Testing the Bonds of Doctor and Patient

In this week’s Doctor and Patient column, Dr. Pauline Chen begins an occasional series that profiles physicians who are doing something extraordinary with the doctor-patient relationship. This week’s column features Dr. Ruth Berggren, an infectious disease specialist who five years ago stayed behind at Charity Hospital in New Orleans taking care of the H.I.V. patients left stranded by Hurricane Katrina.

Hurricane Katrina would test the doctor patient relationship and the clinicians’ limits of compassion, patient advocacy and professionalism. Trapped within the confines of their hospital with 18 seriously ill patients, Dr. Berggren and the two teams of nurses and support personnel who stayed behind first lost power, then food and very nearly their hope. In the overbearing humidity, the darkened central stairwell, the only passage to other parts of the hospital, quickly became a treacherous obstacle course, slippery from human sweat. Vending machines, smashed open with bare hands, stood empty in small puddles of blood. The air grew increasingly rank, as people, lost in dark hallways, began defecating and urinating wherever they could.

Dr. Bergren and her team were finally rescued six days later, but only after every one of their patients on 9 West had been evacuated first.

To read the full interview with Dr. Berggren, go to “Tending to Patients During a Hurricane,

By Tara Parker-Pope

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