Sharing the pain

October 21, 2005

Even in places that have an image of relative safety — the hurricane makes people acknowledge their vulnerability.

Editor's note: Mileage doesn't necessarily distance us when natural disasters of Katrina's proportions strike. While our lives go on, there, in the back of our subconscious, is empathy and concern for those affected, and yes, feelings of relief, that the winds, literally, blew elsewhere. It doesn't matter that the disaster happened in another part of the country; we still feel affected, in some way, through the very fact that our country and its people were assaulted. Dermatology Times asked practitioners around the country what effect Hurricane Katrina has had on them personally.

Unparalleled destruction in American history - that was the effect of Hurricane Katrina. Hundreds of thousands of people are homeless. Businesses are destroyed.

Dermatologists who spoke with Dermatology Times say the physical effects of Hurricane Katrina will be felt later, although a couple have started seeing patients who evacuated Louisiana following the hurricane.

"We have several hundred families living in the area temporarily right now - mostly those with relatives here. We've had a half dozen patients from the hurricane come into the clinic who primarily had general dermatology problems that had been treated before and needed follow-up when they arrived here, but it's unsettling to say the least. Your heart goes out to these people who have been displaced and lost everything. I think it affects all of us as individuals."

Fragility of life

Emotionally, several dermatologists say they've felt the impact especially in terms of realizing the fragility of life.

Andrea L. Cambio, M.D., practicing in Lower Manhattan, says that, unfortunately, the feelings are not new.

"The level of devastation to the land, to the people - there's a feeling of helplessness that is similar to what happened after 9/11, after the tsunami hit. It brings back a lot of those emotions as well. I've had people come in to me who were also through 9/11, and we've just been talking, and the same feelings are coming up.

"I really felt the need to volunteer and go there, but I have a newborn keeping me here. The feeling is of wanting to be involved - to dig in and help those people."

In Los Angeles, A. David Rahimi, M.D., lives in a region that faces the constant threat of a sudden natural disaster - earthquakes.

"We view Katrina from many different levels," he says. "Being American, we feel compassion and we are worried about whether people are getting proper care. Secondly, we want to help financially - and my friends and I have all done that - beyond that we feel a sort of helplessness. We don't know what else we can do - it's frustrating."

The earthquake potential gives him a different perspective, too, on the effects of Katrina.

"If it's going to happen, it will eventually happen in California. Hopefully, we are more prepared than what we saw in New Orleans and Mississippi."

Many types of disasters

Every part of this country has its own dangers - dangers that are also felt worldwide. There can be earthquakes, floods and other natural disasters. The heat wave in France a couple years ago killed 15,000 elderly people because they weren't prepared.

"It makes you wary that something like that could happen here - and would have just as devastating an effect."

Even in places that have an image of relative safety, the hurricane makes people acknowledge their vulnerability.

Steven E. Caplan, M.D., practices in the quiet Pennsylvania countryside in York.

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