifying experience. The greatest pain is to think about the immense loss. How will they rebuild....and the horror of so many dead bodies.

PLEASE SEND THIS DISPATCH TO ALL YOU THINK MAY BE INTERESTED IN A DISPATCH From the front. I will send more according to your interest and my ability to access the Internet, which is minimal. Hopefully your collective prayers will be answered. By the way of suture packs, sterile gloves and stethoscopes will be needed as the Ritz Carlton here on Canal Street turns into a true MASH medical facility.

Greg Henderson, MD

Comments:  This first-person account of conditions in New Orleans immediately following the onslaught of Hurricane Katrina was written by Dr. Greg Henderson, a pathologist from Wilmington, North Carolina who moved to New Orleans a week before the storm struck. Composed on Tuesday, August 30, the message was originally sent to family and friends, some of whom clearly found it gripping enough to forward on. It jibes in most respects with the account of Dr. Max Brito, another physician involved in treating patients at the New Orleans Ritz Carlton.

In a follow-up phone call relayed to the Wilmingon Star-News, Henderson said the Ritz Carlton had been evacuated and he had been relocated to Ochsner Clinic on Jefferson Highway, the only functioning hospital left in the city. He immediately left there to set up another makeshift "MASH" hospital in the Sheraton Hotel on Canal Street, which he refused to leave because "people are sick and dying all around," he said.

A September 6 Washington Post article captured the monumental task faced by Henderson and other medical professionals trying to care for the sick, injured, and dying in a disaster zone lacking any semblance of order or infrastructure:

The unprecedented effort to provide care to tens of thousands of people has required millions of dollars, improvised medical techniques and, in at least one case, theft by a physician who persuaded local police to help him snatch medications from a pharmacy. For one full week now, doctors have worked in MASH-style surroundings, leaning over patients on flimsy military cots, flipping through textbooks to make sense of symptoms they have never seen before.

“I’m a pathologist,” said Greg Henderson, a physician who moved to the New Orleans area two weeks ago. Roaming the streets of downtown in his surgical scrubs, Henderson was suddenly confronting rashes and illnesses he hadn’t seen since medical school. Armed with a Physicians’ Desk Reference – the pharmaceutical bible – and the stolen medicines, he administered to the sick and dying in a hotel lobby and the corridors of the city’s convention center.

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Sources and further reading:

Dispatch from New Orleans
Wilmington Star-News, 1 September 2005

Makeshift Hospital Needs Help
Wilmington Star-News, 2 September 2005

Larry King Interview with Greg Henderson, M.D.
CNN transcript, 6 September 2005

Former Wilmington Doctor Aids Katrina Victims
WECT-TV News, 7 September 2005

A Monumental Medical Task
Washington Post, 6 September 2005

Interview with Dr. Max Brito
Medscape, 7 September 2005

Hurricane Katrina Full Coverage
News and resources from About

Last updated: 09/08/05

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