Last September, Erica Rotondo, DO, closely followed news of protests against the installation of the Dakota Access oil pipeline near the Standing Rock Sioux reservation in North Dakota. After watching footage that showed hostile interactions between water protectors and the Dakota Access pipeline crew, she decided to take action by volunteering to provide medical care at the protester camps.
Dr. Rotondo packed her car with camping gear and a Rubbermaid storage bin full of medical supplies and drove 12 hours from her home in Madison, Wisconsin, to the Standing Rock reservation.
Having just opened a direct primary care practice, Serenity Osteopathic, in Madison, Dr. Rotondo had enough flexibility in her schedule to make three trips to the reservation in September and October.
The Standing Rock Sioux tribe maintains that pipeline construction could destroy sacred lands and potential leaks would irreversibly contaminate drinking water. Protesters celebrated a victory in December when the Department of the Army rejected a pipeline drilling permit. However, protesters still remain at the camps, seeking to ensure the incoming Trump administration doesn’t reverse the decision.
Expect the unexpected
While volunteering, Dr. Rotondo treated patients at the main encampment medic tent.
“The main medic tent felt like an emergency room,” Dr. Rotondo says. “You never knew what was going to come in the door. You had to be flexible and roll with the punches.”
Dr. Rotondo also treated patients at two smaller camps nearby, where she mainly performed first aid and triage. She saw many patients with shortness of breath, mostly due to the cold winds and wood-burning stoves and campfires.
In addition to providing her services as a volunteer medic, Dr. Rotondo unpacked and sorted donations, distributed materials and inventoried supplies.
Doctors at the camps worked in unity with nurses, midwives, massage therapists, and acupuncturists. Dr. Rotondo credits her osteopathic training with reinforcing her collaborative approach to working with the other medics.
Supporting from afar
A few months later, Dr. Rotondo continues to follow protest updates from Wisconsin. Her practice has been building traction, so she’s not able to assist the reservation in person, but hasn’t ruled out future volunteer work.
“I certainly would be willing to contribute my services in a similar situation in the future,” Dr. Rotondo says.