Special to South Strand News
Oct. 12, 2015
Tidelands Health team delivers supplies, care to community trapped by floodwaters
Besides a few copperheads, the only traffic on the now-submerged Highway 41 west of Andrews Sunday was three boats delivering a Tidelands Health medical team and supplies to the Big Dam Community.
Big Dam’s 300 residents had been cut off by the Black River’s rising waters for days, and cupboards, medicine cabinets and pet bowls were running low, if not already empty, in this tight-knit rural community.
Sunday’s trip was the third in as many days that Tidelands Health nurse Emily Benson and radiologic technician/medical assistant Susanna Blakely traveled to flooded communities. On Friday night, accompanied by Tidelands Health physician Dr. Lizina Green, they went by helicopter with pilot Ervin Lambert of Andrews. On Saturday, Blakely and Benson were escorted by emergency officials.
Sunday, the three Tidelands Health team members were off again, carrying donated supplies from the health system, Reynolds Drugstore, Fred’s Pharmacy, Sunny Pines and community members. They were accompanied by a CBS news crew led by CBS correspondent David Begnaud, who was chronicling the medical team’s efforts for national news. Chris Moore, Andrew Blakely and Glenn Wilson provided the boats. For Dr. Green, who routinely makes house calls in rural Andrews, calling on patients by boat and copter was a first. Still, she was undeterred as she fastened her life jacket for the seven-mile trip, first through the murky floodwaters and then across rain-sodden back roads of Georgetown County.
“My patients have no way to get out, so we’re coming to them,” she said.
The team’s first stop was the fellowship hall at Pleasant Gove Baptist Church on Big Dam Swamp Road, where eager residents, from toddlers to community elders, were waiting in the warm sunshine and inside the tiny fellowship hall. As volunteers hauled boxes and bags filled with diapers, paper products, tarps, pet food, chicken feed and laundry and dish detergent, Benson and Blakely carried in the medical supplies. Already, Dr. Green was talking with residents who had come for check-ups, medications and a few minutes to see the doctor.
Assisted by Benson and Blakely, she took blood pressures, examined sore throats, listened to heart rates and delivered insulin and antibiotics.
“Are you taking your blood pressure medication? “ Dr. Green asked a woman as she removed her blood pressure cuff. “We might need to increase it.” When the woman said she didn’t have much left, Dr. Green asked Benson to bring a supply. “You’ll need to take to these. It might make you drowsy, but it will bring your pressure down and tide you over until we see you again.”
The health care providers also delivered care of another kind. Sometimes it was a soft touch, an understanding smile, words of encouragement and laughter.
Dr. Green laughed as Silas Graham, 74, walked in. “Here comes troublemaker,” she said.
Graham, pastor of Pleasant Grove Baptist Church, flashed a grin and then turned serious as he talked about what the medical team’s visit meant to the community. “We’re a close-knit community who helps one another, but we’re stuck with no way out,” he said. “Dr. Green and the people from Tidelands Health have done an awesome job of helping us out. Some of our people are older, and they just can’t go without their medicine.”
Later, joined by Georgetown County Council representative Leona Miller-Myers, Dr. Green, Blakely and Benson went door to door to check on residents. Their first stop was at the home of a woman on chemotherapy who was feeling weak. As she took her blood pressure, Dr. Green asked her patient how long she had been feeling that way. The doctor talked softly, asking about medications and whether the woman was getting rest. “I commend the doctor for what she is doing,” local resident Beverly Bennett said. “They just don’t make them any better.”
A few miles away, while Dr. Green tended to Karen Evans, who had run out of her medications, Benson played in the yard with 3-year-old Carter Bryant. After getting a bandage on his scraped leg, Bryant was all smiles, ready to ride his tricycle and listen to his heart through Benson’s stethoscope.
“The children have been protected,” Benson said. “They aren’t really aware of what has happened and how dire the situation is.”
As the sun began to sink over the pastures, she talked about what motivated the team to risk their lives to help others.
“We were just thinking about what we could do,” Benson said. “We weren’t seeing the patients coming in, and we knew they couldn’t get here. That worried us, and it made us feel useless.”
The medical relief effort started when Benson and Blakely went to Andrews Town Hall and asked how they could help. Within hours, they were meeting with emergency officials, and Blakely had enlisted the help of Ervin Lambert to fly them out to Big Dam Friday night.
Dr. Green was eager to go to see her patients and help others in the community.
Said Blakely, “The most meaningful part of this is how appreciative everyone has been. I feel like the fortunate one to have been able to help these people. They have greeted us like heroes, but they’re the real heroes.”
As she gazed over the acres of soaked fields, Dr. Green echoed what many Lowcountry residents have said since the flooding.
“We work hard to build a life and to have nice things,” she said, “and this shows us that it can all be gone in a minute. Seeing what our neighbors are going through is a reminder of what’s really important.”