Lisa Ward, MD, FAAFP
The very most joyful thing that I get to do in the fire recovery is care for my patients. Here is a summary of the rich clinic session I had 11 weeks after the Northern California fires. This array of patients, seen in one half day, shows the incredible, sacred spaces we live in as family physicians. It also shows the impact of the fires on the health and wellness of our patients that will endure months after the smoke has cleared.
Patient 1: 57 year-old (yo) man with arthritis in his knee and sciatic back pain; today he has high blood pressure despite medication after 2 years of adequate control. He was not evacuated nor lost his house. He takes the bus through a burned neighborhood that he finds incredibly stressful to see over and over. And he gave me a bottle of bourbon for Christmas! Cheers!
Patient 2: 32 yo woman with chronic hip pain from a congenital hip abnormality who is a past meth addict, now sober. She is a typical working parent. She cares for her 2 year-old son and works as a clerk in a large retail store. She has lost 2 weeks of work due to the fires. She now is not exactly sure how she will pay her rent. She won't get missed wages but she has gone back to work.
Patient 3: 53 yo alcoholic woman who has rheumatoid arthritis and cleans houses for a living. Three of the homes she cleans were destroyed in the fire. She is now earning significantly less income. Her blood pressure is newly high.
Patient 4: 54 yo homeless woman with schizophrenia and Type 2 Diabetes and now is totally out of control while using her insulin at the regular dose. She is stressed. But she began her sobriety last week and feels much more clear of mind.
Patient 5: 75 yo woman with history of chronic pain from knee osteoarthritis who is now scheduled for a joint replacement. Her original surgery date was scheduled for the week of the fires and now it has been rescheduled for next week. She is looking forward to the benefits of a new knee!
Patient 6: 2 yo girl here for flu shot who was evacuated, now doing well.
Patient 7: 17 yo teenage girl here for flu shot and obesity, evacuated, now doing well but says, “It was SOOO crazy!”
Patient 8: 39 yo woman with a history of early CAD and coagulation disorder, evacuated, now doing well but worried more than before.
Patient 9: 64 yo woman with a history of COPD who has had persistent cough since the fires, now increased use of albuterol and steroid inhaler.
Patient 10: 72 yo woman with multiple cancers from familial polyposis syndrome, wheelchair bound due to debilitating scoliosis and vertebral arthritis, says she got ready to be evacuated. So, she packed her bags and practiced her exit route from her elder care facility. When she got to the 3rd floor elevator, it did not function as her building had no power. She realized if she had been in a hurry to really evacuate, she would have, “been in real serious trouble” [emphasis on the “rEEEEEal” from her Southern drawl].
Patient 11: 4 ½ yo girl here for a well-child exam. This is a baby I delivered. The little girl is the most beautiful, bright light. Her mom is a quiet, grounded force. She and her family were not evacuated and their home was not burned. We just talked about how lucky we are and how many people we know who were not so lucky.
Patient 12: 58 yo woman whose blood pressure is totally out of control. “Honestly, doc, I haven’t had my meds since the fire…” She left town voluntarily when her 9-month pregnant daughter was evacuated to a hospital in nearby Vallejo to have her baby. She went, too. She left her medicines in her home and went to care for her daughter during the birth of her new grandson. She could not believe that the hospital found them a house to stay in during the fires so they would be close to the hospital as the delivery was approaching.
So, this is all in a day's work. Fire files, fire stone, firelight, fire, fire, fire….