Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Katrina stories, 2

What surprised me the most was that I had actually fallen asleep. And so had the others. Nobody thought we would be able to sleep that night, but I guess hauling all our stuff into the hospital and the stress of this whole thing really wore us out.

A quick glance at my watch showed that I've been asleep for about 3 hours.

Then I started to notice things:
  • It was hot, and I was soaked in sweat
  • The lava lamp was still working, casting a red glow around the room
  • Something was beeping intermittently
  • One of the guys snored like I've never heard before
  • I could still hear the storm outside

The first thing I did was stumble over to the windows to look outside. This turned out to be pointless because there was a blackout and I couldn't see anything. This was also quite stupid, since the window could've shattered from the force of the wind or from the debris flying around. As I was squinting through the window, I realized again that it was very hot in that room.

What I didn't know was that the storm had destroyed the AC units located on the roof of the hospital. Although we had power from the emergency generators, the building wasn't being cooled. Had I known this, I wouldn't have spent all that time cursing at the thermostat, trying to figure out why nothing was happening even though I set the temperature as low as it would go.

Frustrated by the whole thing, I decided to just go back and try to get some sleep. As I was making my way back to the gurney that Nathalie and I were using, I looked at the lava lamp doing its thing. It was turning out to be a great night light. The room was a mess of boxes, shoes, supplies, and people. I definitely wouldn't have been able to navigate my way through the room without the light from that lamp.

We had all laughed at the guy that decided to bring in the lava lamp. While the rest of us had brought in old family photos, laptops, and other valuable items, Matt had brought in a little red lava lamp.

I remembered the conversation we had about this when I saw him unpacking it.

Me: Hey man, what's with the lamp?

Matt: Mood lighting, man, mood lighting.

I made a mental note to apologize to him in the morning for laughing at him earlier.

As soon as I lay down, it dawned on me that I never did check out that persistent beeping. I checked my pager, but it wasn't it. (Later I will realize that with the phone lines down and the cell/pager towers non-functional, I wasn't going to get any more pages for several weeks).

I got back up to investigate, and after stumbling around for awhile I located the source: the code cart, which stores the defibrillator, was beeping. The defibrillator, for those that don't know, is the thing with the paddles that we use to shock patients out of irregular heart beats. You know, "Clear!" ZAP!!

The defibrillator has rechargeable internal batteries, but it only lasts several hours if it's not plugged into the wall. Turns out that Matt had unplugged the defibrillator from the emergency power outlet in order to plug in his lava lamp. Consequently, the damn thing was running out of batteries and voicing its displeasure with that persistent beeping.

Each room has at least 2 sets of emergency power outlets, but I couldn't locate the second one. And of course, this being an old, state run hospital, I wasn't surprised to find that only one of the sockets in this outlet worked.

Regardless, a quick switcheroo of the plugs and the defibrillator quit beeping, but the room was now in total darkness. I was only 20 feet from my gurney, but in pitch black darkness with the floor littered with obstacles, it took forever to find my way back. Along the way, I stubbed my toe once, stepped in something wet, and worked up a sweat.

As I sat there on the edge of my gurney wiping my foot off and nursing my stubbed toe, I no longer felt like apologizing to Matt in the morning.