So Much Has Happened…

reneeBy: Renee Palagyi, Senior Program Manager for Disaster Cycle Services in NEO (pictured on the left)

So much has happened since yesterday afternoon.

Yesterday, we were notified of the need for leadership staff to deploy to the tragedy in Las Vegas.

Since I have background in mass casualty, and am a registered nurse, I said that I would go to Las Vegas, if needed.

I called my husband to say, “what do you think?” As usual, he was more than supportive of what my feelings were regarding where I could be most useful.

Then the waiting began.

My first experience in mass casualty was without much training and it was difficult, in more ways than I thought possible. Red Cross has come a long way in how we provide care, not only for the clients but for our own workforce, in these large-scale tragedies. I kept looking over my training, making sure that I was ready for what could, potentially, lay ahead.

It was hard to get to sleep last night with so many thoughts moving through my mind. First, and foremost, was the horrific loss of life in Las Vegas. I know, from past work, that even two deaths can be a challenge to work through. I thought of the many people who knew and loved the more than 50 people who had died. I am always concerned if I am “up to the task,” but in these circumstances, being adept is critical. I wondered if I could be supportive and compassionate while not getting personally involved. I wondered if I had the right volunteers in place, here at home, to cover the work I already do each day and the special things on my schedule. I wondered if people would be upset that I was leaving while they were staying behind. I wondered if I would sleep at night (since I don’t sleep well when I’m away)…lots and lots of thoughts!

I think I looked at the clock every hour…………and I still hadn’t been assigned to the job!

This morning I got the email I had hoped for around 7 a.m. As part of the checks and balances process of deploying with the Red Cross, you are not confirmed to the assignment until you have been cleared by a disaster mental health specialist (DMH). Each operation is given hardship codes – special codes that help us determine what potential physical or mental hazards exist on the ground and what volunteers could experience. For this operation, one code is “extreme emotional experience”. So I had to face questions such as:  have you experienced a recent death of a close friend or family member? Have you ever worked in a situation of this type? What type of support system do you have?

Once I spoke with the DMH screener, I made my airline reservation. I called my husband to tell him the time of my flight tomorrow and we planned to have a great dinner tonight. I sent a note to my four adult children so they can start asking questions for which I have no answers.

I doubt that I will sleep again tonight.

My flight is at 9:45a.m., and I will be in Las Vegas at 11:15 a.m.

Prayers and thoughts are appreciated for those on the ground, and for all who will do this work.


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