KATRINA THROUGH THE EYES OF A SENIOR PHARMACY STUDENT
IT IS FOREVER IN MY MEMORY:the incredible destruction that hurricaneKatrina caused in the Gulf Coast.Just days before the hurricane hit, I wasout celebrating the completion ofanother pharmacy rotation throughXavier University of Louisiana. I wasfinally feeling the benefits of all my hardwork. Little did I know, there would bea major turn of events that would leaveme feeling a mixture of sadness, anger,and total helplessness. It is vastly differentto watch the hurricane on TV andlive a firsthand account of how Katrinaaffected peoples'lives, the health carefield, and the world of pharmacy. I willbriefly share a small portion of myexperiences with you.
On the morning of Monday,August 29, 2005, I watched as myhome disappeared under the floodwaters of hurricane Katrina. Therewas always "talk" that New Orleanswould one day be submerged underwater,but I never could have imaginedthis! For weeks, I triedto call missing friends—some of whom I have stillnot heard from to this day. Icould see my future as apharmacist moving fartherand farther away as thefloodwaters rose. While, inmy mad dash for refugefrom the storm, I forgot myemergency folder whichcontained important documentslike my birth certificate,pharmacy internhours, medical records,Louisiana pharmacy studentpermit, etc. I had noreal proof of my identity, and whatseemed even worse, I had no documentationof my pharmacy experienceto prove my education thusfar. My greatest fear was bestexpressed by the saying I had heardmany times: "If it's not documented,then it didn't happen." Could it bepossible that I would have to reapplyand start over? It sounds pessimisticnow, but at the time, it was my reality.
Weeks later, after most of the watersubsided, I was able to return toLouisiana for a few hours and foundtotal destruction. My home looked likea war zone. Citizens were carryingfirearms to protect from looters whatthey had left. Through all the damage, Iwas luckily able to retrieve my emergencyfolder that I had left behind. Theeerie olfactory sensation in the airclearly reminded me that many peopledied. In addition, the ones that survivedwere in desperate need of medicalattention.
Makeshift pharmacies (mostlytents and such), as well as medicalclinics, were set up around the GulfCoast where pharmacistsdonated their time andefforts to ensure that victimswere able to receive desperatelyneeded medications. Ihave asthma and was in needof another inhaler. Unfortunately,the pharmacy that Icould reach was out of stockand instead supplied me withan over-the-counter "therapeuticequivalent." Katrinaredefined the meaning of"therapeutic substitution." Ifa drug could lower blood pressure for a hypertensivepatient, that was all that mattered. If it had not been forthese volunteers, the number of fatalities would have beenmuch higher. Seeing pharmacists making such efforts toensure some semblance of health care made me feelproud to know that I would one day be in the same positionto help if needed.
Fortunately, I was able to go to Houstonand live with my older brother. I shortlydecided that Houston was not the place Iwanted to be when I endured yet anothergrueling hurricane evacuation. I remembertraveling about 20 miles in 12 hours, in90-degree heat. There was no gas to refuel,and many people ran out of water,which was no longer in stock at moststores. It looked more like a scene fromArmageddon than an evacuation. I decided that I would goto live in a place where I would never see another hurricane,which turned out to be a long drive to the great stateof New Jersey.
This actually turned out to be a blessing, when I gotnews that Rutgers College of Pharmacy would allow me torotate with one of their preceptors. It was a great start, butI no longer had a list of future rotations waiting for meonce I completed this rotation. As displaced students, wehad to find preceptors who would take us into their programs,and it was not easy for us, nor was it easy forXavier University, to do this.
Relocating was a big adjustment because I had neverlived on the East Coast before. It is true what they sayabout the fast-paced life of the Northeast compared withthe South. I was nervous moving to a new city and startingrotations with new students and faculty. My pharmacyclass at Xavier was very close, and we strived to helpeach other through classes and rotations. I no longer hadthis safety net and was only 1 of 2 Xavier students whorelocated to New Jersey. I did not have time to feel sorryfor myself. I was able to complete 1 rotation at Holy NameHospital in Teaneck, NJ. While there, I quickly madefriends with a Rutgers student named Janet. She immediatelywent out of her way to help me find my way aroundthe winding-road and sign-less state of New Jersey. Shealso helped me to find a site for my next rotation—MedcoHealth Solutions in Franklin Lakes, NJ. It was a reliefknowing that I at least had a New Jersey pharmacy studentwho was now looking out for me. If you are readingthis, thanks Janet.
While working at Medco, I had the opportunity to connectwith alumni from various pharmacy schools acrossthe nation. Most of the pharmacists there had empathyfor my situation and helped me a great deal in trying tofind future rotation sites. I just knew that, with their connections,someone would allow me into their rotation sitein New Jersey—was my assumption ever wrong! At theend of my rotation at Medco, I did not have anyone whocould accept me into their extern program at the time.Fortunately, Rondall Allen, PharmD, a professor fromXavier University, was also working extremely hard tryingto find sites. He was able to find 2 potential sites outsideof New Jersey—1 in Houston and the other in Philadelphia.As previously stated, Houston was out of the question,so I had to relocate to Philadelphia and do a rotationthrough the Philadelphia College of Pharmacy.
I was extremely tired physically and emotionally butwas excited that I had another site to attend. My rotationin Philadelphia would be at the Albert Einstein MedicalCenter. To my surprise and pleasure, all of their preceptorsand pharmacy students made me feel right at homeand helped me to fit into the grueling schedule of rounds,case presentations, and drug information.
This past year has not been easy. I often repeat thephrase "Anything that doesn't kill you only makes youstronger." Now, I truly understand the meaning of thosewords. I know that I will use my experience to be the bestpharmacist that I can be. I have learned that life will throwyou into unexpected situations, but a positive and flexibleattitude will allow you to be victorious regardless of thecircumstances. To be victorious, you have to "roll with thepunches of life."
At the time of completion of this article,Mr. Dickey was completing his last rotationat Albert Einstein Medical Center.