Thursday, October 31, 2013

Angry Mobs and Alzheimer's

I worked for the Federal Emergency Management Agency for part of the summer in 2005. This was just after Hurricaine Katrina leveled a considerable portion of the South. FEMA is a typical dysfunctional federal government agency. There is no effective communication, real management, or anything that resembles goals or a plan. To find the answer to one question, I would have to ask five managers and average their responses. I do not believe the conspiracy theory about FEMA camps because these people are - truly - too stupid to live. There is no way they could run a concentration camp.

While staged in Atlanta we heard all sorts of reports back about gangs of looters shooting at ambulances and helicopters; and roving packs of feral dogs eating people. FEMA would not allow us to carry our firearms, so we asked them how we were supposed to defend ourselves. It was promised that we would be given a clipboard and a flashlight. We were to shove the clipboard into a dog's mouth and then beat the dog on the head with the flashlight. Okay, whatever. I'm open to it I guess. One week later I received my FEMA canine personal defense weapon:

FEMA Dog Fighting Flashlight
This is a two AA cell plastic Dorcy flashlight from Walmart. I also received a single subject college ruled spiral notebook which was to be utilized as my dog fighting clipboard. I still keep the flashlight around.. as a joke. I'm sure the notebook was made into paper airplanes or something more useful.
But that's not why I am writing to you today. While stationed in Pensacola we were sent over to the Church on Davis St. to watch the Red Cross actually help people (we, at FEMA, did not actually help any people, but we did watch a lot of other people helping people, and got in their way). The church had a gymnasium type area where people were waiting to be processed to see if they qualified for Red Cross assistance. These people had just lost their homes, their jobs, everything they owned and worked for, and in some cases loved ones. They traveled east out of the disaster zone, many with only the clothes on their back, and they did not have access to showers. Hundreds of them were packed into this tiny non-air conditioned church gymnasium in the Southern humidity and heat. They had been jerked around by a half a dozen government alphabet agencies trying to "help" them, and they were pissed.
This is when I observed the genius of the people running the Red Cross center that day. They began leading the people in a sing along. Really dumb songs like "you are my sunshine," but the people were all singing together. Singing, not rioting.
It reminded me of when I worked as a caregiver for people with Alzheimer's. One of the things I learned was that if the person you were taking care of was in a bad mood and unwilling to cooperate, you could sometimes get them singing along with you. They would become so concentrated on singing that they would often forget they were in a bad mood, and you could get them bathed, dressed, or whatever you needed to do. Dancing works too.
We should all really take an introspective look at why humans behave like people with dementia when we gather together.


  1. Wow. That flashlight...
    Mo and I watched a documentary about hurricane Katrina the other day... I can't imagine the stuff you saw but I'm sure it was a comfort having your trusty plastic walmart flashlight by your side.
    Your story makes me think I should have started singing to my patient who left AMA yesterday, maybe that would've made him a little more cooperative. Seriously though, who knew Alzheimers camps and Pensacola had so much in common? fascinating!

    1. Really, I saw nothing there. I was a newer EMT at the time and I requested to be sent into the thick of things so I could help make a difference. They instead sent the obese IDDM, who was in line next to me, to go live in tent village in New Orleans and bought her a generator and mini fridge for her insulin. They sent me to Pensacola and put me up in a $212/night room at the Hampton. I am confident we helped no one, but we did succeed in wasting millions of dollars of taxpayer money. Never did get attacked by wild dogs but I am glad I had my flashlight.


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