Wednesday, August 29, 2007


Two years have passed since Nathalie and I rode out hurricane Katrina. That night when the storm hit, and the subsequent weeks afterwards we'll never forget.

I'm sure there's going to be a lot of people writing about what happened. Most of the recent media coverage appear to be focused on the rebuilding of this town and the snail's pace at which it's being done. I don't know why people act so surprised it's taking so long. It's like they've never experienced governmental bureaucracy before.

Two years ago, there was so much madness that I blogged only what was needed to let my family and friends know that Nathalie and I were safe. Not only that, we were so sick and tired of having to deal with the lack of water, food, fuel, electricity, and not knowing what the hell is going on, that I didn't particularly feel like writing cute posts and dwelling in that misery any more than I already had to. Besides, our families were freaking out already as is, why add to the fire.

I went back to my archives and read the few posts I did place on this blog during that time, and it brought back a flood of memories.

I'm going to share some of the more personal moments from those several weeks that you're not likely to find from the news sites. Mainly because some of them were quite amusing, some were downright frightening, and also because I want to write them down before I forget the details.

So here is the first of several stories of what went down, what Nathalie and I experienced, and what we were doing during that time.

The approach

Nathalie and I, along with four other surgical residents who were going to ride out the storm and take care of the patients that we weren't able to evacuate, moved into the hospital and commandeered a hospital room to act as "headquarters".

Because we knew we would be living in the hospital for at least several days, we all packed appropriately. And since there was the possibility that there might not be a home to go back to, we also packed our most treasured items and important documents.

I remember looking up at the sky as I entered the hospital with my last load from the car. The sky was a solid mass of gray clouds, moving faster than I've ever seen clouds move before. The rain was already starting to come down, and with the 60 mph wind gusts, the raindrops hurt when they hit you. In about 6 hours, the edge of the storm was expected to be on top of us.

After we got settled, we looked around and at each other, then we all spontaneously had a good laugh. A nervous laugh, but a stress relieving laugh. A rag-tag group of guys (and girl), scared out of their minds, surrounded by boxes of various personal items and boxes of relatively non-perishable food. The six of us were going to rely on this state run hospital built in the early 70's by the cheapest contractor the government could find, who likely built the hospital with the cheapest materials he could get away with, to protect us from the 4th strongest hurricane to ever hit the US. We looked at the cheap walls, the uneven floor, and laughed that our lives were going to based on how well this antiquated building was going to stand up against the storm.

There wasn't much to do. All the patients were tucked in for the night, the ER was restocked, and we were as ready as we were ever going to get. So we sat around with the old timers who had rode through one hurricane after another, and listened to their frightening stories of the destruction they witnessed. One of the nurses told hair-raising stories about hurricane Camile from the 60's that devastated the area and killed countless people.

The brave and the stupid (me being one of them) would also go to the window every so often to see what was going on. The rain was coming down in pretty much every direction. Sideways to the right one minute, then sideways to the left the next minute. The wind was whirling in all directions. Trees were being uprooted, and they would come crashing down on powerlines, blowing out the transformers. One eerie sight I'll never forget was watching transformer after transformer blow out, each with a green glow, and then that section of the town going completely dark. It was only time before the transformer on the power grid serving the hospital blew out with a boom, and the hospital switched over to the emergency generators.

As midnight approached, and as the storm was just hours away, we all decided that we should try to go to sleep. A supposed category 5 storm was coming down on us. God only knows what kind of trauma and patient needs we'll see in the storm's aftermath. And who knows when we'll have the chance to go to sleep again.

So we all retreated back to the room, and lay down for the night. I held Nathalie tight in my arms, said a prayer for us, and closed my eyes and tried to sleep.

I thought about what lay in store for us in the morning. I wondered if we would even be alive in the morning.