Aftermath: Katrina survivors face health horrors

Jan Egeland, the United Nations undersecretary for humanitarian affairs says, "Natural disasters affect at least seven times more people than conflicts." I don't know if that is statistically valid, but look around the world. Right now, Louisiana and Mississippi are in trouble. Big trouble.

After September 11, 2001, we might have hoped this country would be better prepared to save lives in the wake of a catastrophe; people displaced by Hurricane Katrina are dying by the hour. How can the media get to the people, but the federal agencies charged with disaster relief can't even deliver food, water, clothing, and basic medications? Would a certain national leader be the first person voted off Survivor?

In a total of 19 studies addressing health issues that can result from tsunamis, floods, and earthquakes, the most common illness were cardiac problems, fungal infections, leptospirosis infections, and mental health events (look at the gunfire in New Orleans). This does not include the most basic problems: hunger and dehydration.

One pediatric hospital in New Orleans was finally cleared out, and they had to carry a heart-pump machine down four flights of stairs while medics manually pumped the blood for a child. People who need medical equipment to live, such as renal dialysis or breathing machines, are like fish out of water– in dire need of support. Even if people can get to healthcare workers, without medical supplies, there isn't much that can be done. It's like Felix the cat without his bag.

Insulin-dependent diabetics need insulin to survive and time is of the essence. Persons with cardiac conditions, seizure disorders, and strokes might not be able to wait for airlifts of medicines to arrive. It's worse than, "The check is in the mail."

Floodwater carries infection, such as tetanus and dysentery. In this case, "Don't drink the water," extends to "Don't touch the water." Severe diarrhea, skin infections, skin trauma, and even drowning are all dangers that threaten people adrift in the submerged city.

Trauma is almost a given in disasters, and those with open broken limbs and faces might not have been able to get to safety. Open wounds are the worst because of blood loss and infection. Let's not be too judgmental about people shooting guns and showing other signs of mental disorders. The mental shock of such a catastrophe is incalculable. It happens in every disaster, and let's face it: everyone has an Uncle Joe, Cousin Bill, or Aunt Katy who is nuts– it's just that we're only exposed to them during the holidays. Could you imagine them without food, water, shelter, or clothing adrift in a world of suffering and dying people? It would be worse than Anna Nicole off TrimSpa or Bobby Brown on TrimSpa.

Heat exhaustion and stroke not only can affect civilians, but the relief workers, too. During the 1993 floods in the Midwest, the National Guard reported 119 injuries to their own troops, with heat exhaustion being number one (incurred while positioning sandbags, which also caused back and muscle strains). And that was the Midwest. This is the Gulf Coast– where it's hot as bacon on a skillet.

Please give to the American Red Cross and/or other relief organizations to help those in great need. Don't you think that if this disaster happened in the Hamptons or Beverly Hills, all the refugees would already be ensconced in the Ritz Carlton lined up for pedicures?