Ever wonder about those people who volunteer after natural or manmade disasters? Who are they and how do they just pick up and go? No, they don’t all work for the Red Cross, the Federal Emergency Management Agency, or the military. Some are students who volunteer for the CO-DMAT-2 (Disaster Medical Assistance Team Colorado – 2), which consists of physicians, EMTs, nurses, pharmacists and students studying in those fields.
One of those students, P4 Stephen Lee, hopped a plane mid-November and spent two weeks in New York helping patients affected by Hurricane Sandy.
“When the call comes you have to be willing to drop everything. For me, timing was crucial,” says Lee. “I was able to go because I was on my vacation rotation. I had the time and could leave immediately.” Since becoming a member of the team three years ago, Lee has been on alert three times for national emergencies, but has deployed once. He learned of the team, which is a rapid response team to supplement local medical care during times of emergency, while working at the University of Colorado Hospital. Interested volunteers go through intense training prior to becoming members.
During the post-Sandy cleanup, Lee spent two weeks in New York City providing medical treatment to about 150 people staying at a shelter at York College. At least 15 of the patients needed acute care for conditions such as diabetes and heart ailments. “We set up a mini med clinic and checked vitals often on these patients. I worked with doctors, nurses, PAs, medics, etc., at the location,” says Lee. “I frequently acted as the pharmacist at the shelter, but also had technician and intern duties.”
Years of volunteering in high school and college undertaking a variety of service projects didn’t prepare him for what he encountered, “I was humbled by the experience.” With so many people in need and so many people willing to help, “it was very different from anything I have seen,” says Lee. The team had to jump in and provide everything from patient care to food and janitorial services. “It was very different than being in a hospital setting, where you have a specific role to do. You couldn’t wait for someone else to come along. If someone was ill, you jumped in and cleaned it up.”
Thriving in chaos, Lee discovered that acute care is what he really enjoys and plans on pursuing after graduation.