Comments on life, the universe and everything from an aging Sixties survivor.

Location: Massachusetts, United States

Ummm, isn't "about me" part of the point of the blog?

Monday, September 05, 2005

Needless deaths

Funny expression, isn't it? After all, death is the common expectation, even for those who opt in to the institutionalised denial sold by religion.

Most of us, given the chance, would prefer a death other than drowning, sunstroke, heat exhaustion or dehydration. Most of us would rather not die by a flooded roadside in a wheelchair waiting for help that never came. If we knew that a pampered, arse-kissing Washington bureaucrat was blaming us for our own deaths, we would rather not be blamed. If we knew that he was telling Washington anchors that reports of the New Orleans situation were "exaggerated," we might want him with us to share in the exaggeration.

Some few of the Gulf Coast's dead and dying no doubt made a deliberate decision to "ride out" Hurricane Katrina. Most of us are primates of experience, not intellect. Those who stayed were perhaps lulled by years of ceaseless media hyperbole about Category 1 and 2 hurricanes that may have lost even that punch when they came onshore. Their experience informed them that a hurricane was not to be feared. Their mathematics weren't equal to the concept of an exponential increase in force for each additional mile per hour of wind speed. They were further lulled, maybe, by a news media that dismissed Katrina on the day she landed because she had "missed" New Orleans, because she was "only" Category 4 at landfall.

A Category 4 hurricane equals an F2 tornado: Katrina was an F2 tornado 500 miles wide. That is a bit of scientific extrapolation beyond the skill of poufed broadcast journalists.

We are forgetful primates, or at least we remember only what lies within our experience. So, if you are black and in New Orleans, you remember a past occasion when the evacuation buses left the city full of white faces taunting the blacks left behind. That memory makes one a little skeptical of evacuation promises. You add that to the many false alarms and then perhaps you don't even think of leaving until it is too late to leave. You don't have an SUV, may not even have a car. It is too late and your situation is "exaggerated." You can now be dismissed by bureaucrats whose chief concern is CYA.

If you are a New Englander of my age you remember seeing, as a child, the woods full of fallen trees that were growing when American Independence was declared. You were brought up with stories of the hurricane that felled those trees and denuded the southern coast of Rhode Island, scoured it so completely that the trees have yet to come all the way back. It clocked a maximum of 186 mph, 50 miles inland from landfall. At landfall nothing survived to record the wind speed.The 1938 New England hurricane was Category 5 only because there is nothing higher. It bludgeoned its way almost to the Canadian border before falling away to a mere tropical storm. Had Katrina made landfall with those velocities, we'd be kissing Memphis goodbye too.

I can't claim to have seen a lot of needless death. One was enough.

At Philadelphia Naval Hospital, most of those who died because the urgency of the need was "exaggerated" had the decency to die in the small hours, that deadly time before dawn when all our vital energy runs lowest. There was simply an empty bed the next morning, and no explanation made or sought ( no one is more selfish than a trauma casualty).

I knew when the Chief died, though. I couldn't help it, since he was in the next bed. Today, after a re-education in health care, I know this too. It wasn't much short of murder to place a man with no back, merely one horrendous burn, on an open medical-surgical ward with open windows for air conditioning. Then, you staff that ward with one nurse and a couple of corpsmen per watch to care for forty-some sick and wounded. Of course the Chief died: by any practical measure he was dead the minute they deposited him there. But to acknowledge that need was to admit that the war had gone terribly wrong, was wounding Americans faster than they could be healed.

Then, as now, those who try to rescue and heal against impossible odds have more of my admiration than I can express. The politicians and bureaucratic thumb-suckers who thwart them have a greater portion of my outrage than is legal to put into words.

Over this Labour Day weekend, health care professionals from Boston Children's Hospital were boarding airplanes at Logan to fly to the Gulf States. They knew the desperate need, and so brought with them quantities of medical instruments and syringes..."sharps" as they're known to the trade.

They could not board the planes with the sharps, because the Department of Homeland (In)Security that had just murdered tens of thousands of hurricane victims through ineptitude and neglect wanted to kill a few more to enforce its regulations. Thus, the Gulf States have several dozen more health care providers who will have to use sewing kits, nail scissors and Swiss Army knives for surgery (if they can find those) and lord knows what to administer injections because the syringes are long gone. Perhaps they'll resort to having people bite on bullets during surgery.

I would utter a political slogan, but that is stale and trite and pointless now. Even rage does not answer my feeling in this extremity.


Blogger Mass Marrier said...

Chilling, Uncle, particularly the sharps tale.

Bushies seem particularly good at triage. That come from sort. Hmmm, a keeper. Nah, that one goes in the trash (grave).

How is it that such self-identified Christians can care so little for life and so easily sidestep actions that would prevent suffering and even death? Maybe they should all do volunteer time in hospitals and emergency rooms for the military and for the poor.

6:28 pm  

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