A physician's note to healing after Harvey devastation

September 7, 2017

The devastation that hit the coast of Texas certainly qualifies as a time that tries men’s souls. However, at the same time, it is the heart and soul of your fellow man that may allow you to survive that acute devastation and to salvage hope for the future.

Editor's Note: Welcome to Medical Economics' blog section which features contributions from members of the medical community. These blogs are an opportunity for bloggers to engage with readers about a topic that is top of mind, whether it is practice management, experiences with patients, the industry, medicine in general, or healthcare reform. The series continues with this blog by Keith Aldinger, MD, an internist who practices in Houston Texas. The views expressed in these blogs are those of their respective contributors and do not represent the views of Medical Economics or UBM Medica.

 

The devastation that hit the coast of Texas certainly qualifies as a time that tries men’s souls. However, at the same time, it is the heart and soul of your fellow man that may allow you to survive that acute devastation and to salvage hope for the future.

 

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As a physician who has practiced primary care medicine for over 35 years, I have come to realize that in spite of the disease severity and the grim prognosis, human concern, human compassion and human comfort may often be the best available treatments.

Over the past week, I have been amazed with the multitude of humans practicing effective medicine without a license. These include the first responders who are working endless overtime hours with a smile on their faces, the neighbors from close and far neighborhoods and even bordering and distant states, volunteering their time, trucks and boats to assist in evacuations. The volunteer shelter workers giving their time to feed, clothe and house the evacuees. Yes, there is no stronger, no better medication than the milk of human kindness.

The vast majority of these people displaced from their homes will not become acutely ill. Yes, some will develop illnesses associated with exposure to contaminated water or wounds acquired during their evacuation from the flooding.

 

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However, these will be a minority. In the next few weeks, I will be seeing some of these patients in my office. I suspect that in the majority of these cases, I will keep the prescription pad in my pocket and turn the computer screen to the wall. What these patients will need is time to express their concerns and their worries. I only hope that my healing skills can be as effective as those of the initial responders.

Next: "I was impressed with how upbeat and resilient most of the patients were"

 

The Friday and Sunday after Harvey, I volunteered to see patients in the St. Joseph Medical Center emergency room. The St. Joseph Medical Center is located about eight blocks south of the George Brown Convention Center where approximately 10,000 evacuees were housed. I worked in the Fast Track Center where patients with less severe illnesses and injuries were triaged for treatment.

 To put a better perspective on the fast in Fast Track, we were able to document these visits on paper rather than with the electronic health record (EHR) used in the main emergency room. This allowed us to see more patients, spend proportionately more time with each patient and less time with the medical record.

 

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I was impressed with how upbeat and resilient most of the patients were. It was rewarding, uplifting, and an honor to treat these patients.

In comparable situations when seeing a patient who has just experienced a devastating problem (natural disaster, severe illness or serious injury), you may want to keep the following thoughts in mind: Your computer’s motherboard is sterile. It does not come with a lactating license. It cannot express the milk of human kindness. Please, for a few minutes or perhaps more, turn your computer screen to the wall. These patients have come for your help and support, not for digital distraction.

May God bless the people of Texas and all the people of this great nation. May God help us all come together to form a more perfect union. He works in mysterious ways, and it appears this disaster in Texas has brought not only this state, but people throughout this country a lot closer.