By Dr. Dennis Stolpner, Red Cross Disaster Health Services Volunteer
With so much distress, I found it difficult to understand the surroundings that I found myself in. Having moved from one shelter to another, I encountered countless lives affected by Harvey as it tore the very fiber of Houston, indiscriminately affecting all communities.
As I made my way through the shelter on the first morning shift, I wondered how the families could fare in such trying times. I tried to avoid the thoughts of interposing my family and close ones into the same scenario, but failed to stop myself from thinking of how horrible it would be if my loved ones were to be stricken by the same fate. Yet, as I met family after family, I gained a new perspective on endurance and perseverance. The families, many of which had survived the one month mark at this point, had adjusted and were fighting daily to regain their past life. The children that ran through the shelter played among themselves oblivious to their surroundings. They had matched up with other families, who similarly found sport in camping outside their normal houses. In certain ways, it was a sign of relief that there was some joy in view of the cemented walls and cold floors that lined Old Spanish Trail Shelter.
This however didn’t last long. When I moved to assist at Greenpoint Shelter I heard stories of the neighborhood and the challenge of the 500 plus residents that were slowly getting weary of their predicament. I was moved to assist in a Health Services capacity from my previous volunteer position in Sheltering. As a physician who has worked in a number of rough neighborhoods, I thought that this wouldn’t be much of a change for me but, I was surprised by the enormity of the task ahead. As the established nursing team involved us into the daily running of the shelter, I became aware of the extent of the medical operation at hand.
Not including the residents we saw daily, I saw more than 50 members of the shelter over the next several days that were in one form or the other in need of medical attention. This included patients with hypertensive crisis, Diabetic Ketoacidosis, seizures, strokes, drug overdoses and a broad range of infections. Our team worked endlessly to get the residents some form of care, using our last strength after 13 hour shifts to get them into the hospital. Even as I write this, I recall the moment one of our residents seized in front of me. As I pulled the pulse ox on him and monitored his breathing, I called for the response team. With the help of Kathleen and Casey, two nurses from opposing regions of the country, we were able to get him into the hospital. It is remarkable thinking about the countless of lives that were involved.
I likewise remember one of our residents, who I spoke to after deployment. He called me several time after I left, discussing his time in the hospital and still looking for help. With all that we did, we provided what we could, and my heart still feels for those that are still experiencing trying times in Houston.
Throughout this process I found myself thankful for the support of our unique team and Houston’s first responders, who were at our sides nearly all hours of the day to help get residents into stable condition. I am still thankful for their help and ever-lasting presence during these moments when so many were in need.
If the essence of medicine is in the practice of good will, then the heart of the profession is in the care and comfort that goes beyond the daily routine. With this in mind, I will forever remember my time in Houston and the challenge and grave responsibility that comes with caring.
Dr. Dennis Stolpner has been a Red Cross volunteer since September 2017. His first deployment was to assist with Hurricane Harvey relief efforts, where he served in a Sheltering and Disaster Health Services capacity at both the Old Spanish Trail and Greenpoint Shelters in Houston, Texas. His professional experience includes Obstetrics and Genecology, Surgery and Clinical Research with national publications.