Louisiana Doctor Sees Post-Katrina Crisis
ED GORDON, host:
I'm Ed Gordon, and this is NEWS AND NOTES.
Soon after Hurricane Katrina struck, NPR's Farai Chideya spoke with Dr. Joe Freeman, of Baton Rouge. He's an ER doctor who set up his own emergency medical clinic for evacuees.
Farai caught up with Dr. Freeman again last week at his home. A lot has changed since we first spoke with Dr. Freeman. He survived a life-threatening illness, and a lack of funds forced him to close his emergency clinic. But that hasn't tempered his passion.
Now, he's ready to take on the health crisis he says is on the horizon.
Dr. JOE FREEDMAN (Baton Rouge, Louisiana): You're going to see an overburden of the medical community. I mean, it's overburdened right now. Doctors have left. Don't forget that now, doctors have left this state.
FARAI CHIDEYA reporting:
What do you think will happen to people who were evacuees who might not have access to good healthcare? What kinds of problems will they have?
Dr. FREEDMAN: Well, the same kind of problems that if I put you on a desert island and you suffer with diabetes and hypertension - you would die. I saw a kid, I saw an 18-year-old from Faraday, Louisiana - which is next to Natchez, Mississippi - 18-year-old sickle celler. They lost everything, they don't have anything, they only got $2,000 from FEMA. And what's going to become of her?
Now I'm hoping for the best, I pray for the best for her. I pray that, you know, she gets a doctor, that she gets seen when her crisis comes. She'll come to the emergency room or we can prevent some of these crises we're in. But the reality is that she's going to be in a world of trouble.
CHIDEYA: And, of course, sickle cell is disproportionately affecting African-Americans. And when you get into crisis, your body can shut down, can't it?
Dr. FREEDMAN: Oh, absolutely. Big time. And, you know, of course, so is diabetes, you know, that also affects, big time, the African-American community. We forget about that. A lot of young men and women dying from strokes now. You don't have to be 60 or 70 or 80. They drop dead from a stroke.
What's to come if we don't do something about this in our state, is that we're going to have a huge problem.
CHIDEYA: The Times-Picayune just ran a huge story on the case of the doctors who were accused of euthanizing their patients. What do people in the medical community, especially yourself, think of that case?
Dr. FREEDMAN: Here I am with patients, you know, I'm faced with this a lot. I have patients who are dying, who are do not resuscitate - DNRs as they call them - and we're flooding, and there's no heat, and we ain't got no food. Now am I going to let someone suffer? Let's get real. I mean, you know, if I'm going around injecting people with morphine because I don't want old people around me, well then I need to get put away.
But one of the things that we have to do is take care of our patients. And sometimes you can't sit and watch people suffer. It's hard to do that.
CHIDEYA: So a year later, what have you seen - direct medical problems caused by Katrina that may not have manifested at first but that are happening now?
Dr. FREEDMAN: Post-Traumatic Stress Syndrome. Just like Vietnam, World War II, Iraq, and I think a lot of us are going through it and don't even know it.
CHIDEYA: Well, one thing - a couple of things come to mind. One is that a Times-Picayune photographer was attempting, officials say, to do suicide-by-cop. You know, to - just said, shoot me, shoot me. And then also there's been a rash of murders. Are those related you think the post-traumatic stress?
Dr. FREEDMAN: I don't know where all that's coming from. I mean, you know, New Orleans, if you're talking about New Orleans it's known to be violent. But I'm seeing more suicidal ideation and suicidal gesturing than I've seen - and I've been there for six, seven years - in the past five months. It's unreal. I mean, I'm due one - I mean maybe it's just me. Maybe I attract that. I don't know. My staff says I attract it. But I get one or two a night.
You've lost your mother, you lost your son, I mean, you're going to self medicate. You know, there's going to be more uses of drugs. I mean, there's just a lot of things that go on with this post-traumatic stress syndrome that we haven't even scratched the surface on.
CHIDEYA: Let me ask you about something a little bit lighter, which is that your home - when we came in there are a whole bunch of soaps sitting on the kitchen counter - smell delicious - and a big crocheted throw on your couch. And I understand that you've done these.
Dr. FREEDMAN: Yeah. Me and my boys, we make lotions and soaps and we crochet. And it's fun.
CHIDEYA: Does this kind of get you through the tough times, the moments with your children and the things you do together?
Dr. FREEDMAN: Oh yeah. That is therapy. That helps me tremendously. You know, me and my youngest son did the last batch of lotion, which was Friday, and we had a great time doing it, making up scents and it was fun.
CHIDEYA: One more tough question before we let you go. There was a big story on race relations, I think it was St. Tammany Parish, the - I forget who it was -I think the chief of police, was it? Who said, who was talking about people with chee wee hairstyles are not welcome.
I happen to have a chee wee hairstyle. I didn't even know that dreadlocks could be called a chee wee hairstyle. I kind of like the name. I'll stick with that. I'll be like I'm going to go get my chee wees re-twisted. But, you know, there's some pretty naked posturing around African-Americans not being welcomed in certain parts of the greater New Orleans and Baton Rouge areas.
Dr. FREEDMAN: Well, race relations are no better than they were pre-Katrina. They're probably worse. Anytime a people that you have preconceived notions -come to your doorstep, you're going to trip. Now everybody knows what I mean by trip, and so let's just be for real. Black folks with a little extra money are going to trip. White folks with a little extra money is going to trip.
Everybody's going to trip until you realize, when it all comes down to the bottom line, we're all alike. Some of us have opportunities that others didn't have. Some are good, some are bad. But the race relationships here in this state before they do a rebuilding, there's going to be a tearing down of things. And you ask any resident in New Orleans - black, white, green or yellow - they would tell you it is not good, and things are going to happen.
GORDON: That was Dr. Joe Freeman of Baton Rouge, speaking with NPR's Farai Chideya. Tune in tomorrow as we tour one of New Orleans's most famous streets. We'll also meet a group of men who are still separated from their loved ones, but have forged a new family together.
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