New Orleans: Medical Mission Trip Reflections

By Sheila Mulcahy, RN, member of the Samaritans Now advisory board

I just completed a week long medical mission in the once great city of New Orleans. I have so many thoughts and feelings about it now that I'm home and can synthesize my experiences. When I was there I was immersed in hard work, long hours, with eyes wide open. I was pleasantly surprised to work with such a well oiled Operation Blessing organization that allowed me to dispel some of my prejudices. I worked with Baptists from Iowa, Mennonites from Manitoba, Nazarenes from Kansas, Jewish students from DC, local New Orleans residents (and me being the lone UU from Cape Cod). There were amongst us medical, dental, construction and deconstruction, and mess tent teams. We stayed in trailers and bunk rooms in a big parking lot in Slidell, a suburb of New Orleans north of Lake Ponchartrain.

We treated people that either had no insurance or limited insurance, those with no doctors, and those with no money to buy their medicines. Meds were purchased with grant money from Salvation Army, United Way, and other sources. There are three trailers set up on the lot on Read Blvd, a dental clinic, a medical clinic and a pharmacy. We were all busy all day long, all week long, and it has been since the waters receded. (I have salt stains on my shoes from rain puddles.)

Thoughts that are in the forefront of my mind include but are not limited to:

All those empty apartment complexes that were not damaged yet residents are not allowed to return, is this some form of ethnic cleansing? (Garden Section and water front).

Why does New Orleans need a billboard telling "Citizens, It is up to YOU to report public corruption?"

Why were the casinos in Mississippi rebuilt before anything else?

What the heck is "Napoleonic Law?" And, why?

What difference does it make whether it was wind or water? Insurance companies should just pay up.

Why are teachers, police officers, paramedics, firemen, and full time workers going to a free clinic? Why is the city not taking care of them?

Why does everyone put "Miss" in front of women's names? (I distinctly remember when I became Ma'am instead of Miss somewhere in my 30s, decades ago.)

Why would the Corps of Engineers repair the Twin Bridges spanning Lake Pontchartrain with bolts that require tightening every couple of days? Is this another example of their expertise?

Why do locals boycott Emeril Lagasi while the rest of the nation adores him? (I learned how he treated his help).

Why are false nails valued so highly?

Where did the architects of old New Orleans get their inspiration for such phenomenal structures?

Where are all those dump trucks dumping their fungal and bacteria laden loads?

Does the public know what MRSA is? Do they know what MRSA and diabetes together cause?

Why is the murder rate so high? I really did see a lot of policemen. I did feel protected. (We had private, armed guards too; automatic weapon holstered to their thighs.)

Aren't live oaks a majestic, tolerant, wise tree?

Why would the city dump expired medicines on a non-profit clinic that requires $$$$$$$ to dispose of them properly?

If Wellfleet can claim the best oyster, New Orleans can certainly claim shrimp. Gourmet **** at its best.

I think there is so much internal strife and I don't have answers. I feel like what I accomplished in that week was more like a band aid placed with good intention, a personal touch, and I know that my absence of 'R's was terribly entertaining.

I'd do it again in a flash.

-January 2007-