|Author: Bettijane Eisenpreis|
|Pharmacist Serves Country, Community|
|On the morning of September 11, 2001, Harold Bobrow, RPh, left his home for what he assumed would be a routine day's work as owner and pharmacist-in-charge of Maple Pharmacy and Surgical, Inc. in Maplewood, NJ. On Friday, September 21, at 4 p.m., he returned home, called the pharmacy to say he would be back at work on Monday, left a note telling his wife, Michelle, not to wake him, and slept for more than 24 hours. In the ten days that intervened, Harold Bobrow had been to hell and back.
Bobrow, who has owned the 92-year-old pharmacy for over 28 years, has always been pro-active in his profession and his community. His curriculum vitae includes a vast array of professional memberships, awards, recognitions and achievements, political affiliations and community activities. Tacked on the bottom of the list is a cryptic reference to "DMAT, New Jersey Disaster Medical Assistance Team."
In the aftermath of the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center, DMAT would dominate his life for ten harrowing days.
DMAT is a federal rescue group under the auspices of FEMA, the Federal Emergency Management Agency. "Our team has 140 people -- pharmacists, physicians, paramedics, EMTs, logistical people, and administrative people," Bobrow explains. "There are three levels of teams, and ours is a Level One. When activated, a minimum of 35 members go out on a mission. The team carries what they call a basic load -- tents, sleeping equipment, generators, pharmaceuticals. Basically, it is a moving MASH unit. Every member, regardless of specialty, does whatever is necessary to set up the unit. We train for a long period of time, but we only get paid when we go out on a mission."
Bobrow is also a lieutenant in the New Jersey Naval Militia. "Before a governor can call up a National Guard unit in a state, the President must declare the area a Federal Disaster Area," he says. "In the aftermath of Hurricane Floyd in 1999, before President Clinton had declared a disaster area, Governor Christine Todd Whitman recommissioned the New Jersey Naval Militia, which dates from the Revolutionary War, but was mothballed in 1963. People from our DMAT unit were invited to serve as its medical wing. My colleague Steve Brickman, a Veterans' Administration pharmacist, and I joined. We belong to DMAT federally and the New Jersey Naval Militia statewide."
Both Bobrow and Brickman were at work when the planes hit on September 11th. "We waited for FEMA in Washington to call up the National Disaster Medical System (NDMS), consisting of teams like ours. We got our orders by e-mail at about 5 p.m., took our pre-packed backpacks and sleeping bags, and headed to Fort Dix, NJ. There, we met our unit and were loaded into a bus. We had two trucks with all our supplies and another four or five trucks from the National Guard went with us, driven by members of the New Jersey Naval Militia.
"We got to the Holland Tunnel, where an escort was to meet us because the tunnel was shut down. We waited and finally they said we should go on our own discretion, so we went through the tunnel to Chelsea Pier, the temporary emergency command center."
After a short period at the pier on Manhattan's West Side, it became apparent that there were more rescue workers than people to rescue. "The terrible fact was," Bobrow says, "at the very beginning you had a few injured people, and then you had nothing but dead, and that was it." The unit was restaged at Stewart Air Force Base, Newburgh, NY. "The first night, I slept in a hangar with 500 or 600 of my nearest and dearest friends," Bobrow quipped. After two days, his team was reassigned to New York's LaGuardia Airport.
"When the FEMA command center there found that Steve and I were pharmacists, they said, 'We need your help to go over the formularies and talk to the two physicians who are down below, at Ground Zero.' So we were sent to Ground Zero. There were five centers at Ground Zero. Above Ground Zero you had a command medical center, which was in the courtyard of Manhattan Community College."
For the next week, Bobrow and Brickman worked nonstop. "We were in constant contact with the two physicians down there, going over the procurement of various pharmaceuticals." Although FEMA provides a 'push package,' like a mini-pharmacy but with a lot more drugs, you are never ready for anything like this. There were always things the doctors needed."
"Our job was helping the rescuers. The heat was so intense down below that rubber boots were melting. They were constantly spraying it with water to try to keep the dust down, as well as to control the fires. When you spray metal, you create a slippery condition, so people were falling and being injured by falling debris. There were a lot of respiratory problems. We brought a gross of asthma inhalers to open up the lungs because people couldn't breathe. It's hard to describe the horror."
One image is etched in Bobrow's mind. "We had just dropped off some pharmaceuticals at Manhattan Community College and were starting back up the West Side Highway," he says. "I was driving. In front of us was a truck with metal, debris, and all kinds of piping and electrical stuff hanging from it. I looked at that truck and, in my mind, I saw a hearse. I almost burst out crying, but then Steven turned and I caught myself. We had so many things to do. I knew I couldn't break down; it would prevent me from doing my job correctly."
On Monday, September 24, Harold Bobrow went back to his 'day job' at the Maple Pharmacy. He had purchased the pharmacy with a partner when he moved from Newark to suburban Maplewood. "A year or so later, my partner wanted to leave the business and I bought him out," he explains. "We are a full service pharmacy. I fill prescriptions, carry medical devices, and make deliveries. I do have one interesting sideline. A hardware store in our town went out of business, so I put in a large hardware section in my pharmacy. It's not anything exotic, but if people want a couple of bolts, they can come in to my place and pick them up."
But Bobrow was not able to work full-time in Maplewood for long. The anthrax scare in October, 2001, hit close to home. "One of the first infected letters - I think it was the one to Senator Daschle - went through the machines at the Hamilton, NJ, post office and apparently set a lot of these spores off."
"One of the pharmacists affiliated with the New Jersey Pharmacists' Association, of which I am a past president, works very closely with the Department of Health. He was asked to recruit pharmacists to counsel patients and dispense Cipro and other medications, so he sent out an e-mail and a bunch of us responded. I put in about two days a week for about three weeks at St. Francis Hospital in Trenton, dispensing medication to the people who were coming in. Our patients were mostly not postal workers but people who came into that post office to go to their P.O. boxes, Federal Express employees, and other related individuals.
"When patients came in, the physicians would write an order to us and we would dispense the medication, sit down and counsel them, tell them how to take it, and warn of possible side effects. To a great extent, we held their hands because many were absolutely petrified. I made sure I shook their hands, because many felt like lepers, that no one wanted to touch them."
Bobrow has always been involved in professional organizations and community activities. Even in his role as proprietor of the Maple Pharmacy, he lectures senior citizen groups on "drug interaction and other pharmaceutical concerns." He says, "People take such a large number of drugs today and, especially with seniors, I want to teach them how to do it correctly."
Bobrow is president and a board member of the Essex County Pharmacy Society and a past president and member of the New Jersey Pharmacists' Association. Through the state association, he met Steve Brickman's wife, Loretta, also a pharmacist and past president.
With Loretta Brickman, Bobrow has developed a course, "Practical Politics and Pharmacy, both for colleges of pharmacy and as continuing education. On the continuing education side, we are approved by the American Council on Pharmaceutical Education (ACPE), the national approval system for people who teach continuing education courses so that pharmacists can earn points toward a license. That's the first time to my knowledge that anything like this course has ever been approved before. Most courses are much more technical."
"The aims of the course include: to identify the need for advocacy in the expanding role of pharmacists; to understand state legislative processes; to help create a positive relationship with legislators; to develop healthcare advocacy skills; and to build coalitions outside the pharmacy profession."
Bobrow and Brickman have taught the course in its college format to third- and fifth-year students at Rutgers University Pharmacy school. They have presented lectures for continuing-education credits to the New Jersey Pharmacists' Association, the Essex County (NJ) Pharmacy Society, St. John's University, NY and Temple University, Philadelphia. "We are also in touch with Oklahoma University, but that's in the future," Bobrow says.
"We have been given a small grant," he continued. "Two large organizations - the National Community Pharmacists Association and the National Association of Chain Drugstores - formed a group called the Institute for Pharmaceutical Education, funded by Knoll Pharmaceuticals. This group gives grants to people with ideas on how to improve continuing education for pharmacists. Most of the ideas are based on something totally scientific; this was the first time they ever gave a grant for this type of program. With this grant, we are able to defray some of the cost of the lectures. The course is brand-new, never done before, and will continue to grow."
Harold Bobrow, RPh, received a BS at Rutger's College of Arts and Sciences, a BPh from Rutger's College of Pharmacy, Newark, NJ and certification from Temple University, Philadelphia. He has active licenses in New Jersey, New York and Vermont. He is vice-chair of the New Jersey Pain Management Commission and New Jersey representative to the National Legislative and Political Action Committee of the National Community Pharmacy Association. In 1993, he received the New Jersey Pharmacists' Association's Oscar Singer Outstanding Pharmacist Award. He is also founder of the Bobrow Family Oheb Shalom Food Pantry.
Bettijane Eisenpreis is a freelance writer from New York City, and is on the Editorial Staff of NEWS-Line for Pharmacists.