The flow of people seeking care didn’t stop for the Osteopathic medical students at the Sonoma County Fairgrounds. It was day five of the North Bay fires, and the students had just arrived at the evacuation center to volunteer. With their professors as preceptors, the first and second year medical students had come to put their skills in Osteopathic Manipulative Treatment to work. And there was plenty of work to do.
“I just wanted to keep them up and running, getting to do what they needed to do,” says Donald Long, who before becoming a medical student had once worked through his own fire evacuation as a hospital team lift supervisor in Paradise, CA.
Many Red Cross workers, firemen, and the members of the National Guard came in with acute stiffness and pain.
Just a partition away was a woman who had been undergoing hospice care at her daughter’s home, which they had just lost. Her grandchildren only wanted to watch over her as she tried to rest on a metal cot.
One man wearing clothes that might have been given to him was sweating profusely on the table, his skin red at the slightest touch. He had just lost his business.
Sarah Davis, a first year student who had previously spent seven years as an EMT examined him with Long.
“Even the lightest touch made him react, and he said it caused him pain,” she explains. “However, he supported his bodyweight on his injured shoulder several times without incident, so we weren't suspicious of a significant injury there.”
He was too anxious to be touched and began to breathe rapidly, so Davis coached him through deep breathing until he was calm, which he said made his shoulder pain subside.
“We just sat there and talked to him about what he had experienced. He had woken up in the middle of the night and saw flames a block away from his apartment,” continues Davis. “We were unable to do any treatment for him, but he said he did feel a little better.”
Kimberlee Walsh was woken up by the crack of a tree branch from the strong winds on the night of the fires. She smelled smoke in the air coming from a window at her home in the town of Sonoma. But the severity was clear when she let out her dogs at 6:00 am and received a text from a friend that “Santa Rosa was gone.” Walsh could see the flames on the nearby hills and knew it was time to act.
By 6:45, she was at her local hardware store buying respirator masks. Walsh has severe asthma. A cold or exposure to chemicals could put her in the hospital, and the smoke was getting worse.
“The massive lines at the gas station in our small town felt like Armageddon,” she says. “Still, we had no plan. We had no idea who could take us in.”
In addition to their six anxious pets, the Walsh’s also had to move her father-in-law who has Parkinson’s and dementia. Walsh, her husband Sean, and daughter Shannon were packed with photos off the walls, some clothes, and their wedding album by the time that sheriffs came to enforce the evacuation.
They found refuge with family in Fremont. Out of his routine and in a strange place, Walsh’s father-in-law experienced what she called “sundowning”, confusion and he had fallen. In the wee hours of Wednesday morning, the 79-year-old man had got himself fully dressed, thinking it was time to evacuate again.
Eight days later, they returned to a home that was untouched, but has suffered a lot of smoke damage.
“We know 20 families that lost everything, including four very close friends,” reveals Ms. Walsh. “Driving out of Sonoma to Napa I pass the rubble of the buildings that used to be there. The neighborhoods in Santa Rosa where I would bring my children as they grew up are just gone.”
Today, Ms. Walsh is gathering clothes to donate. Her daughter’s high school, Justin-Siena, held its first day back and a prayer ceremony.
“It was incredibly frustrating to have to be away from helping others during the emergency because of my asthma,” she continues. “But the love here is thicker than the smoke. Signs are everywhere thanking the first responders.”
Kimberlee Walsh, PA-C, is Assistant Professor in the Joint MPSAS/MPH Program.
Dr. Mohammed Jalloh, Assistant Professor of the College of Pharmacy, was commended by Ole Health for working around the clock to arange for evacuees to receive the medications that they had left behind. Jalloh stood in as clinical leader of the emergency operations team, maintiaining clear records and ensuring that medication access was provided "quickly and without hesitation".
I'm a Touro 2007 MPH, MSPAS grad. I'm currently working full time in Humboldt county in vascular surgery and family practice. My rural home town of Salyer and Willow Creek where my family practice clinic is located is routinely hit hard with wildfires, and this year was no exception. We lost an entire small town about 25 miles away (Helena) and dealt with 6 weeks of thick smoke. I operated a weekend clean air ctr. on the weekend when the smoke was at its worst.
Given my experience, when the Santa Rosa fires hit, the experience hit home. With two jobs, both in underserved areas, I didn't have much time to give. However, I was able to carve out time to drive down for a 5pm-1am shift on day 7 after the fires started. I worked at the Vets Ctr. in Santa Rosa. It was an eye opening experience. I was put in charge of the isolation room as there was a diarrheal illness making its way around the shelter. During my shift, it was decided by a higher up county Public Health official that all the diarrheal cases must be shipped out to the ER (despite the fact that the majority of them had waning symptoms were stabilized) in fear that this was highly communicable and the rest of the shelter was at risk. It was quite a night which ended in some lessons in communication with ER providers who might not be taking into account that a disposition to a private home is much different than a shelter.
Utilizing both my public health degree and my medical skills in this way was extremely rewarding.
I believe educating medical and PA students in smoke inhalation related illnesses and the interesting dynamics one encounters when involved in a domestic disaster such as this one are incredibly important.
Katie Stollmeyer MSPAS, MPH, PA-C
Joint MSPAS/MPH Class of 2007
I’m 65 and have had asthma since infancy. I had no idea how debilitating exposure to the smoke and particulate matter could be for me. I live along the river about 1.5 miles north of TU. I had to leave home on 10/12 because I was using a nebulizer 2-3 times daily and was getting less and less relief. I drove to Southern California and stayed in the clear coastal air near family for a full week. Upon my return, I was improved, but I continue to have asthma symptoms, a cough, and a very hoarse (but now understandable) voice.
I now know that when the air quality reaches harmful and dangerous, I need to evacuate sooner rather than later, and not depend on a ventilator mask to prevent an asthma flare. Worth sharing with others, I hope.
Monica Tipton, MA, BCBA
Graduate School of Education Class of 2010
Essential Resources to Prepare for the Next Emergency
Don't be left wondering “What do I do?” in the next emergency.
Always seek out your county and city emergency resources to receive instruction and monitor emergencies, such as the Solano County Office of Emergency Services at www.solanocounty.com/depts/oes/
Join Nixle Public Safety Alerts by texting your zip code to 888777 to receive text updates from your local sheriff department.
Visit www.ready.gov/build-a-kit to learn how to build your emergency supply kit so that you can be safe at a moment’s notice.
Go to ShakeOut.org to learn how to participate in the world’s largest earthquake drill and set an emergency plan for your home and workplace.
Gather real time data on earthquakes and more at the US Geological Survey, usgs.org
To monitor air quality and keep up with spare the air day, visit Bay Area Air Quality Management District at baaqmd.gov
For resources on wildfires, visit fire.ca.gov
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