From Harvey to Irma, Hadley nurse aids hurricane victims

  • Hadley resident Emma Dragon stands with her children, Mae and Reilly, last Saturday before being deployed to respond to Hurricane Irma as a member of a Connecticut-based and federal Disaster Medical Assistance Team. SUBMITTED PHOTO EMMA DRAGON

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

HADLEY — Working in a mobile emergency department after Hurricane Harvey hit Texas, Hadley resident Emma Dragon was reminded why she got into nursing.

Long hours and less than ideal conditions are nothing when compared to gratification Dragon gets from helping people as a nurse with the federal disaster medical assistance team.

“It’s the most gratifying, wonderful, hardest, most exhausting and draining job ever,” Dragon wrote. “I wouldn’t change it for the world.”

Dragon is part of a team of health care professionals in Connecticut that are intermittent employees under the federal government’s department of Health and Human Services. They are called to provide extra medical care when disasters and emergencies strike, including large-scale national security events. Across the country, more than 5,000 people are part of the National Disaster Medical System.

“Taking care of people when there aren’t so many barriers with insurance or appointments — all the other things we get so distracted about — those all go away,” Dragon said. “It’s really about the person in front of you and helping them as much as you can.”

Last month, Dragon was deployed to Texas to help with recovery efforts. Arriving first in Dallas, Dragon and her team waited for the storm before being sent to inner Houston and then Rosenberg, Texas. The area, she said, had become isolated and landlocked during the storm flooding. The mobile emergency department was the only hospital for more than 300,000 people.

At the facility, Dragon and others treated a variety of concerns from severe cuts to someone not being able to breathe or running out of medications.

“It’s really such an array of disciplines,” Dragon said. “It’s why our teams have so many roles and specialties.”

Responders from the Connecticut team were joined by those from New Hampshire, New York, Ohio and Texas.

“What is exhausting and really hard is leaving your family, leaving my kids and my husband and the stuff that I am involved with in the community here in western Mass,” Dragon said.

A Cub Scout leader and Girl Scout mentor, Dragon said the disruption to life’s normal rhythm is challenging. As a member of the federal team, Dragon has to be ready to go within hours of getting a deployment notice.

Once they arrive at their locations, responders get little sleep and are faced with less than ideal conditions and little resources.

After spending about a week back home in Massachusetts after Harvey, Dragon was deployed again last Saturday to help with the response to Hurricane Irma.

“I love it. I love nursing, I love health care,” she said. “I really enjoy taking care of people and making a difference and for me it’s just really the epitome of care in the worst time and being able to really facilitate a lot of change and make a difference.

“And it’s super cool,” Dragon continued. “I feel like I’m a grown-up scout still.”

Emily Cutts can be reached at ecutts@gazettenet.com.