We are oncologists from New Orleans who were interviewed by reporter Doug Struck in front of Memorial Medical Center on Sept. 12 as we were attempting to retrieve clinic charts and chemotherapy records on patients evacuated to other areas ["45 Bodies Found in La. Hospital," front page, Sept. 13]. Although we were not required to stay at the hospital because our specialty is not essential in an emergency, we remained there during the hurricane and for 36 hours afterward. Despite difficult working conditions, staff members were professional and focused on the patients' needs.
By late Aug. 29, the day after Hurricane Katrina hit, the pumps were working, and flooding on the streets outside was gone. It was not until the next day, when the flooding returned, that it became clear that the worst was yet to come.
Being caught in a position of trying to do one's job and protecting one's own life is not easy. We stayed with patients as long as it was possible and have been working to provide for them in other locales ever since.
It is easy to ask why these patients were not evacuated before the storm; however, the unexpected events in the aftermath of Katrina caused the majority of problems.
Many patients who remained in the hospital were among the sickest in the region. That some passed away is not a surprise to medical professionals. Those who were able to be discharged were evacuated. However, some patients had underlying terminal conditions. The hospitals also were overrun with patients who had been dropped off because they were unable to leave because of multiple comorbidities. These included individuals on home oxygen, those for whom home medications were running scarce and individuals who were bedridden.
Mr. Struck asked whether we felt that the hospitals should have been evacuated earlier. This is a question we have thought about for two weeks. We have concluded that if we had not attempted to remain open, fatalities would have been higher. To transfer patients with continued medical needs in the given time frame was a near impossibility. Also, many of the patients present after the storm were admitted just before or during Katrina and would have had no medical care or even safe shelter had we not remained available.
No one was prepared for the devastation that took place, but we do not regret what we did for our city. We are proud of the jobs our medical professionals did during a trying time.