“The heart prefers to move against the grain of circumstance; perversity is the soul’s very life.” – John Updike; “Assorted Prose”; 1965
So I’ve just lived through the most devastating disaster to hit the U.S. ever (according to the news). Hurricane Katrina. This was after being admitted to the hospital with cryptococcal meningitis, which is usually pretty deadly, so my doctor told me. So now, I am going to take you back a couple of years, to when my health first started to fail me…not for pity, or even for sympathy, but so that you can see and maybe experience the “signs” that I have interpreted over the last couple years, which give me such great faith in the fact that I am definitely supposed to be here, and alive. It all started back when I was living in Atlanta, and will be skipping most of the time when I felt halfway decent and functional.
As I said, I was living in Atlanta, when I first noticed that I was having some issues with my blood pressure…where I would walk from the library across the street to the train station, and my heart would be pounding with such force that it felt like my heart was going to explode. There were three different times it actually got bad enough that I went to the ER at Grady Hospital, as it was a stop on the train, and I could get myself there. Each time, they put me in a room and let me sit for four to eight hours before actually taking my vitals, so they were not able to observe what was happening. At one point, I was told that I had a sinus headache and given vicodin and turned loose. With that kind of treatment, and the incredible amount of red tape involved in getting any type of medical help in Atlanta, I decided to head back to New Orleans, where I had been diagnosed with HIV, and was already in the system at the HIV Outpatient Clinic, so that I could be treated. By now, the fatigue was getting so bad that I was barely able to get out of bed each day. Eventually, I was able to get on a bus, and get myself back to the most wonderful city I have ever known. New Orleans.
I got off the bus in New Orleans, at 6:00am, and took my stuff and headed into the French Quarter, where I knew I would run into friends, and I could find a place to stay for a while, as I was waiting on an inheritance which would set me up for six months or so. On the way there, I got a good nose full of the funk and trash of Bourbon St…and thought to myself, “Ah, it’s good to be home!” I ran into some new friends, and one old one…Magick, and off I was to Adrianna’s house…where I would stay until after my first stay in the hospital.
During this time, the fatigue got worse, and eventually broke into the occasional fever of 102 deg. With a lack of coherence at certain points as well as transportation issues, I would use Ibuprofen, Tylenol and other over the counter pain relievers to break the fevers, and continue on with what little bit of life I could. My lymph nodes had begun to swell to incredible size (you could see all of them in the sides of my neck from across the room). One day soon after, I woke up early in the morning with every muscle in my body burning intensely, and I could barely move. Getting worried at this point, I called a friend of mine with a car, and had myself dropped off at the ER of Charity Hospital in New Orleans.
The took me into the ER and began running a battery of tests to try and find out what was causing my fevers, and after three days, when they finally gave me a skin test for TB, determined it was tuberculosis. They moved me into an isolation room, as they didn’t know at this point if I was contagious or not. The next day, they moved me to University Hospital, where they had an open bed, and decided, as a preventative measure, to start me on antibiotics for TB. The fevers subsided for a few days, and they performed a biopsy on several of the lumps found in my neck, where they immediately found an infection, however they would have to wait 6 weeks to get back the culture of what it actually was. I was put into the system for TB with the Department of Health (as TB was making a rather strong comeback in New Orleans) and arranged to have my medications delivered to me every day by a health department official. I was also put on the normal prophylaxis for PCP Pneumonia, which is bactrum…a sulfa drug. Over that next weekend, I had a rather sever reaction to one of the medications, and was told to quit taking them, and to see a doctor. This was in September. Almost immediately, the fevers returned, and I returned to my home remedies for breaking them.
Two weeks later, the gulf coast was evacuated in preparation for Hurricane Ivan, and I was preparing to go to a shelter to ride out the storm. I had received my inheritance and deposited the check into the bank, and had to wait a few days for it to clear the bank. At this point, I selected a new apartment, and wrote a check to pay for it through the end of the year. I then got my things, and returned to Adrianna’s house, gave my roommate some money to get a bottle of Southern Comfort, and took up a spot on the front porch to smoke the $17 cigar that I had bought. Five minutes after I finished the cigar, I went inside to get a body pillow, and came back out to the porch to sit and enjoy the beginning of the storm.
At this point, a black car hauled ass through a group of people in the street, and the driver unloaded 10 rounds at this kid on a bicycle, who I just happened to be sitting behind. As I got up to dive out of the way of the bullets, I was hit in the leg, the bullet went in my calf and came out my knee, ricocheted off the porch and went through the front door, lodging in a 2x6 in the wall. Shrapnel from the porch punctured my right arm…all in a matter of seconds. I sat up, looked at my leg and saw the hole in my pants, and laid back down, screaming at the top of my lungs, “FUCK,” as this was not something I needed to deal with at this point in my life. I looked again, and the blood was pouring over the edge of the stairs to the porch. I decided that I had to lay back down, and keep the blood in my head, so that I didn’t loose consciousness…and being a soldier by training, began to take control of the situation as best I could. A nurse from across the street headed over to help, and I instructed her that I was HIV+, and she went back to get gloves. Adrianna was already on the phone with 911, and Magick came running out from the house. I told her to go back inside and get me something to help stop the bleeding, and she returned shortly with a pile of baby blankets we had found on the side of the road earlier that day. I pointed out to the nurse where the one wound on my leg was, and asked her to begin applying direct pressure to them…and not to worry about hurting me, that was already done. I was beginning to feel a little woozy, and in the interests of controlling the bleeding, took my belt off and wrapped it around my thigh, to use as a makeshift tourniquet, just in case. By some miracle, the cops pulled up a minute or two later, came up on the porch, looked at me, pointed and exclaimed, “Don’t do that! It’ll cause more problems than it’s worth!” I trusted the fact that he knew what he was talking about, and didn’t tighten the belt. At this point, I have asked Magick to get everything out of my pockets, as I knew that I would loose them in the system if I didn’t. She got my lighter and my keys…the really important things at that point. I laid back down. By yet another miracle, an ambulance showed up less than a minute later, and the EMT’s began cutting my pants off. I was wearing a brand new $75 shirt, and thought about it for a second, and told the EMT to let me sit up and take off my shirt. He protested and I got more forceful. “LET ME SIT UP AND TAKE OFF MY SHIRT!” The cop leaned over me and got in my face, and said, “Don’t be getting hysterical now!” and just before my fury could fly out of my mouth, the EMT said “Dude, I have to find every hole on your body right now!” Flashes of when President Regan was shot ran through my head…and how the bullets ricocheted around the inside of the limo, and hit him under the arm…and how he didn’t feel it, yet his lung was collapsing. I laid back and let him cut off my shirt. At this point, I was really feeling light headed, and told the EMT I needed fluids and oxygen NOW! Because of the massive puddle of blood though, they were having trouble getting the gurney on to the porch, so I offered my advice. “My other leg is fine…if you guys can just lift me up and support me, I can walk down the steps!” My roommate had returned with the Southern Comfort by now…and was watching from a distance. He gave me a nod and a raised fist…”Rock on!”…and knew that I would be fine.
They put me in the back of the ambulance, and put me on fluids and oxygen, and determined I was stable enough that they could go work on the kid who had been shot 6 times. They moved me to the bench with some pressure dressings, and went after the kid. He was only 16, and had been shot mostly in the lower extremities. They got him on the gurney and put him in the ambulance with me, buckled us in and back to Charity Hospital I went…thankfully to the best place in the country to go if you’ve been shot. On the way, I looked over and saw some of the damage…and how his skin color was turning grey…he was going into shock. I reached over and grabbed his hand, and he returned a small grasp…which was fading. I looked at him and asked him, “Do you pray to God?” He replied, “Yes…I do” rather weakly, and began slipping from my grip. I told him “Know that God is with YOU right now!” and he gripped my hand tightly and would not let go until we got to the ER. After emergency surgery, and several pins in his leg, he made it through. The evaluated me, found I was stable at this point and paid attention to the kid. Once he was on his way to surgery, they came back to me, took some x-rays and they came back showing no major damage to my bones, and no fragments that had to be removed. Through and Through. It was simply a flesh wound, missing anything important. All they could do for me was clean out the wounds, bandage them up and send me home, which they did. 6 hours in the ER, then they gave me some paper clothing, a set of crutches and said “See you later!” I asked them, “Could I get a ride home please? I mean I was just shot in the leg…” The doc said they didn’t do that here, so I had to hobble my way to the front of the hospital, to an ATM, get some money and got me a cab back to the house. No pain meds, and no way to fill my prescription for the next few days, as we were under an evacuation order. So I went home, got drunk, spent the next week in bed, thankful that Ivan missed us (we only got some wind), and I packed up and moved into my new apartment, where the fevers continued.
Around six weeks later, with 102 deg fevers constantly, I was contacted by the health department. The cultures came back positive for TB, and two days later, I was back in Charity Hospital.
Once I was in my own room, they ran a battery of tests on my, and my iron counts were critically low, so I received my first transfusion of two pints of blood…which while they were being infused made me feel icky and wrong, but they were necessary, so I took them. At that point, I began to have a rather intense pain in my right side. Because I was forced to quit smoking at this point, due to hospitalization, I was coughing and hacking 16 years of crap out of my lugs, and I assumed that I might have cracked some ribs or something. Two CT scans later the results came back. Because of the bullet wound, I had developed a rather large clot in my leg, which piece of had dislodged and traveled into my lung, creating what is called a Pulmonary Embolism. The clot blocks the flow of blood through my lung, and it becomes rather inflamed and begins dying. I was put on blood thinners, and spent the next three weeks in the hospital letting that heal. The second CT scan had revealed the extent of the TB. It was disseminated tuberculosis…which means that it was not in my lungs, but in my blood and everywhere else. It was colonizing on all of my internal organs, playing on my suppressed immune system. It was found on my kidneys, liver, spleen and the outside of my lungs, so I began to take the TB meds again, along with Bactrum to prevent pneumonia once again. I lost over 30 pounds this go round in the hospital, considering how absolutely horrid the food at Charity Hospital is. I began responding well to the treatments, and when the pain in my chest had subsided, began telling my doctor that I needed to get out of the hospital, so that I could eat. I was discharged a few days after Halloween, and went home, doing rather well. I continued taking around 14 pills a day for the next several months, until I figured out what was causing the horrible rashes I was getting. I was allergic to the Bactrum…so I quit taking it.
In or around March of ’05, I moved into a new apartment across town, and my doctor had changed the bactrum to Dapsone, a “cousin” of bactrum, and told me to keep an eye out for a reaction, which I did, and which I eventually had. I took my normal evening medications, and 20 minutes later, felt that something was wrong. My skin began to burn like it was on fire, though I had no fever. Once I started having difficulty breathing, I decided it was time to head to the hospital. I got dressed, and headed out to get a cab, and soon couldn’t remain standing without passing out. I sent my roommate on to get help, and two men walking by asked if I was ok. I said “no”, and asked them to call 911. They ran around the corner, and here comes an NOPD officer…who called for an ambulance. I sat down next to the NOPD car, and waited for the ambulance to get there…with a bag of the four medications I just took in my lap, and the cold was aggravating the situation, and I got a bit worried. About 20 minutes later, the ambulance got there, and I got up and walked up to their window, explained my throat was swelling shut, and I had to get to a hospital…then I opened the door and climbed in the back. They came back to evaluate me, and I told them “I just took these medications and I am having a reaction to the sulfa drug.” The next thing out of my mouth was, “I am allergic to Penicillin, allegro and sulfa drugs.” They asked my symptoms and began to pour over my vitals. When my pulse/ox came back low and my blood pressure was bottoming out, they realized that I wasn’t just being a baby, and decided to hurry me to a hospital. They asked which hospital I wanted to go to, and I asked them if we had time to get to Charity. They didn’t think so, so I chose Touro Infirmary…which was four blocks down the street.
So I got to Touro, and they took me into a room for triage. Again, I handed them the bag of medications, and told them I was having a reaction to the sulfa drug, and that I was allergic to Penicillin, allegro and sulfa drugs. They took me in for a chest x-ray. The aid told me to stand up to get an x-ray, which I couldn’t do without blacking out. The aid began getting pissy with me, and raised her voice, telling me to stand up so she could take an x-ray. “FINE! You want me to stand up, I’ll stand up!” So I did, and I woke up with them picking me up off the floor. They took me back to the isolation room, and a nurse named Missy came in to ask me some more questions, including what I was allergic to. Again, I repeated, “Penicillin, allegra and sulfa drugs.” Then, things began to get choppy. The doctors had completely ignored all the information that I had told them, and decided that I had a very sever TB infection in my blood, and started me on antibiotics. Penicillin derivatives. Now I started loosing coherency…and I blinked my eyes, and Missy was back asking what I was allergic to. I tried to tell her again, I knew the answer, but it came out something else. More doctors came in, and began asking me more questions…and I understood the questions, and knew the answers…but they wouldn’t come out of my mouth the same thing. I blinked my eyes again, and there was a team of anesthesiologists standing around me, telling me that they had to intubate me. I asked, “Is this absolutely necessary?” They told me, “Yes, to save your life.” I agreed to let them do it, and they put a mask on me and I began to fall asleep. They had given me enough atavan and morphine to knock out a horse. Then I woke up, four point restraints, feeding tube in my nose, ventilator tube in my chest, and a catheter being inserted into my bladder. They were trying to put an IV access into my neck. I lost it, and began to fight, at which point they gave me some other medication that is meant to paralyze me, so now I was completely coherent to the whole situation, but I couldn’t move. I blinked my eyes again, and it was two days later, and I was in ICU, and my mother and sister were standing next to my bed. I was still on a ventilator, and unable to speak…but I grabbed my mom’s hand tightly, and a tear rolled down my cheek. Just having her there made things all ok…for the moment.
I had to remain in restraints for the next 7 hours, until my breathing tube could be taken out, and I could breath on my own. Another week stay in the hospital, and another battery of tests to make sure my heart had not been damaged…and back home again to heal. Several months later, I had decided to move out of my apartment, in order to get away from the severe lack of motivation that was present all around me. One of my friends offered me a room with them for a month or two, until we could get with the landlord and get the paperwork done to move me into the apartment in the front of the building. I would basically be house and pet sitting while my roommate made his trips to New York. Everything was going well for a few days, until I got a fever.
I was working on my newest income possibilities…my tattoo flash…when I felt the fever come on. Normal response to this was to take some ibuprofen, and lay down until the fever broke. It didn’t break. I tried a hot bath. Didn’t work…but I fell asleep, and woke up soaked in sweat, feeling better, so I thought it was over. It wasn’t. That night, the fever came back, and I sat with it all night, until I got some sleep the next morning. At this point, I was just hoping that it was a bug, so I went out, got my medication and ran around town for a minute, and returned home as the fever was coming back. Another day and night, and the headaches were getting worse…the pressure in my head was building. Dizziness, high fevers which I couldn’t gauge because I didn’t have my thermometer, and the pressure in my head was building. The next morning, the nurse came by to give me my TB meds, and she felt my head, and strongly suggested I go to the hospital. I finally gave in…knowing that something was wrong at this point. I cleaned the house, put my computer on my bed, and went next door to call my roommate and let him know what was happening, and to call an ambulance…as I could not make it to the hospital on my own.
They took me to Charity, and began triage. Because of the pain in my neck, the sensitivity to light, and the pressure in my head, they suspected meningitis, and scheduled me for my very first spinal tap. It came back infected. Now they had to figure out what kind it was. Bacterial, viral or fungal (the most deadly). I was taken up to my new room in West 900, the infectious disease ward, where I would be spending the next several weeks. I began the treatment, which is a rather powerful anti-fungal, and because of that, they put a picc line into my heart…a tube running from the inside of my elbow straight into my heart through a vein. The treatment lasts for 14 days, and often ends up shitting down the kidneys of the patients. I sailed through it with flying colors, becoming the first patient ever at Charity Hospital to receive the entire 14 days without my kidneys shutting down. However, on the 13th day of my treatment, August 29th, early in the morning, a category 5 storm, Hurricane Katrina slammed into New Orleans full force, and after causing massive damage and flooding, turned towards Biloxi and the rest of the Gulf Coast, and continued on in its path of destruction. Now, Charity Hospital is a rather large stone building, so I was comfortable being inside of Charity for the storm. The worst thing that could have happened would have been the window breaking, and they would have moved us into the hallway. That morning however, one of the stone slabs fell off the face of the hospital outside of my room, and it rained in the room for a few hours, until they moved us into the room across the hall. The power had gone out the night before, and we were told to bathe before the water was shut off…so I took my last bath for the next week or so. After I got out of the bath, a rash I had was much more visible, and it turned out I was having another reaction to a medication that I had been given to deal with a possible clot in my arm. The blood thinner, Heparin. They gave me some benadryl and began to monitor me closely. I was having a slight difficulty breathing, and my skin was red and splotchy, and again, I felt really hot, but didn’t have a fever. The antihistamines they gave me were putting me to sleep, so I slept.
I was woken up by a nurse several hours later, sweating, red and with very labored breathing. At this point, they gave me more benadryl, and started me on fluids, which began to flush my system, and a few hours later, I was doing much better. At this point, we were asked to prepare to leave. I got some sleep that night, and in the morning, put my clothes on and gathered my things into a bag. Then, I looked out the window of my room, where for the first time, I saw the water. Three to four feet deep in the alley between the buildings. Still, without power though, I had no real concept of the devastation outside, or the severity of the situation inside. Breakfast came. Graham crackers, peanut butter and a juice. We were beginning to run out of food, because low and behold, some bright person decided that they should put the kitchen for the hospital in the basement…which was now flooded. Bottled water was being delivered two or three times a day, and the rations were made to give us enough calories to keep us alive. That night, there was to be a talent show, to entertain the patients and staff. That afternoon, we were given the OK to leave our room and head out to the fire escape to get some air. This is when I saw the eastern portions of New Orleans for the first time. Fires raged untouched under the High Rise in the distance, and water stretched as far as the eye could see. Thousands had made it to the freeway, getting out of the water just to bake in the sun without food or water for days at a time. Signs and windows on most buildings were broken and or hanging by a thread…and groups of people were wading through the waters with small children bundled up in trash cans as makeshift boats, searching for dry land. Between all the panic, sorrow and sadness of thousands hitting me all at once, and the agonizingly painful cry of defeat I felt from the city herself, I broke down, fell to my knees, and began to cry as my heart began to crumble and break. I asked a doctor how long until we would be getting out of the hospital. He said two maybe three days, but he really didn’t know for sure. So many rumors had been flying around, and knowing that the military was in charge at this point, I adopted my military training as the answer to the where and when we would be leaving. “Hurry up and wait!” and “We’ll know when we get there!” became my realistic chant that I would repeat for the next 4/5 days. Meals became a half cup of veggies and a half cup of starch/proteins and a small juice…and the water was being rationed. The bathrooms quickly filled up with waste, as there was no water to remove it from the toilets, and it gradually became apparent to me that we were in a rather dire situation, and it would only be getting worse as the days went by. The nurses began to sign people up for the talent show, and I had made my first trip up to the roof of Charity Hospital to get a better look at the extent of the damage. There were inspirational signs hanging all over the hospital that staff had made with sheets and markers and hung outside to proclaim our survival of the storm…and one tale of Baby Katrina, who was born during the storm.
I was finally able to get a good view from the west side of the roof of Charity Hospital of the superdome and surrounding area. I first saw the Hyatt hotel, which had no windows left to speak of…and the Superdome’s roof was torn to shreds. On the top of the tallest accessible point of Charity hospital was a sign that read, “Please drop food, H2O and D-cells!” There were helicopters flying everywhere in the city…and a major evacuation point was over the Claiborne overpass, next to the superdome…and again, water as far as I could see. I couldn’t help it. Again, I fell to my knees and began crying. Of all the different incidents and disasters that I’ve been through over the years, this was easily the most overwhelming, heartbreaking and quickly became one of the more hopeless events I have ever been through.
I am usually able to retain my composure, and remain in a positive mindset, though I had begun to falter. That was understandable though. I guess that what hurt the most, was that this was the perfect chance for people to show their quality, and while many of the staff really did, it was now day three after the hurricane, and our dialysis patients had still not been evacuated. I had decided to sit out the talent show, as I had nothing to offer at that point…and some good news came. I was being evacuated. Get my stuff, and head down to the ER to get on a truck! For a moment, things were looking up. We were taken down the fire escape, and out onto the ramp behind the ER of the hospital, where a 5 ton army transport truck was waiting to transport us to the airport for medivac. While we were standing there, an old nasty man I had dealt with before in the ER looked at Mitch, our floor supervisor, and told him to take us back up the 9 flights of stairs to our unit, we were not leaving yet. None of us were capable of making that journey, so we decided to sit in the waiting room and wait for the next truck. Still doing good. Then it happened. The pain medication began to wear off.
It was just general discomfort at first…then became more acute…and I needed to lay down. I took a sheet, and laid it down on the floor. I laid down, and began to notice a pain in my lungs again…real tight…like I was breathing through water. Then I began to get cold and clammy, and my breathing became labored. I fought with it for as long as I could, but finally ended up telling Mitch that I didn’t feel too hot. He asked if I wanted to go back upstairs, and because of the dizziness, I said I don’t know if I can make it, but that I wanted to get out of the hospital as well. By now I was in tears. So close to leaving. Dr. Bergman came down, and they suggested the ER on the second floor, to get some oxygen, and I took that option. While I was waiting there, in a room crowded with people all sick or injured, where everything smelled like urine, I made a tough decision. I needed to return to the 9th floor, where my doctor could treat me if need be, and where my bed and the floor around me didn’t reek of urine. I made the call…and I was taken back upstairs, given some pain medication, and laid out on my bed in an odd position that limited the pain, and got a rather good night of sleep. When I woke up in the morning, the pain in my chest had grown into something that suspiciously felt like and reminded me of the pulmonary embolism I had the year before, and now I got word from the charge nurse, get inside and away from the windows. There were some security issues in the hospital. Later, there were reports of sniper fire on those trying to evacuate the hospital, so the evacuation was stopped once more. Another night in the hospital, and things kept getting worse. We were in “Super duper Emergency Mode” and I had become so detached from reality that I couldn’t even follow time anymore. I was teetering on the edge, and with every passing moment, felt something pushing me over, while pulling me down. My composure began to slip, what with one truck being used to evacuate so many people. We were in a mixed state of disbelief, anger and hopelessness, because no one was doing anything to get us out. I used to be in the Army, and I know what the Army is capable of, and it wasn’t being done. Reports were coming in when I spoke with my parents about the superdome, and the convention center, and the atrocities going on there. The only thing keeping me together at this point, was being able to call Sherry, one of my mothers (my dad’s current wife) early in the morning and talking with her.
I woke up that morning, and ate my two Vienna sausages, and couldn’t stomach the four slices of beets, and went to the nurses station to sit in the breeze by the fire escape. It had been a while since I could tolerate going outside, as the bars made it feel like jail, and just being outside was too overwhelming to handle. As long as I stayed out of the way, it was alright though. I began to talk with Sarah, the wife of one of the patients…when a couple of nurses snapped at me, and told us to be quiet or leave…they had work to do, so we went back to my room, where I posted myself in the window sill and felt the last bit of my positive attitude slipping away. Had it not been for her and the continued conversation, I think I would have lost it. Then, she got the call…she was being evacuated. We exchanged website names, to get in touch later, and she left. Now I was alone, except for the couple phone calls a day I got from my parents, who were all beginning to panic at the fact that I was still in the hospital. After sitting in the window for several more hours, watching the men in fan boats with guns drive around, I went back to my bed to lay down and wait. Then the word came, I was leaving. “Grab your stuff and lets go,” Mitch told me. Before he could turn to see if I was coming, I was standing next to him in line to get my transfer orders and medication.
Down the fire escape one last time, where I met Dr. Bergman’s husband, whom I had to sing her praises to, just so that he heard it from someone else. Down to the ER, out on the ramp, and into a line. After a slight shuffle in line, it began to move quickly outside, where we saw the effort at last. 4 or more flat fan boats were in line, taking patients off to another location where we were supposed to be transferred to ambulances to be taken to the airport. A rescue worker walked up to us in the boat, and handed us all boxes of food, reminiscent of MRE’s in the military…and I inhaled the food. Most of us were absolutely starving…as they had run out of food in the hospital, so it was a welcome site when we got to a bit of dry land down the street to wait for the ambulances. Most of the people with guns and such were all organizations from Texas…hundreds of people, so for a moment, “God Bless Texas” escaped from my lips. My load was the last load for the night…as the sun was going down, and they didn’t want us to be in the city after dark. When the ambulances did not show in the next 5 minutes, they decided to take us to the airport themselves. Into the back of pickup trucks, and a convoy was started to take us to the airport, and off we went.
Because of the water, we had to take the long way to the airport…which meant over the GNO bridge to the west bank, down the west bank express way, to the Huey P. Long bridge, back across the river and up clearview parkway to the freeway. The only lights we saw, save the fires, all the way there were the lights of the trucks, and the occasional generator. Most of the way was dark, but just before we got on the bridge, the sunset was behind New Orleans, and it was covered in a thick haze of smoke from the fires that were left to burn themselves out all over the city. Trees were down, windows were broken, and fires were still burning as we slowly crept towards the Huey P. Long. Once we got over the bridge, we ran into a spot on the road that we had to drive under a High Tension power line that had blown over…while on the other side of the street from here, six sheriff’s deputies had shotguns pulled on people in a car who were out after curfew. On we went, headed towards the causeway, the bridge that runs across Lake Ponchatrain. What we saw next was the most devastating and horrible site yet. The Refugee Camp. It had been set up under the causeway. These were the thousands of people who made it up on the freeway at some point, and either walked or got a ride to where they could bet some shade and help. I was absolutely floored by the savagery I saw around us…so many people panicking or pissed…and I hoped that we wouldn’t be stopping here. I was overjoyed when the trucks slowed, but continued working their way through the mass of people. I turned to the patients in the truck with me and told them, “If I haul off with this walker, you all just keep your heads down, OK?” They understood, and I watched as people were trying to get into the trucks with us, and wrestling with patients to do so. I struggled not to use anything associated with the thought form “Oh, the humanity, “ but in this instance, it was unavoidable. The thick stench of urine and raw sewage, the ungodly piles of trash building up on the side of the road, and we slowly pushed through without any major incidents, and continued on towards the airport. A couple miles down the road, we stopped and were met with ambulances, for those who needed immediate medical attention, and on we pressed until we got to the airport.
The first official that we ran into just about wouldn’t let us in. Finally, we were moved to the main terminal, and released to go inside. This too, was apparently a refugee camp, and showed some of the worst of the bottom feeders I had seen yet. Thousands cramped together on cardboard and blankets, one with a pile of cigarettes and food, charging $20 a pack of cigarettes, and people desperate enough to buy them. After a quick trip to a working bathroom, I returned to get in line where all the patients from the hospital were to be triaged, and flown out. I was told there were three doctors to see over 3000 people, the line stopped, and we were left to suffer on the cold hard floor until after the cameras began rolling the next morning…or so it felt. I was having a suspected pulmonary embolism, intensely retaining fluids and unable to pass any waste, fluids or solids…and the pressure was growing. I was ignored. I spent 20 minutes dry heaving in the bathroom, and still no attention. Fevers began to overtake me and still nothing happened. One elderly woman who was unable to care for herself was placed on a spine board, and left in her own urine and feces all night, because no one would change her. Another woman, who had just had back surgery, and was screaming in pain was manhandled by some volunteer, raised up bending her back, and had a pillow placed under her back. She later ended up slipping off of it, and screaming for most of the night. No one attended to her. Most people got tired of her screaming, and began getting pissy as they are want to do. People were crawling into corners and curling up on blankets to get what little sleep they could, most of us in pain and not a Tylenol to be had.
We had been sent out with three days worth of medication, but most didn’t get our pain medications to go with us…I was laying next to a woman with multiple sclerosis, who was also in pain and an man with a broken back, who was in a brace. Left to suffer all night. Finally, in the morning, crews of camera’s began to run around inside the airport, at which point a nurse actually came out to check our medications, and make sure we got to take them, along with making sure people finally got their shots of steroids and insulin…you know…things that could be necessary to live. Still no aspirin, Tylenol or anything of the sort. Finally, around 7:00am or so, a large amount of doctors began to see people, and the line began to move. Now, between all the people cutting in line, and those of us in line, it took about 20 minutes for us to find out we were going to have to wait to be seen again.
Finally, after explaining my situation to the nurse doing the triage, I was seen and ushered off to wait in another line, where blissfully a doctor came to see me and asked if I was ok. I said no, told him my issues, and he left to get me a wheelchair. While I was waiting for him to return, a couple of ladies ran up to the front of the line with a child who had a fever. Pushing me out of the way, they determined they were going first, and when I told them that they would have to make room for my wheelchair, began screaming and cussing at me. A rescue worker came over and told her to wait just a moment, she would be seen as soon as possible, and I was put into a wheelchair and taken inside the field hospital to another waiting area. The elderly woman who needed to be changed the night before was finally attended to, and I was put at the head of the line to be evaluated.
One inside, the story didn’t change much. They didn’t have any of the diagnostic equipment to figure out what was causing the pain, and they didn’t have any of the medications to treat the suspected problem, except for aspirin, which thins the blood. There was still no idea about the bloating, and they didn’t have my pain medications, save for vicodin, which would have to do at this point. I sat there for another hour waiting for the pharmacy to deliver my medications. While I was waiting, the little boy with a fever was brought in and evaluated. He was severely dehydrated, so they wanted to put in an IV to give him some fluids, but because of the dehydration and being so young, the medic could not get a line in, and each time he would try, the poor kid would say, “Owoh,” just the most heart breaking thing. Finally, they gave his mother some electrolytes to feed him…best that they could do. Then I was on to the waiting area to get on a plane, and be flown to wherever I ended up. This is when I saw the most distressing part of my journey. One entire section of the stretchers were for injuries…not injuries sustained in the storm, but from the violence and riots and people stealing food and cigarettes at the refugee camps. One guy that I was talking with had a friend who was beaten so badly, that he ended up dying there in the field hospital. Just another of the many examples of the failings of humanity I have been witness to. This disaster was a chance for so many people to show their quality, and unfortunately, on most levels, there were such massive failings that I was forced to detach myself even deeper away from reality…so deep that I couldn’t accurately track the progression of days.
Finally, I was moved onto the concourse to get on the plane, and once again, there were tons of people cutting in line…going to get on the planes when they had been told to stay in the waiting area. As each of the planes would load up, we, as a group, would move down in the seats along the wall…and while I was carrying the oxygen for an elderly gentleman, three black men shoved me out of the way and got in line in front of me…and the officers let them do so. Between that and the unfortunate position I kept ending up in, I was bumped off the first five flights…and finally ended up on a plain bound for Birmingham, AL. Not quite the direction that I was hoping for, but it did put me in close proximity to many of my friends, who considering the situation, were all offering me places to stay once they were finally able to get news of where I was. While in the hospital, I was told that I might have to have my gall bladder removed, and between that and the meningitis, I needed medical attention lined up for me wherever I did decide to go. That turned out to be Orlando, where I had friends who have been in similar health standings, and they are now in remission. A place to live where I was comfortable, friends 100% committed to getting me to doctors and healthy, and back on my feet. It was the best option that I had, so I took it…and now I am in Orlando, and looking at a complete recovery by the end of the year. Here’s to Hope, Luck, and from what I can see, Providence.
In each of these situations, when even my doctors held no hope for me, I managed to pull through with flying colors, continually stumping the medical profession, as they could not understand why I was able to remain so positive in my attitudes, and seemingly unconcerned with my own mortality, as to me, and my faith in my own life, it was all simply no more than another trial that I must get through on my journey to pack as much value into every second of my life as possible. I have far too much still to do, and from all sides I have seen and heard that my death is forbidden, if not only to bear witness to the miracles that I’ve been fortunate enough to receive.
According to my doctors What I did
“You had the worst case of TB that I have ever seen!” – Dr. Zachary
Combination drug therapy, responded well.
Gun Shot Wound
Flesh wound only, nothing serious other than getting shot. Helped other victim make it to the hospital and spent around 30 days off my feet.
Pulmonary Embolism – “Of all the things you suffered with, that is the most deadly of all!” – Dr. Zachary
3 weeks of blood thinning and 6 more months of coumadin.
Reaction to Dapsone and Penicillin
Placed on a ventilator in ICU for two days Coma for two days, woke up without heart damage or any lasting effects...
Cryptococcal Meningitis – the most deadly form. “I didn’t think that you would be leaving when you came in here!” – Dr. Haderly`
14 days of Amphotericin B directly to the heart. First person ever at Charity to receive the entire treatment without my kidneys shutting down.
Katrina – 4-6 days until evacuation from New Orleans. “Super Emergency Mode” – Dr. Bergman
Detachment from reality, dehydration, malnutrition, and now in a much better place, looking forward to a complete recovery by the end of the year!
It is these signs that I’ve interpreted in two different ways. 1) I am not going anywhere anytime soon, and 2) I am going to quit pushing my luck and start taking much better care of myself. I am sick and tired of being sick and tired. I am looking forward to getting better, getting a job, and getting back to living my life like normal. Also, as my Aunt and Mother suggested, I will be bearing witness, as I can not be unappreciative of any of these things that have happened to me. In all cases, I have come out of this hospital stay and storm in a much better place, and on top in all cases, as I will soon be getting my laptop back! I really couldn’t ask for more than this…so many people not having the resources available to them and the amount of people caring for them as I do. Each and every day I wake up, I find myself being eternally grateful for the things I have been given…and not to waste it anymore.
Well, on with life then!