Caring for Lumberton in the midst of Hurricane Matthew

LUMBERTON, North Carolina – It’s been two weeks and three days since Hurricane Matthew struck North Carolina; parts of Robeson County are still under water and citizens, including 38 Campbell University medical students and 26 resident physicians at Southeastern Regional Medical Center, continue to feel the effects or be displaced.

“It’s been like a third world country – with the National Guard in and around the hospital – helicopters circling overhead for days,” said Dr. Danielle Eagan, Internal Medicine Resident.  “We have had patients who lost everything and don’t have anywhere to go other than a shelter when they are discharged.”

Eagan is thankful to only have been minimally impacted by Matthew with just three leaks in her home and has been impressed by the support shown in the community.

“Everyone worked together and helped each other,” continued Eagan.  “I drove by a parking lot and could see EMS from 6 or 7 different counties – that was impressive.”

Courtney Moore and Ninad Zaman, Campbell University third year medical students, live in a neighborhood across the Cape Fear River from the hospital that remained untouched by the flood waters; they drove through the storm on Saturday 10/8 and stayed at the hospital 24 hours until it passed, but getting home was a challenge due to flooded roads.

“I’m from Minnesota, so I have seen extreme weather, but never anything like this – it’s been interesting,” said student doctor Moore.

“When we got to the hospital at around 5:30 p.m. on Saturday, we reported to the command center,” said student doctor Zaman.  “They told us we might be needed at the lab for phlebotomies or at the CDU (clinical decision making unit).  We reported to both places and were able to help them out. Courtney, Scotty, and I helped out with some blood draws, but we mostly stayed at the CDU helping the nurses who had been there for almost 24 hours – taking vitals, answering phone calls, checking finger stick glucose, and giving patients ice/water. We were also called to Labor & Delivery to help out, and we assisted in the psychiatric ward overnight.”

Hurricane Matthew moved on, but the flood waters continued to rise causing continued power outages, unpotable water, and some students were not able to get back to the hospital while others were able to via diligently mapped out routes that took hours instead of minutes to get them to the hospital.  Other students’ rotation sites were closed indefinitely due to the flooding.

“I tried to drive in, but couldn’t due to roads being closed. My rotation site will not be open for sometime, so I am being moved for the next rotation.  I was on the phone all day today trying to get my schedule worked out.  But, I’m so glad my home is ok. They were able to switch me to county water, so at least I can take a shower.”

“We saw an increase in patients in the ER who would normally be seen at an outpatient facility,” said Dr. Eagan.  “But thankfully, no water borne illnesses directly related the flooding have been treated.”

“At the hospital itself, we still have no municipal water,” said third year medical student Johnny Jaber last week.  “I’m currently on nephrology, where you become very aware of these resources that we used to take for granted. For example, one inpatient dialysis treatment takes over 150 liters of water.”

As of late last week, things were beginning to return to normal at the hospital.  Dr. Robin King-Thiele, Associate Dean for Postgraduate Affairs, was finally able to visit the students and colleagues she had been keeping in touch with by phone, email and social media throughout the storm and its aftermath.

“It was surreal –inside the hospital, on the surface things are ‘normal’,” said Dr. King-Thiele.  “But, then outside there are water tanker trucks supplying water to the hospital and visible evidence of the hurricane – dangling signs, water and mud marks on trees and buildings…its really something.”

Students who were not able to get to the hospital or who were able to get to shelters found ways to help during and after the storm.

“While the hospital was recovering, many of us went out to the evacuation shelters to help with triage and emergent medical care,” continued student doctor Jaber. “This was a unique and humbling experience – many in Robeson County lost everything except the clothes on their back. The medical students, residents, and community physicians helped to give emergent medications to patients (insulin, steroids, antibiotics, etc.), nebulizer treatments, and stabilized as many patients as we could with what limited supplies. We were fortunate to have local pharmacies drive out every 2 hours to refill prescriptions for us at no cost to the patients.  Doctors’ offices from all over the area donated medications and supplies they had on hand to help us out and build a “mini-hospital”.  While it is good to have been exposed to “disaster medicine” – something so few students get exposure to – it is tragic that this education comes at such a high cost.”

The academic disruptions are short-term in the midst of an immense recovery effort, and the Campbell University and Southeastern Health administrators are pleased with the student response.

“Worst case scenario, we are hoping that rotations would only be displaced for 6weeks–the past two and the next Block,” said Dr. David Tolentino, Associate Dean for Clinical Affairs.  “I am very proud of the Southeastern Health team and students. They are making a great name for themselves in the face of true challenge and adversity – especially those who suffered personal loses due to Matthew.”

“Like so many of our hospital staff, the medical students and residents persevered and were focused on how they could help and get to work during the storm and in these weeks after,” said Dr. Patricia Matto, Campbell University Regional Assistant Dean and Vice-President for Medical Education at Southeastern Health.  “Despite personal loses and the transportation challenges caused by closed roads and the slow recession of the flood waters, they have been here – working long hours – and even volunteering at shelters. They have also been supportive of each other and looked out for each other’s safety doing “I’m safe” check-ins and getting updates on their colleagues regularly. We are extremely proud – Campbell Proud – of how their hearts for service have shown in this terrible time for the Robeson County community.”