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Doctor helps Katrinas forgotten

October 24, 2005

— — Dr. Rose

— Dr. Robin Rose hails from New York City. — She studied studied medicine in Tennessee and Arizona and completed her — residency in Santa Rosa, Calif. She came to the Rogue Valley some 11 years — ago and has been an Ashland resident for eight years.She has a small solo integrative medicine family practice on the south — end of Siskiyou Boulevard. She finds the most interesting aspect of practicing — medicine to be the honor of getting close to so many people, sharing in — their lives and offering her patients the best care possible to make things — better.She went to the Gulf Coast under the auspices of Plenty International, — a relief agency started by The Farm, an intentional community situated — on 1,500 acres in rural Tennessee. Plenty, operating since the mid-1970s, — has done worldwide outreach from Bangladesh to the South Bronx, New York. — Her work on the Gulf Coast was primarily with the Houma Indians, the indigenous — people of Southern Louisiana, who live along the bayous called the Five — Fingers. She hopes to soon return.

— photos — from Dr. Rose' trip

— — —

When the aftermath of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita captured the attention of the nation, filled television screens with images of suffering and loss, it was all but impossible not to feel, however briefly, the urge to head south and do something, anything, to help.

Dr. Robin Rose, an Ashland physician, did exactly that. She visited the Louisiana communities of Raceland and Dulac not long after Rita had swept through. What she encountered almost defies description. The widespread devastation was, and continues to be, staggering &

covering an area that stretches for countless miles along the Gulf Coast and inland.

After setting up a base in Raceland, Rose spent a good deal of her time in the small town of Dulac, population 2,500. Forty percent of the town&

s people are Native Americans who belong to the United Houma Nation and have lived along the bayous of Terrebone Parish for generations. Their traditions and history are inextricably connected to the land.

Dulac is also representative of so many small towns that are nestled close to the inlet waterways that empty out into the Gulf. Places such as Montegut, Pointe Aux Chiene, and Isle Du Charles, characterized by Rose as &

invisible communities.&

Clearly, the task of rebuilding is overwhelming. Where to begin?

Working with the relief agency Plenty International, Rose began by making contact with local leaders of the Houma Nation who assisted her in her relief efforts in Dulac and surrounding areas.

Arriving for the first time in Dulac &

with food boxes, water, and medial supplies &

she saw a scene that was overwhelming. While there were some roads that were passable, according to Rose, many of the side streets were still under water. The area had been hit hardest by the sea surge and winds of Rita, waters rising in some places as high as eight feet. At one point water was up to the eaves of many houses. Boats were strewn about, resting at odd angles alongside the passable roads.

Most of the residences were very simple, either wood frame or brick houses with tin roofs. Others were mobile homes. Some sat on stilts five to ten feet high, but not high enough. Those homes that were not still inundated with water were filled with a black gumbo of mud, everything wet, damp, mold already beginning to take hold. Many houses were torn apart, roofs ripped off, side walls rotted out. Most leaked when it rained. Some people were sleeping in their homes on beds still wet and mud-covered. The weather was blisteringly hot and the humidity high and kids, seeking relief, romped in the water as if in a lake, no one completely understanding that, in Rose&

s words, it was a &

toxic soup.&

Driving along, she often stopped and treated people for heat prostration, took blood pressure readings, delivered water and medicine. One woman was distraught because her daughter&

s coffin had floated free from its cement structure in Provost Cemetery and ended up in her yard. Due to the high water table, it is customary to bury people above ground.

She describes visiting a family where they&

d heard a small child was sick. &

The trailer was raised on stilts and the granddaddy was sitting with his two-year-old on a couch, fanning her. The home smelled terribly moldy. The child was a bit overheated and we offered cooling rags. I checked on the mother, who was pregnant. We continued on our way, checking with families, most living in clan-like clusters, offering tetanus shots, food boxes, medical evaluations and tracking who needed help cleaning out the pervasive mud that sometimes reached four inches in the non-stilted homes.&

Giving tetanus and flu shots after exposure to the dirty water and ubiquitous mud was the first line of medical assistance.

Some families stayed in camper shells while removing not only the stinking, moldy mud from their homes, but removing all of their belongings, now muddy and ruined. Large piles of detritus were accumulating along the roads, just barely out of the water. Everything &

kids&

toys, appliances, furniture, clothing, pictures. Many yards were deep, slimy, muddy pools. The distinct, acrid smell irritated everyone&

s throat.

Rose tells of stopping and looking in on one old woman whose carpet was three inches deep in stinking mud, her bed damp, and all of her things muddy and wet. She sat outside her house, too old or too sick to do much at any one time. She insisted that her children were on the way to help her; however, there was the sense that help would not arrive anytime soon.

FEMA&

s presence was spotty and many people were not able to get what they needed; others had not seen anyone from the government. Insurance representatives had not yet arrived and it was unclear how many of the victims had insurance of any kind. The Red Cross was present, as were the Mennonites, bringing meals on wheels. Members of the Houma Tribe were ferrying in supplies and boxes of food and whatever aid was available.

Rose says that she worried that over the course of the recovery there would be more anxiety and distress. The initial shock and activity would change and people would then gradually come to realize the extent and profound nature of their loss.

&

The effects of the mold,&

she points out, &

on health ... the moisture leads to mold, which leads to allergy, which predisposes to viral and then bacterial infections. Sensitization to mold can lead to life long allergic tendencies, inflammation and many chronic illnesses. This includes the children. The waters are toxic, and that area is already known as &

145;cancer alley.&

Upstream chemicals dumped into the water get into the food chain and then ingestion of shellfish, causing potential immune system dysfunction and cancer.&

Rose went on to say that &

stresses have effected cardiac conditions. There have been deaths, heart attacks, strokes, as well as asthma exacerbations and allergies. Skin rashes were already evident as were infections, respiratory and gastrointestinal problems. Nutritional issues are a real problem.&

On an emotional level, she found many who suffered from sheer exhaustion, frustration. &

One man told me when I visited that he had just buried his mother that day. She couldn&

t tolerate the effects of the stresses.&

Rose&

s can be contacted at drrose@mind.net or by calling her office at 488-4383. The Web site for the United Houma Nation is www.unitedhoumanation.org.