A lot has changed in the city since Katrina, and much of it is for the better. We're still working to protect ourselves from future floods, but the levees are taller and stronger. Most businesses, all hospitals, and many families have disaster plans. Young, intelligent, energetic people moved here to volunteer, open businesses, or join start-ups. We might at some point even get a handle on crime and political corruption (probably not. But the police chief resigned last week, and I think that's a good thing).
Yet I miss the innocence of pre-Katrina, the days when we would roll our eyes and say, "Storms always turn!" as we chose not to sit in contraflow for 8 hours to move 100 miles from the storm's path. We can't help but take storms seriously now, as we reflect on the death and loss that Katrina spilled down on the city. It's out of respect for lives lost that I maintain a hurricane plan at work, that I hand out prescription records to all my patients during peak storm season, that I never miss an opportunity to visit a historic site in New Orleans, in case it's not there next November. And even though Katrina fades from our day-to-day conversation, she left constant reminders.
Every day, on the way to work, I drive past Baptist Hospital.
I re-opened Baptist hospital after Katrina, working with two pharmacists and one tech to ready the facility for patients. Baptist was hit particularly hard, due to a combination of poor planning, poor location, and federal neglect. Patients died unnecessarily, deprived of therapeutic interventions they needed, sitting hungry and thirsty in unbearable heat. Rumors of euthanasia still circle, and charges were brought against some doctors who stayed through the storm. The parking garage where I used to park had been used to hold patients waiting for evacuation as the waters rose, mostly because it was better ventilated than the hospital itself. Some patients died waiting for a boat or helicopter.
This week, I read a memoir by a local doctor, who stayed for the storm. He was chief of medicine at Baptist, and his view is a startling read: as one of the very last people out of Baptist, it's like when I went to work we picked up where he left off. That experience feels richer to me now, and more symbolic. He also reminded me of those days before the storm, when we took so much for granted.
People like ourselves sometimes say, "We didn't lose anything in Katrina." We mean that we lived in an area that didn't flood, so our houses and cars were safe. But the statement isn't true. Out things might have been high and dry, and looters may have stayed far from our doors and yards, but we all lost something in Katrina.