Wednesday, September 21, 2005

Besides the fact that Hurricane Rita sounds like a wicked cocktail, Gus and me have decided to get outta dodge. Austin-bound and I hope there's a big party over there. Priorities and ducks are straight in a row.

kiss kiss,

Sunday, September 11, 2005


Today I met Charles and Sandra, Ira and Shantrelle.

GRB is not only fun to say, it's home to several thousand people in need--the George R. Brown Convention Center, downtown, right across from Toyota Center and Minute Maid Park. I went down with my med school girls, Steph and Heidi, cute twenty-six year olds in their white coats and scrubs. It was early, we had coffee, and we wound our way through stairwells and elevators until we made it to a large area in the back designated the medical clinic. Heidi gave me the rundown on the shower area set up by Home Depot, private with features you'd find in your own home, the laundry, cafeteria, children's play area, pharmacy, information booth and so on, everything sanitized behind pink-curtained walls.

The mood was calm, air-conditioning pumping through the place, people just waking from sleep. Heidi and I joined a group whose job it was to direct people seeking medical treatment. The greatest service you could provide was being a guide. So many volunteers--750 Muslims alone today were there. So many booths. So many evacuees.

Two parents lost their toddlers in front of our station. One of the mothers spoke Spanish and was commanding her older daughter to ask me for help. She cried, but we weren't worried. We knew the little one would be right around a corner, and she was. Another woman grabbed my hand (we spoke Spanish as well) and asked me to help her find the elevators to the third floor for food. So many people say, "It's that way," and point. I walked the people where they needed to go. On my way back, Charles stopped me. He was elderly and smelled a little of throw-up. He showed me his "Non-resident" pass when I asked his name and told me he'd had a stroke. He meant awhile ago. He meant that it made it difficult for him to read and find his way. He needed me to help him, and I think he chose me out of the crowd as I was walking by because I was about the height and build of his wife. What had happened was that he'd gone to the restroom and lost his wife in the process. Out he came into the crowd of people, not seeing her, disoriented. I wasn't sure what to do exactly. Apparantly a day or two earlier they'd had a large sign posted that read "Lost People." If you lost someone you could just stand there until someone came looking for you. This morning there was no such place. I just stayed with him, trying to get some more details about where he'd been when he last saw her. We wandered a little and opted to have her paged on the next hour. I got him a chair and told him I'd be back.

In the meantime back at my post, Sandra told me she didn't think she could walk, so I wheeled her to registration, through triage, to the waiting room, and behind the pink shower curtain where an attending would help her with her insulin. By that time it was back to Charles. He sat with no Susie, his beloved, which I kind of anticipated. He couldn't remember from which facility he'd come that morning to search the GRB for his two sons. Someone suggested that we register Charles in the locating computers so he could locate himself and find out where he'd come from. When we did that it took him about a minute to realize that he'd sat down right next to Susie. No lie. She had a few curlers wrapping her soft gray hair. When he recognized her she turned her head away. She couldn't look at him. I thought, well I'd better make sure she's pleased. She was smiling like a blushing teenager.

My final adventure was meeting Sandra's six-year old, Shantrelle, a saucy, bubbly, chubby thing with smooth-braided hair and pink clothes from head to toe. She wanted me to let her wheel her mama. I took them upstairs to lunch and got Shantrelle to show me her stuff, counting by fives, telling me about how she could beat up some dumb boy. We said blessings for the food, a long "Ah-men" in unison. She peeked at me when I did that. Cute, happy Shantrelle. Quiet mom, muttering to herself much of the time, saying more thanks, trying to keep some personal space as if she wasn't out in the open all the time, sharing her thoughts and hip pain and wellness check-up with a strange woman in a big yellow volunteer t-shirt.

For every evacuee who gets a Chevy or apartment or new job opportunity there are a thousand who don't, thousands who are dependent on others for today, for tomorrow, for something as small as a safety pin, as big as methadone, as personal as condoms, as dire as your partner when you've lost her.

Wednesday, September 07, 2005

I will write more about Houston when I have more to share. My company sent out an email letting us know how much money they are contributing, but I can't help but be disappointed. You feel better when you do, not simply give. We are experts in a service that people need. So why not donate our service? Maybe we'll get there. I'm working on coordinating it from our Center but am finding that my attempts to get the right person are falling in with a huge pile of others offering help.

That's one thing I am getting much more of a sense of since I last wrote--the mood of the city. It helped to drive around to the different donation drop sights. Everyone is calm and whistling while they work. The local news tonight even showed a couple of survivors expressing that they're finding this to be a blessing instead of a tragedy because of the opportunities people want to give--landlords giving free apartments, Chevies with nothing down, everyone approved who was in some way affected by the hurricane, and now jobs. Jobs was the theme of tonight's news. The job fairs begin tomorrow; groups are coordinating efforts to prepare resumes and proper clothing, connecting companies who want to help by employing people with those looking for jobs.

I watched Donny Deutch being interviewed on CNBC last night and he and the anchor were wistful for a Guiliani figure absent in the midst of this new tragedy. The funny thing is that I have never seen people so hungry to help. People usually want quite the opposite--to be left alone to live their separate lives, unaffected, uninvolved because the world, the media, the war, the Republicans, the politicians, the teachers, the parents, they are all to blame.

Class ceilings are lifted for a moment, like we're all in school again and you can be anything you want to be. It could be because it's okay to help the victim instead of the status quo. It could be because we are the status quo, cooped up in disconnectedness, wanting something else.

We are all connected here it seems, it feels, doing and giving, caring, listening, feeling, and whistling while we work. Sometimes it's nice to be without a leader to see what happens when the people are left to rely upon their own instincts.