Michele Woodrum looked out the window of the plane, down to the familiar place below. Though she'd visited Hope Town — a tiny village on Elbow Cay in the Bahamas — many times before, on this day she hardly recognized it. Gone were the bright pinks, yellows and blues that normally dotted the island. Instead, Woodrum saw a devastating palate of brown and grey, courtesy of Hurricane Dorian. The storm had ripped houses apart, shattered buildings and lifted boats out of the water, depositing them on shore. "The place was completely destroyed," Woodrum tells us.
Her previous trips to Hope Town had been happy ones, visiting the island with her boyfriend, a musician who plays there. But for Woodrum, a nurse anesthetist at Mayo Clinic in Florida, this trip was different. She was joining a friend, Rachael Miller, a nurse at Flagler Hospital in St. Augustine, Florida, to provide health care to the islanders. "Rachael called me and said, 'Pack two pairs of scrubs, there's a seaplane leaving Fort Lauderdale,'" Woodrum tells us. She'd previously scheduled a week of vacation, so didn't hesitate to head south and meet the flight.
The two women joined a physician and headed to Hope Town, bringing medication and supplies provided by Flagler Hospital. When they arrived, they relieved the island's only nurse and began treating 80 to 90 patients a day. With reports of bodies floating in the water, they worried and watched for cholera. They gave tetanus shots, and treated wounds and ringworm. And perhaps most importantly, they listened. "Everyone wanted to tell me their stories," Woodrum says. "Not only did they go through the hurricane, now they have nothing to go back to. People are stressed. They need people to tell them it's going to be OK. The need for mental health counseling is huge."
That's one need among many that's likely to continue. "The initial goal was to get people evacuated and safe," Woodrum says. "The second round is going to be rebuilding." And that, she tells us, is going to take a global effort. "Having seen this firsthand, I can tell you the need is huge," says Woodrum, who worries that the world has already moved on. "People have very short attention spans," she says. "You look in the news and you can't find a story about the Bahamas. It's frustrating. This is a crisis, and they're going to need help for a long time."
Woodrum hopes to help again herself by returning to Hope Town and serving at the clinic that Miller and other volunteers have kept open. She hopes others find ways to help as well. "You can't make people care," she says. But you can hope that they will. "If we could all give a little bit of our time, or a little bit of our money, even $5, we'd all be better off."
Learn how you can support relief efforts in Hope Town here and here. And if you're in the St. Augustine area, you can attend a benefit for Hope Town at Growers Alliance from 3 to 7 p.m. on Sunday, Oct. 6.
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