Since the 19th Century when Clara Barton attended wounded soldiers on Civil War battlefields, the role of the American Red Cross Nurse has been legendary. As Disaster Relief Services have grown in size and importance over the last 20 years, so has the role of the nurse evolved to include more of the traditional, hands-on duties of the nursing profession.
From the point of view of Kristine Messitt, RN, a Chicago nurse serving at the Sachem High School Shelter in Farmingville, NY, the best part of the nurses’ job is using their highly training observational skills to detect conditions that people do not recognize as health or medical needs. “The Red Cross nurse knows that exposure to highly contaminated flood waters, or hazardous material spills place people at risk of serious health conditions. Often the trained eye of the nurse can identify a symptom that needs immediate medical attention,” she said. “It is very rewarding to identify and treat medical needs people often didn‘t know they had.” Kristine has been a practicing nurse in Chicago for many years, but because her children are grown, and her husband is understanding and supportive, she has been able to deploy on eight or nine Red Cross disaster operations to utilize her knowledge and skills with a very special population of patients.
Disasters come in all sizes from a single family in a house fire, a neighborhood ravaged by a tornado, to a multi-state region hit by Superstorm Sandy. But the common element is a large number of individuals who are struggling to escape to safety and security under emergency conditions. Their thoughts are focused on the safety of children, even family pets, and not on their daily medical needs. Most of the time prescription medications, durable medical equipment like the nebulizer needed by asthmatic kids, and eyeglasses, without which many seniors cannot function, are left behind and possibly destroyed by the event. In steps the Red Cross nurse to arrange for their replacement by making the necessary calls to pharmacies and physicians to start the life-dependent supplies flowing again.