In the Wake of Katrina: A Surgeon's First-Hand Report of the New Orleans Tragedy

Scott E. Delacroix, Jr., MD

In This Article

Midnight Friday Until 10:30 am Saturday Morning

Nonstop helicopters of all types landing. We collected the sickest patients first and transported them out. As the morning grew closer, Operation Cloverleaf (as it was called) became more and more hectic -- 3 helicopters landing at a time. Groups of 8 placed into the helicopters. Those who were reluctant to get on a helicopter again received a dose of bravery in the form of a Xanax tab. Coordination was done with the 20-25 National Guard officers, Nick, Kelly, Danny, and about 15 other EMTs. We evacuated thousands out in a 10.5-hour period. A group of Arkansas SWAT and a National Guard unit were there wanting to get directions into the city to Charity Hospital to help evacuate stranded staff. I received word from Baton Rouge, 1 hour prior to their departure (at about 4:00 am), that the hospitals had been evacuated of all personnel. What a relief. My friends were safe. I was organizing families together for transport. All medical care ceased so that we could coordinate this transport. I found a family of 8; their son (Kendall) had died of neuroblastoma about 3 years ago when I was in medical school. I was his "big buddy" at Children's Hospital. We were close. The only thing that they had salvaged from their home was a picture of Kendall. I put them to the front of the line, and we wrapped the picture in a plastic bag. They were all together on the same chopper. Helicopters were still landing with patients to drop off. I ran to these and waved them off, told them to take them to the airport. It made no sense to continue having this as a drop-off LZ when we were trying to get every last person out of here. At dawn lines of buses began arriving. Finally, it is Saturday morning and we are now getting real help!! Sometime that morning, as I was loading persons onto a helicopter, a crew member said to look up. President Bush was flying over our area. I stepped back after the last person was loaded onto the helicopter, and there were possibly 100 people left; only dogs were running where people had been in such turmoil. There was trash everywhere. The smell was atrocious. Kelly , Nick , Danny , 2 nurse anesthesia students who had helped during the past 10 hours lay on cots to rest. At 10 am, the two local hospitals still open (Ochsner and EJGH) showed up with supplies, new cots, personnel, and doctors (20 of them). With all patients gone, we took a break. We thanked the 2 air traffic controllers who had been relaying to us the incoming air traffic. Without these 2 guys (Danny Page and Bill Sprake), we could not have gotten these people out. We had done it, finally. Senator Frist toured throughout the freshly evacuated area. It was puzzling that we received transportation for our people in the immediate 12 hours prior to the President's and Senator's visit.

Rested for an hour. One of the new doctors went to the airport to see whether all of these new doctors and supplies could be of use. He returned with a grim face, saying that the airport was atrocious and that he had been told by FEMA that we could provide no medical care because we were not government-licensed physicians. I spoke to EOC/DHH in Baton Rouge (Jimmy Guidry) who was extremely upset at the FEMA Bureaucracy. FEMA denied help at the airport from well-staffed local doctors even though people were in need. Bureaucracy at its best. We could not even place an IV on the patients. The same patients who I had been caring for for days. What nonsense. The 2 hospitals Ochsner and EJGH pulled out at this time because there were no patients left and FEMA at the airport refused assistance because they were not government doctors. Myself, Kelly the RN, and an orthopaedic surgeon loaded up our trucks with the new medical supplies and headed to the airport. If conditions were still poor, I couldn't believe that they wouldn't let us help. I wanted to see them refuse medical care. We arrive back to the airport. It was the same nonsense. Patients all over the first floor and outside. People outside, persons were laying on the first floor, but once again there were some of our patients who we had just evacuated of the highway and we could not care for them. What bureaucracy. We were not government doctors. With that, we went back to our trucks. We all exchanged numbers as we watched helicopters fly into New Orleans International Airport, and at 7:00 pm we headed back to Baton Rouge for some sleep.


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