On December 26, 2004, the world witnessed one of the greatest natural disasters in recorded history. That event was described to me by a survivor as “a hand that reached out of the ocean bringing death and chaos to whatever it touched.” To date, more than 300 000 people are dead or missing, and damage estimates are in the millions of dollars. No area was ravaged more than the province of Banda Aceh, Indonesia, less than 150 km from the epicenter of the estimated 9.0 earthquake that created the tsunami.

My involvement in the tsunami relief effort was as a nurse for the US Public Health Service (USPHS), serving under the direction of US Surgeon General–Vice Admiral Carmona. The mission of the USPHS is to “Protect, Promote, and advance the health and safety of the Nation.” In this case,...

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