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.


black b said...

thank you for this, sistra and good work!


Lulu said...

beautifully written - thanks for being there for these people....

jEFF said...

Wow, that is some story. Spreading the love in the most welcoming city in the southwest. My favorite detail was that you were not tense all day. You get a 4 on the "details" part of the rubric!!!!