Emergency Response to Diabetes

Five thousand feet above a city besieged bywater, you feel very small. A devastated NewOrleans smoked from chemical explosions andother rolling disasters. To say it seemed like a warzone is not quite complete. Our small jet bankedslowly, and I realized that as far as I could see, Icould not see the end of it.

During that low flyover, just five days afterKatrina’s landfall, I couldn’t help but think ofthose fighting for their lives and their family’ssurvival—and at the same time trying to managea chronic disease or serious health condition.We had come on a mission, one still ongoing,to bring help and support to the hurting anddesperate.

Diabetic! Need Help!’

Even now, many weeks later, I’m sure youremember the images we all saw on the news.The people on one rooftop who had spray-painted “Diabetic! Need Help!” to signal rescuers.In another, a woman wandered the flooded NewOrleans streets crying out for insulin. And therewas the woman who went into a diabetic coma-likestate, live on camera during an interview.

Four days after the crisis began, I foundmyself on a plane with Rep. Curt Weldon(R–Pennsylvania), headed for “Katrina GroundZero.” My mission was to find distribution detailsfor diabetes supplies and support services. Inthose few short hours since the disaster began,diabetes companies, professionals and patientsalike came together to help those in need. Atthat time, more than $3 million in supplies andresources had been donated and were awaitinginstructions for delivery.

Although the mission seems simple, it provedto be daunting. The red tape, the bureaucracy,the chaotic nature of disaster management, allplayed their part.

After eight hours of meetings, I had a temporarydistribution location. Twenty-four hours later, arefrigerated warehouse had been identified andtraveling medical centers created.

Diabetes and Disasters—What Can We Do?

The situation got me wondering, how can wehelp those affected by diabetes prepare fordisasters? What do people with diabetes need todo to remain safe in an emergency?

As I traveled with Rep. Weldon, who also hasdiabetes, we discussed these questions. Onepotential solution is legislation.

An effort to make sure that insurance companiesallow patients to always have an adequatesupply of medications on hand in case of anemergency. Along with that, a standardizednotification system is needed so that patients areaware that it is time to reorder supplies so thattheir buffer supply is not depleted.

But legislative change takes time, and in themeantime, we need to prepare by creating ourown diabetes emergency kits. Extra batteriesfor meters and pumps, extra test strips, glucosetablets, drinking water, nonperishable foods, oralmedications, syringes and at least one bottle ofinsulin should always be readily available. I havepacked up my kit and feel a little more prepared.In the midst of the physical and emotional chaosof a disaster like Hurricane Katrina, planningahead is essential. It’s planning that will helpcreate at least a little peace of mind amidstdisaster.

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