The Katrina Papers
These were published on the Angel Paths forums in September 2005, following Hurricane Katrina's destruction of large parts of New Orleans.
[Please note - photos used are placed by Liam from a large collection, please let him know if you know who took them and the credits to be used.]
Author - D-man. Who was there. Visit D-man's Blog.
As Saturday dawns, I’m left hidden in a corner of the hospital. A tube is painfully stuck up in me through my penis. I can’t tolerate it too much, but there is nothing that I can do about it. They want my bladder to start working again, and forcing it open is the only way to start extracting what little fluid is left in me. Nothing is there to come out really. The saline solution pushed through the IV they stuck in my arm is the first liquid to come out of me, and even that was very little. It was only one syringe worth of solution to flush out the blood that was in the tube sticking out of my arm. It passed through me quickly though. The little bit of liquid coming through the catheter quickly changes from dark orange to clear. Why wasn’t any of that liquid absorbed into my body? Why did it flow right through me as if rejected completely?
A shift change occurs and my nurse tells me that my new nurse will be in to check on me momentarily. In the mean time, and EKG technician comes in to check my heart with those sticky pads and a bunch of wires. The heart is ok despite my blood pressure being so high. Another technician comes in to do the chest x-ray that everyone gets when they come into an ER, despite their condition. I guess it’s okay too, no one tells me otherwise.
Five or six hours pass by, and no one has come back to see me. I’m hidden away too well I suppose. Other people, locals, are brought into the same room as me and treated quickly and let go without much ado. Why won’t anyone talk to me? I want a shower, I need fluids! A charge nurse comes in to help train another nurse on another patient. I can see her name tag, Mary. I call her name out desperately and ask her why I’ve been forgotten. The shift change left me vulnerable and my name was wiped off the board. I didn’t exist anymore. A room upstairs is hastily found for me once they find a piece of paper from the doctor saying to admit me.
It’s a private room. I need to transfer from the ER bed to the bed in the room. I bust out into sobs and tears and then full blown crying. I don’t have the energy to move, and the tube sticking out of me is very painful. They try to pull me over to the bed and press down painfully on the IV that sticks out of my arm. She did a horrible job putting it in, and I can feel it poking me inside, even though it’s plastic. My dried up veins allow me to feel everything. Once transferred I find that the bed is very comfortable. Even though the nurse left the blankets hanging over the end of the bed allowing me to freeze and shiver in the cold room. I’m very used to the heat of the sun beating down on me now. The cold is painful. A scale is brought into the room to weigh me. “How much do you usually weigh?” “214” I step on the scale clumsily, my legs wanting to rest more on the bed. I move the weights over and get it to balance and am appalled that I put on weight. The nurse informs me that they use a Quarter balance scale. I was actually on 175, not 200, plus whatever the small weight said. 187 pounds. I lost 27 pounds in FOUR days. That was a good diet plan, though I hope to never repeat that process again.
I beg to have the catheter taken out to ease my pain. “You have to have at least two bags of fluid in you first.” “Then why didn’t you start putting it into me when I got here SIX hours ago instead of letting me dry out even more?” No response.
I turn my phone back on to use up the little charge that is left, and I get a hold of Lisa finally. All my emotions swell up and charge through the phone to hit her like a pile of bricks. Finally, a friendly voice that shows some concern. Through my sobs, I let her know that I’ve been forgotten. That I’m in pain, and that I want to be rescued from my rescue. The agony in her voice for me makes me cry even more. Do I sound so horrible as to make someone’s voice quiver like that? She tells me that she’s going to get Ryan and will be there as soon as she can.
Four hours later, and still having not slept, two strangers walk into my room. But I recognize them almost instantly. The two friendliest faces I’ve seen in DAYS. Ryan and Lisa! I’m embarrassed to have them see me for the first time, and I’ve got a bag attached to my arm and another one filling up ever so slowly with my urine. We talk about whatever topic can come up. Primarily my trials and tribulations over the past few days. My voice harsh from not talking to too many people the past few days.
A doctor comes into the room to assess my situation. I plead with him to take out the catheter and let me leave the hospital. He sympathizes with me and says that when I finish my second bag of fluid, they will remove it to see if I can pee on my own. Ten minutes later, a nurse is coming in to remove the catheter. My pleas were effective, and the doctor understood my pain. The agony of having it removed is quite refreshing actually. It lets me know that I’m still alive. Once out, I make all haste to get into the shower. The nurse undoes my IV from the bag and I get in the shower. It was a disgusting shower. It looked to never have been cleaned, and the shower head sprayed out two streams of water to either side of me at the level of my chest. I had to stoop over just to get my hair wet. I did appreciate the shower though. Washing a few layers of grime off of me. I scrub my feet vigorously to make them white again. They are stained though. I’m left with darkened feet and a purple penis after all those hours of a tube sticking out of it.
I slide into the clean hospital clothes left for me. AHHHH. I’ve been wearing the same clothes since Wednesday. This is bliss. Ryan and Lisa are back in the room now and I’m informed that E. Jean wants me to call her. I’m terrified. She is such an important person in my life at this time for making these connections possible. What could I possibly say to her and not sound like a complete moron.
The call goes through and she is so excited to hear from me. “you have to share your experience on Catch. Let everyone know what it was like from your point of view having actually been there. The news reports do no justice.” The conversation went something like that. So much excitement coursing through the phone, it’s hard to remember all of the details. I told her that I had already wrote all of the blogs in my head, and I just needed to put them on the computer. “It won’t be for a couple of days. I’m exhausted and not ready to relive all of those emotions just yet.” “Take your time.” The call comes to a close. I’m so happy and surprised that I got to talk directly with E. Jean. It was an honor in my mind to be able to talk with someone that I admire so much.
The nurse seems to refuse to come back to my room and hook me back up to the IV so I can finish that bag and be on my way. Having had MANY IV’s in me over the course of my sick life, I was quite capable of removing it myself. That is exactly what I did. Ryan and Lisa checked to make sure the coast was clear, and we booked it out of the hospital. They probably still don’t know that I’m gone. There was never ANY paperwork done to even show that I was there.
Our first stop is a Thrift store. I need some clothes desperately. All of mine were left in New Orleans, and the few that I got out with are completely contaminated by the water that they were dropped in. Next – Taco Cabana! I haven’t been to TC in years! I order the biggest meal. My eyes currently more stable than my stomach, I think that I can eat the whole restaurant at this point. The food comes out and we bring it to the table. The sight of the beans and rice and tacos on my plate overwhelm me and I break out into sobs and tears again.
“I used my illness to get out of New Orleans and so many other people are still stuck there, trapped. Now I’m here with all of this food in front of me while they have NOTHING. What kind of person am I? Am I that horrible and selfish? I hate myself.” Lisa reminds me that I AM sick and I should not feel any guilt for getting out of New Orleans. Pain reels through me as I take a few bites of food. My stomach doesn’t know what to do right now. I don’t know what to do either. I keep crying while trying to get the food into me. I know that I need to eat, I just find it so difficult to do so. The guilt will not leave my thoughts. The instincts to reserve food still strong in me. I find myself grabbing handfuls of napkins. The lack of toilet paper over the past few days finds me hording clean paper now just incase it should become necessary to be stuck in another line with nothing but port-o-lets available. This is my biggest fear right now. More waiting would devastate me.
Fortunately, my saviors won’t allow me to be put back in any situation like that. We start the drive to Austin from San Antonio. I fall asleep in the front seat and wake up just as we get to Austin. More tears. I’m safe now.
My sleep is full of nightmares. The sounds of helicopters outside scare me. Waking up finds me crawling through the dark apartment. I find my backpack and sneak back into the bedroom. Whispers fill my head and I suspect plots to take over the complex and destroy the lives of anyone inside. The New Orleanians filling up Austin right now are capable of anything. I know. I feel as if there is no order left to life anymore and whatever I can do to survive, I WILL do. I re-prioritize my few remaining possessions and plan a break to the outside to avoid whatever is coming my way. I don’t know where to go once I’m outside. The only thing I can do is huddle in the corner of a stairwell, scared and in pain.
Frantic phone calls are made to whoever I can think of. It’s about 2a.m. and no one answers. I am so alone. So scared. A stranger comes and offers me some pillows to rest my head on while I’m huddled there. I don’t trust him. “do you know Ryan that lives at the end of the hall?” I ask him. “Are you Chris? I’m Ruben, Ryan’s roommate.” I don’t care who he is right now. He wants my bag. My last possessions that I can hold onto. I cower back into my corner even more. Trying to give him the 75 cents that were in my bag as a payoff to get my bag back and for some water. He refuses and continues to coax me out from my sanctuary. I find myself back in the apartment and see that no one is waiting to hurt me. I’m still scared to death and don’t trust this man who is trying to help me. He gives me a hug and tells me that what is his, is mine, for as long as I need it. I break down again and cry on his shoulder. Is this real? Does someone actually care about me right now while the images from my nightmare are still fresh in my mind?
I make my way back to the mattress that was offered to me. Curling up with my bag tucked tightly under my arms. I pass out.
It’s Sunday morning, as I’m laying on what could be the most comfortable bed I’ve ever slept on in my entire life; sans sheets, fluffy pillows, encompassing comforter, and four beady cat eyes staring at me. I miss these things. My bed, my blankets, my cats. All Hundreds of miles away, and my chest is suddenly vibrating as a text message appears on my cell phone.
“Look motherfucker you better call me back to let me know you are okay damn it”
And reality sets in and hits me hard with a full body slam that sits me up straight faster than I think I’ve ever been able to sit up before while in such writhing pain from the previous week’s events. And my brain fills with every painful thought of what just happened, the reason such a text message would wake me up where I am, feeling how I do.
“I just survived the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.” I have to say to myself. “I’m here! Where is ‘here’ again? Austin. That’s right, Austin.”
Hundreds of miles away from “home”, yet home now sits in a crusty book-bag that my legs are wrapped through protectively. New definitions are going to be written for thousands of people just like me. We have to re-evaluate our lives according to Webster. Absolutely NOTHING will be quite the same ever again to the survivors who are going through all the turmoil, emotions, and gut-wrenching physical pain that accompanies the human form after just under a week of events that will be in stories and nightmares for generations to come.
afternote: The trials and tribulations have not come to an end just because of this rescue. i am now in Houston. Still crying occassionaly with the memories still fresh. And the assistance of the Government being dangled in front of us, but just out of reach. The frustrations are just beginning and the process of getting our lives back together and starting over from scratch. I already know that it won't be easy.
thank you all again for everything.
Part: 1 - 2 - 3 - 4 - 5 - 6
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