January happens to be one of the “on-call” months for my DMAT. About a week before each on-call month, I go through my 72 hour pack and my main gear bag, making sure that anything I “borrowed” from it was put back in, any foods that need to be replaced are, and that everything is in good shape. I potentially have to live out of my 72 hour bag. It has food, my medical gear, first aid kit, change of clothes, stuff to keep me busy, some survival gear, etc. And my gear bag is replacement clothing, sleeping bag, sleeping pad, pillow, spare bag (Things expand while on deployment! I swear!), MREs, and more.
I had begun this process, then got hurt. On December 31, I called my unit commander to advise him I would not be deployable for 6 weeks. I think that hurt worse than the injury. I joined DMAT to provide medical care during disasters. I made the decision to join the team right after 9/11 (I had heard about them during my EMT recert class), and I’ve been with them ever since. I’ve deployed since in 2004, and 2008, with wildland fire medical and CalMAT thrown in in-between. Even when the orthopedist told me the news, I had not immediately thought it would take me out of deployment availabiltiy, but that realization hit a few moments later.
This week, as hopefully all of you are aware, a 7.0 earthquake hit in Haiti, a few miles from Port-Au-Prince. Casualty estimates are 50,000 to possibly 500,000. That’s just the dead. Injured? Try 4 or 5 times that. Illness, infection, rescue/recovery/rebuilding injuries will increase that. And the hospitals and clinics are destroyed. This is a first for DMATs. We have historically worked US missions, although some teams have gone to US territories, such as Guam, and American Samoa. Teams landed in Port-Au-Prince today, along with DMORT (Disaster Mortuary Response Team), IMSuRT (International Medical Surgical Response Team), and more. My team is on standby, although not first out the door for this mission. The medical response for this mission will be prolonged. The magnitude of this disaster is almost surreal. 3 million people are homeless. Malaria, Dengue, HIV/AIDS, Hepatitis B, and TB are endemic in Haiti.
I was asked last night “how broken I was”, by one of my teammates. A few want me to deploy with the team, but I can’t. Part of my readiness is assessing my capability. I am an EMT. Yes, I am also the Electronic Medical Record expert on the team, but I am first and foremost an EMT. I can’t do that work right now. And I need to let my elbow heal, so that I can continue to be a responder, for the team, for my company, and for my employer. This is my livelihood at stake right now. Back in July, I had to make the same decision when I had my knee worked on. Each of us has a responsibility to ensure that we are capable of performing our work. And to assess ourselves and determine that we are not putting our team or partners at risk due to illness or injury. I don’t want to do something that will make my arm worse, and potentially send me to the O.R., when I can potentially avoid it by allowing my arm to heal. And I don’t want to risk the safety of my team.
Besides, there will always be more deployments. And I suspect multiple deployments to Haiti.