Hell with Harvey
It is with a heavy heart that I share this update about the personal impact of Hurricane Harvey.
As I rounded out an incredible meeting with Salus Global in London, Ontario on Friday August 25, 2017, my husband called to say he had evacuated our family to Dallas because a tropical storm had just upgraded and was headed to Houston.
Enter Hurricane Harvey into our lives forever.
I’ve been aligned with Salus Global for over 13 years as they work tirelessly to save lives on the Labor and Delivery Unit. In 2004, only 2 months after I had my first baby (and, ironically, with a healing c-section scar), I got in a car a drove 9 hours across northern Alberta, implementing this program and their unprecedented patient safety measures in multiple hospitals. To this day, this journey across northern Canada still ranks as something I am most proud of in all my years of clinical work. While there are multiple patient safety programs, MOREob (Managing Obstetrical Risk Efficiently) raises the bar on culture change and a cohesive team approach that puts patients at the center of their care.
I mention this program because I find it inconceivable that I traveled directly from a deeply rewarding experience of saving lives into complete powerlessness while lives were lost at the hands of this hurricane. The first of many dichotomies to come.
My flight into Bush Intercontinental was questionable and the airline was quoting $560 to make Dallas my revised destination, indicating that I could fly into Austin or San Antonio at no charge. If you understand Texas geography, you realize that I would be flying right into the hurricane and closer to danger. I advised the innocent messenger that I would wait until Air Canada recovered it’s common sense and hung up, feeling utterly helpless but safer in Canada than in the air over southern Texas.
Only minutes later, my flight was officially cancelled, re-routed to Dallas and our family reunion plans were set in place.
Landing in Dallas late Friday night was bittersweet. It was wonderful to see my family, to be safe and “enjoying” a weekend away. It was terrifying to know that a category 5 Hurricane was approaching the Texas Coast.
We were glued to the weather channel.
Harvey made landfall for the first time near Rockport and Fulton, TX and proceeded to stall over southern Texas bringing record-breaking rainfall (up to 52 inches of rain) and flooding waterways to 500 year levels. My husband and I watched multiple on-line weather tracking graphs noting every inch of change in the rivers and bayous by our home with hour-to-hour updates. Our home was spared after this initial landfall and Saturday afternoon was eerily calm. We considered returning to Houston and several times discussed packing up and checking out of our Dallas hotel.
The rainfall continued, water elevations climbed, the death toll rose and we watched with bated breath as our street became a flowing river.
Friends were able to send pictures and our front porch camera revealed levels within centimeters of our front door. We barely slept Sunday night but levels receded after hitting all-time highs and we expected to wait for highways to clear and head home to help others with relief efforts.
The rain just kept coming and by bedtime Monday night, things were unimaginably worse. Several of our neighbors were rescued by boats and water began entering our home.
There was nothing to do but wait, return and recover.
Highways and roadways into our home remained impassable until Thursday September 1, 2017. Upon return, our entire first level needed to be gutted. All wallboard, all insulation, all cupboards and cabinets. All doorways were swollen and unusable. All of the furniture that Jeremy and I had meticulously collected throughout our marriage, mostly handmade mission furniture, was severely damaged.
As if this wasn’t bad enough, my antique cedar chest that housed years of memories, sits low to the floor and was completely destroyed. When I became pregnant in 2004, I began writing journals for my babies, completing 5 volumes over 13 years. All that was left were massive heaps of wet paper.
While I wept, friends and strangers continued in a frenzy of activity around me to limit damage and mitigate costs to our home.
One day (I’ve completely lost track of time and days have gone missing), a group of 5 high school kids walked in our front door and announced that they were not leaving until they had worked. They hauled construction garbage, swept dusty floors and made me smile from a place I thought I had lost inside me.
I cried happy tears and prayed my children would someday bring such love to another family in need.
Unsolicited, people delivered meals, water, cleaning supplies, ice cream, beer and margaritas (a welcome distraction).
Through this, I never lost sight of the fact that many lost so much more than we did. Thousands of families lost their home, their possessions and even their lives.
Daily, I read stories about people finding their missing loved ones.
Drown in cars, in elevators, in the attic.
Every night I fall asleep wondering what I will dream about next. I’ve dreamt of becoming trapped in a flooded car; of narrowly escaping a collision on the highway and of flood waters entering our home while children slept. I never used to remember my dreams but they are so vivid now.
It’s been more traumatic than most people will ever know (God willing).
I’ve been hearing about boat rescues and people getting swept away by rapidly flowing water or frantically hanging onto their children as they fight the wrath of mother nature.
It’s difficult to imagine what people have gone through, we will never know their pain.
We are okay.
We will recover.
“It is just stuff”, has became my new mantra.
With storm debris littered along our roads, lingering stench and construction far from over, I am at a loss for words when people ask how I am doing.
I have overused the words, “thank-you” and called in every favor I could gather.
I am grateful to be managing and getting kids to where they need to be. I’m happy my husband made us a habitable “capsule” in our upper level.
We are living day to day and I’m not sure how long we can stay home once the foundation is dry and contractors re-emerge as a daily reality.
My husband reminds me that there is no place for perfection in the chaos that is our life. We are forced to release, accept and make decisions as they arise.
Time is moving very slowly.
I’m in deep gratitude to the many helpful hands that have supported us in so many ways.
The cleaning, the moving, the destroying, the rebuilding.
We could never do it alone and, thankfully, we don’t have to.
We have our family, our friends, our neighbors (who are now close friends) and many strangers who, spared from the disaster, see their role as a lifeline for those of us who will be months or years recovering.
Moving forward, we will have less stuff, less resistance to asking for help, less fear of the unknown.
Moving forward we will have more gratitude, more vigilance and more perspective for the things that matter.
In future, we will keep our memories electronically stored.
We will have sad and funny stories to share about resilience, perseverance and recovery.
But recover we will. That’s one thing we know for sure.
We have survived a natural disaster of historic proportions and it has taught us about a whole new kind of courage and love.