Tuesday, November 13, 2012

The Advantages of Urban Living During Natural Disasters

Today, I read a blog post called "Cities--to big to fail?" The writer uses the events during and following Hurricane Sandy to question whether urban environments should be encouraged. It used hospitals as a case study for perceived weaknesses associated with urban living.

I think that the writer would have benefited from examining how these issues played out in the Gulf, when Hurricane Katrina hit. I noticed several other problems with Logan's post. There was a great deal of ableism and classism, as a matter of fact. Logan gives virtually no consideration to how these PWD would have likely fared if they weren't in an urban area when a natural disaster occurred. After all, we do know that natural disasters don't just strike cities. When Logan finishes using the challenges faced by PWD during Sandy, she seems to have no more use or consideration for us. She switches to planning for a world where we don't exist. Alas, this is usually what one sees when non-disabled people try to imagine or describe or write about disability issues.

I'm glad that the writer mentioned electronic medical records. When Katrina hit, I was basically living in two cities: Baton Rouge and New Orleans. The reason was that I have a rare bone cancer and the only orthopedic oncologist in all of Louisiana, Mississippi, and Arkansas practiced in New Orleans (at Tulane hospital), but the only hospital that had IMRT was in Baton Rouge (Mary Bird Perkins Cancer center). I'd started my cancer care at  Medical Center of New Orleans (a.k.a. Charity Hospital).

When Katrina hit, Charity was still in the process of going from paper records to digital. Tulane was already digital. To make a long story short, the records at both hospitals were lost thanks to the hurricane. Now, all that exists are the post surgery records that were already in Baton Rouge. My current and future doctors will never be able to see how the tumor originally looked. Because of that experience, I actually do think that electronic health records are the best option. The only problem is that back-up records need to be stored off-site, so that they can be accessed by other medical facilities if patients need to be evacuated. It simply isn't feasible to stick with paper records. In times of disaster, it just isn't possible to make sure that every relevant sheet of information in a person's health record can be retrieved and sent with the patient.

When natural disasters strike, I think that urban PWD fare better than those who are living in a rural area. Even when there are no disasters, it's much easier to be disabled in the city than in the country. If you're disabled, you may already be reliant on others and the chances of someone coming to help during a disaster are just a lot better in the city. Support systems for PWD are much easier to create, find, and maintain in urban areas. 

From what I've learned so far, during and following Sandy, it wasn't much of a problem for many PWD to get the help that they needed. In one case I know of, friends and neighbors of the couple (both are PWD) were able to stop by the fire station right down the block and pick up the recharged medical batteries and then drop off the ones needing to be charged when they left out again. Urban living made that possible.

Rural living is just too risky for many people like me.

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