Wise Words

"Wait on the Lord, be strong and of good courage, and He shall strengthen your heart...wait on the Lord. Psalms 27:14

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Tuesday, September 06, 2005

How I spent my Labor Day Weekend:

The weekend report:

What can I say about this weekend? My heart is just heavy and sad for the loss that the people I have been taking care of have suffered. Here is my recap of my weekend. I had brought my camera the first day, but never used it. It just didn’t seem right to take pictures of these evacuees (it is NOT refugees, they prefer evacuees) and the tragedy that they had suffered, so all I have to offer you are my words.

My dear friend Amy called me on Friday night and said that she wanted to help. Amy is a home health nurse with the disabled and elderly in Marble Falls and also one of my critique partners. She wanted to do something to help so we made plans for her to come in to town Saturday to volunteer with me. I normally would have volunteered through my CERT team, but they were not working the areas that I wanted to work on so I decided to volunteer myself separate from them and I am glad that I did. I’ve put in about 30-32 hours on Saturday and Sunday. I took yesterday off b/c Emily needed me in a bad way. She understands far too much of what is going on with this disaster. She saw a picture of a little black boy on the TV crying and every day since then she has said that she wants to “tell God that I will share my home with that little brown boy” - what a kind heart she has! She has been telling me that she doesn’t want to ever “losted” me. She is taking this hard and needed snuggly, cuddly Mommy time yesterday.

Early Saturday morning, Amy and I went shopping for supplies and then went to my church to help put together hundreds of personal care packages including washcloths and towels, toothbrush, shampoo, toothpaste, etc for about 300 people. My church has a wonderful mission’s pastor who I have been keeping in contact with as far as needs, etc. I also set up for the Sunday school classes to write letters to the children at the shelters that I would pick up after church on Sunday. There is a huge need for those kids to hear from other kids and know that other children care what has happened to them. After a brief lunch we went to the Burger Center to volunteer, only to find that they had closed it for general evacuees. Everyone had been moved to the Convention Center. Austin was getting too many evacuees for the Burger Center to hold. Amy was told to go to the Convention Center b/c she was a nurse and they needed nurses down there to triage. I stayed behind at the Burger Center to do cleanup with the Red Cross. A couple of hours later, right as the clean up was ending, I got a call to go to the Palmer Events Center which is where they were taking medical needs patients that were beyond basic triage but not critical enough to go to the hospital. Amy was sent there too so we paired up. Some times it was slow; some times it was fairly busy. I did stuff like talking to the patients, working on getting them to talk about what happened b/c so many were holding it in. I also did stuff like run prescriptions to the onsite pharmacy and pick up the meds once they were ready, ran and got food from the other side of the center for those in the medical area, etc. I originally brought my camera to capture some things on film, but decided against it. There was too much to do, and these people deserved privacy. I left my camera at home on Sunday.

Most of what people were looking for was a shower and clean clothes. They wanted more than anything to get clean b/c they hadn’t showered in about a week or longer. And surprisingly (or not), after shower, clean clothes, food and sleep, the next most requested item was a Bible. Most people hadn’t been able to take theirs with them or had lost them or the Bibles had gotten wet. Many found comfort in reading the scriptures. We actually ran out of Bibles on Saturday night, but thankfully, on Sunday, one of my former junior high teachers, Fireman Fred Dougherty, who had become a pastor, had literally an armful of Bibles with him and was passing them out to those who wanted one and not one person that he asked turned them down. Most of the medical symptoms that were coming in were diabetics, elderly people who hadn’t had their meds for a few days, people with ugly red rashes on their legs from the toxins in the water, cuts, scrapes, puncture wounds and breathing treatments. One of the ladies I worked with, her name was Esther, had been pushed down and stepped on when people surged forward to try and get on the buses and planes that were evacuating people. She said that the people that stepped on her also stepped on a baby b/c they didn’t care about anything but saving themselves. She had some pretty good bruises. She actually had to be evac’d via stretcher b/c she had been so trampled by the people. She didn’t know what had happened to the baby. Her husband, “T”, had gone without sleep for 48 hours straight b/c he was protecting her from the thugs that were roaming the Superdome. While I talked to her, got her situated, got her food and a drink, he was out like a light, having the first safe sleep in over a week.

Next up was the Friday night poker club. They were nicknamed that b/c they were a group of 4 elderly black gentlemen who just seemed like they would be ones to sit around a smoke some stogies and play poker or dominoes or something like that. They were in their late 60’s-late 70’s. I just adored them. There was Mr. Marigny, Mr. Howard, Mr. Taylor and Mr. Charles. They were so sweet and so funny and in spite of it all, they kept their faith, which was so strong. They kept on saying, “God is so good!” and they meant it. They were funny and kind and flirty and just so wonderful. They won everyone over who talked to them. They had one in a wheelchair and one walked with a crutch and we got them clothes, showers and hot food. Two of them wanted Bibles, b/c they hadn’t been able to take them. The other two had theirs and had been able to keep them dry. I was sad to see them go back to the general shelter b/c they were so delightful and brought a smile to everyone who spoke with them.

Most of the people that we treated and that were at the shelters were so thankful and kind and appreciative of what we were doing. There are those that are extremely bitter and are trying to make life unpleasant for everyone, including their fellow evacuees, but those are only about 5% out of the 5,000 or so that we already have here in Austin.

Probably the worst story that I heard that day was of a mother who handed her 2 year old baby up to people on a bus so that she could get on next. As soon as she handed the baby up, she was pushed out of the way by other people and pushed down. The bus left without her and she hasn’t seen her baby since. She has no idea where her baby is. I can only hope and pray and pray some more that they are reunited and are both safe. My heart is broken for that woman. I can’t even begin imagine the full extent of the horror she is feeling.

Amy and I left Saturday night, or Sunday morning, I should say, after 1:00. I got to sleep around 2:00. I was so exhausted and ready to hit the hay. When we woke up Sunday morning, Amy said that she had dreamed about Katrina and the floods and the stories that we had heard. I didn’t that night, but Sunday night I sure did. Last night too.

Sunday morning found Amy heading to the Palmer Center early, around 9:30. I went to church to pick up the letters from the Sunday school children. All ages from 3 through 5th grade wrote letters. I had close to 200 letters by the time they had collected them all. I went and dropped them off to the Convention Center as that was where the kids were sheltered at. I headed back to Palmer to work with Amy again and we were assigned to the geriatric patients. There weren’t too many, but they had varying needs such as a double amputation and his wife (Fred and Carolyn), progressive lung disease that needed breathing treatments (Louis – pron. Lewey), a wheelchair bound diabetic (Henry, a retired minister), a severely depressed elderly woman who, at first, refused to take her meds and preferred to just die (Myrtly – pron. Myrtle), Miss Cleo – no not the “psychic” – who was severely confused and had a serious incontinence problem (she was later sent to a hospital b/c her condition was diagnosed as too serious to be in a shelter situation, then we had our trio of the week. Eldon, Chester and Emelda. Eldon and Chester are friends and Chester and Emelda are married. Eldon and Chester wanted to ditch Emelda and Eldon wanted to go out drinking. Emelda and Chester both thought they were in New Orleans. They wanted to go home and Chester wanted to go to church. Just wanted to get away from Emelda. We’re not really sure why b/c Emelda was very nice, if extremely confused. Both Chester and Emelda showed signs of Alzheimer’s on top of dementia. Emelda was getting her hair done by two African-American volunteers and she was just sweet as pie. Preening and acting all coy. She wanted to pay them for doing her hair b/c she thought she was in NOLA at a beauty parlor. Chester decided that he was going to go come hell or high water (bad reference, I apologize). We had to physically stop him from leaving the shelter at the events center.

Shortly after that we were told that they were going to move all the med patients to the large shelter. The doctors that were there were furious and tried desperately to stop it. The last thing these elderly people needed was to be moved again. All their efforts were in vain. I packed up medical supplies in the back of my mini-van and followed the bus over there. Once we got there and got everyone off the bus, we were sent to the 2nd floor of the center. Our patients needed to be isolated without easy access to exits b/c of the issue with Chester earlier in the day.

We got them fed and set up sleeping cots. By this time it was about 7 in the evening. Most of them went down without any troubles. Mr. Henry, the pastor was taken to the worship service by one of the other volunteers, while most of the rest of them sat or lay in their cots to read or sleep. Emelda and Chester were another story though. More on that in a minute.

There was some really good news out of all of this! Carolyn and Fred’s daughter and niece found them. They had driven from Virginia and went to all the shelters in Houston and San Antonio and spent a day in Austin being sent between shelters more than once b/c the computers still showed them to be at Palmer instead of the new place. I was outside of the door, trying to keep an eye on the volunteer who was walking with Chester and keeping him sort of distracted when this short white woman came up with two African-American women who were looking for one of their dads. I asked them what his name was. “Fred” was all that they said. “Carolyn and Fred?” I asked. “YES!!!” The look on their faces was nothing short of a Kodak moment. I told them that they were sleeping but that I would bring them in so that they could get them. I mean come on, family is just a little more important than sleep. They went in quietly and woke Carolyn and Fred up. It was a wonderful reunion, with the exception that Carolyn and Fred didn’t want to go that night. The niece brought her husband up and the five of them talked for about 45 minutes and it was agreed that Carolyn and Fred would stay the night and would get picked up in the morning. The daughter and niece weren’t about to leave Austin without them. Plus, they had to drive to Corpus Christi to see if their other family members were down there. They were looking for about 6 more people. They knew that as of Friday they were alive and being moved to Texas, but they also know that two were separated from the group of six.

Carolyn and Fred’s daughter was mistaken by Emelda for her niece Evelyn. We found out that Evelyn was in NOLA and we don’t know if she survived. Emelda finally accepted that the daughter was not her niece. She was, however, convinced that Evelyn was downstairs with the rest of the evacuees. By around 10:00 we finally convinced Emelda that we would look for Evelyn and to get in bed so the doctor assigned to them could check her out since she was complaining of pain in her knees, etc. She had been following Chester around all evening and all Chester wanted to do was get away from her. After the doctor checked her out and she had some meds, she agreed to go to bed, but only after she had said her prayers. She said them 3 times before we finally convinced her that she had already said them and that her front and back door had been locked and the windows were shut and locked and the porch lights and rest of the house lights were off. This went on for about 30 minutes. I finally got her to get under the covers and lay her head down all the way when I told her that I was not going to check any more items until she was laying down and sleeping. I started singing Amazing Grace and she hummed the first two verses with me and then was out by the middle of verse 3. Just to make sure, I sang through the end and she was asleep. I got a silent round of cheers for that one and was nicknamed the songstress of the second floor. LOL.

Chester wasn’t so easy. The doctor gave him the limit that he could have in meds to calm him down b/c he was very agitated and only grew more so as time went by. The night doctor was this great little Asian lady who, instead of trying to coax him to take his meds, which wasn’t working anyway, she shoved it in his mouth to let it dissolve – it was a wafer pill. Chester refused and refused to go to sleep, even though he was so tired he was hallucinating and picking up imaginary coins and stuff on the floor and weaving while he stood. We had to change him while he stood. With the help of two men we were able to get him into bed. After that, he was fighting the guys to get his legs up so he could get out of bed. I finally ended up singing to him too as they were trying to get his legs down. He struggled through Amazing Grace, started calming down during It Is Well With My Soul and finally fell asleep during The Lord’s Prayer. I was starting to sweat it b/c I knew they were Catholic and I didn’t know that many slow hymns that were coming to mind in the moment and I wasn’t about to sing stuff like Up From The Grave He Arose – that kind of tempo would have defeated the purpose. The only song I had left in my memory at that point was Ave Maria. If he didn’t fall asleep during that one, he was going to get Mary Poppins, Dumbo and Cinderella, etc. – the Disney songs I sing to my daughter at night. Of course, after it was over, a ton of slow hymns came to my mind.

Amy and I left after 1 in the morning again. It was really hard on Amy. She’s so used to knowing how it ends with her elderly homebound patients. And for now she doesn’t know with these evacuees and it’s really bothering her. I told her that I knew it was hard on her but that she had to content herself with the knowledge that she was the right person for this job at this time and that her experience helped to make things a lot easier during the shelter transition with the elderly patients we were taking care of. She had to believe and know that she did a good job and that she was needed at this point, at this time and that she got her job done and now it was up to someone else with the same experience to take over and continue. It really was breaking her heart. She’s a good person.

I’m still trying to get some issues straightened out b/c we’re trying to get volunteers in and while we have 3 social service workers with elderly care and adult protective services experiences, nobody is clearing them to go up there b/c nobody is really “in charge” up there. I may have to step in tonight for a little while to make sure that something happens. These workers are African-American, which is what we need for these elderly patients, especially Chester and Emelda, and they are available to work for the long term in rotating shifts. The red-tape, egocentric, bureaucratic BS on this is just frustrating the HECK outta me. If I can’t get connected with the person in charge that was there Sunday, which I’ve left a voice mail for her today, I may just end up having to take the lead on this, and I’m not sure I’m ready to take on that much responsibility. I could surprise myself though.

9 comments:

greatwhitebear said...

Nic, the nation should thank it's lucky stars for the good ones like you. It is frustrating being up north and not being able to do much beyond send money and gather water and non perishables to send.

Virtually everybody I know is furious at the governments slow response, equally furious over Barbara Bush's classless and insensitive remarks, and generally frustrated over our inability to do more.

Bless you and those like you who have stepped into the breach. It's nice to be reminded that there still are decent human beings amongst us.

this is why you remain my favorite conseervative.

gwb

Heather said...

Wow! My family volunteered at a warehouse that is taking donations for the evacuees on Sunday. I felt good about what we did but it is nothing compared to what you have done.

You are a good person.

mooalex said...

Good job, dear friend. You have a huge heart.
Love,
LJ

Guppyman said...

You rock!

I don't get over here enough, but I am glad I stopped by today....

Bill said...

Nic... Kudos to you! I'm hoping to do some work here locally once they start asking us folks who called in to show up!

A great post, from the 'trenches', and one I truly enjoyed!

You have a huge heart.. and you definitely rock!

No_Newz said...

I'm so glad you are able to give your time. Thank you for that. I'm also glad Emily has such a kind heart, but look who her Mommy is!
If you run into anyone Chicago bound, drop me an e-mail. Thanks again!
Lois Lane

Shelley said...

Kudus to you...you are so close to they site of Katrina, it is frustrating being so far away and only being able to offer small monetary donations and prayers. But even that helps, I know. Try not to burn out. It is so scary how much the kids soak up of this tragedy from TV. I have been determined to get my kids away from the TV other than giving them the lowdown in my words. Don't need them to see bodies floating by on CNN. Huggs to you and keep up the fantastic work!

Jean-Luc Picard said...

Nic, I've just returned from my vacation. Your post was so good; it was so well written. Well done, Nic!

tshsmom said...

God BLESS you, Nic!!!!
Where would these people be without the aid of stubborn volunteers like you and your friend? Red tape is not only frustrating, it's expensive! The beaurocratic snafus in this disaster are UNFORGIVEABLE!!