The Hurricane Diary:
I can’t believe it is happening all over again. We are sitting in our new apartment in disbelief as we watch the Texas winds lift the treetops with their strong gusts. Although this may be nothing compared to what we will see tomorrow morning, I feel the intense impact that the barometric pressure is having on my bladder, pelvic floor, hips, back, and legs. I really thought that I’d never feel this terrible, intense, widespread pain after I finally got through perimenopause. This pain used to be so predictable; it always occurred at the end of ovulation and no treatment or doctor could help. I was told that I would just have to wait until I had no more menstrual cycles. I was and am so grateful to be finished with cycles, but no one told me I would experience the same symptoms before monster hurricanes!
Andy and I did not evacuate before hurricane Katrina. Just the thought of hours and hours of sitting in gridlock traffic on freeways seemed most impossible with my IC. Plus, Andy and his nursing home board of directors decided not to evacuate the Maison Hospitalier Nursing Home before Katrina. They feared the consequences for the elderly and infirmed residents. My mother, who is disabled from post polio, also refused to evacuate. She knew only too well that I alone could not lift her and take care of her needs. So, the day before Katrina hit, Andy and I parted ways. He drove off to the Maison with a small bag of clothes. And, Mother and I went to stay in Jo Mclean’s home which has stairs to a fourth floor. Jo was on call because she serves as the Sanitarian Regional Director.
It was horrible saying goodbye to Andy because we were all so scared. Katrina was going to be very different than any other hurricane that had hit New Orleans. But, because I had lived through hurricane Betsy in the sixties I felt that the aftermath would probably be worse than the storm itself, at least in our area of New Orleans.
I was awakened in the early morning hours by gusts of loud wind that shook my bed. I knew that Mother and Jo were also experiencing the shaking in their beds. It was as if we were in a scary movie, especially because we were lying in grand old canopy beds originally from the Shadows Plantation. When the sun came up the colors of the sunrise were extraordinarily clear and brilliant. There was no pollution left in the air. There was also no electricity, or the automobile roar that we take for granted as a normal sound in our lives. The eye of the hurricane had not yet hit. We could not dial out on our phones, but Jo’s daughter Teche, who lives in Lafayette, LA, and Andy, who had a generator for electricity, called us to tell us what was going on. We had a small radio, and listened to Sanitation Department employees on Jo’s two way phones, but the information we heard was very confusing.
After Jo and I made breakfast (she still had gas to cook with) we sat in her two story playroom, but when we noticed one of the walls starting to move in and out and some of the window frames shifting and distorting, we moved to the center of the house. I was now experiencing extreme pressure in my bladder and lower body. My ears were stopping up and I had an enormous amount of difficulty with my balance on the stairs. Then, something happened to my right lower leg. I couldn’t feel it. I could walk, but my lower leg was numb. No matter, we all kept very busy preparing for the eye of the storm. And, although we were very frightened, when the winds increased something wonderful took over in my body. The hormones associated with “fight or flight” kicked in. I still felt some of my physical symptoms, but, in general, I felt totally different. The extreme pressure in my bladder and lower body was replaced with only frequency. Like the scared deer in the woods, I wanted to lighten my load (empty my bladder and colon) before I ran from harm. As a matter of fact, my gastroenterologist and I had been trying unsuccessfully to find a bladder safe preparation for a colonoscopy. Well, I could have easily had a daily colonoscopy without any prior preparation for the next several days!
After Katrina passed Jo and I peaked outside to see the effects. It was pretty bad, but we knew that it could have been much worse for us. However, we now faced the next fear--- the danger that lurks in New Orleans after a major hurricane. As I mentioned before, this danger is what I actually feared the most. We had experienced an especially high murder rate this summer and here we were, three women alone in a neighborhood that was mostly deserted.
Later that afternoon, before the city became pitch black and eerily quite, a male neighbor knocked on our door to ask us if we had a gun. Jo told him that we had a bayonet and a machete. I thought to myself “Yikes, these are obviously from the Shadows Plantation!” I kept that thought to myself. We were vigilant about our survival and we knew we could not afford to express our fear.
Meanwhile, down in the French Quarter, Andy was beginning to experience similar feelings. Although the Maison had a back up generator for electricity, they lost their air conditioning. One elderly resident passed away right before Katrina and the staff was able to walk to an open mortuary to get a body bag, but no one could take the body away.
It became quite clear that looters and vigilantes were gaining hold of the city. When we heard a knock on the door in the late morning we jumped. We were relieved when we realized it was a neighbor’s son—another remaining soul close by. But, when he told us that all the drug stores in our area were being looted I began to visibly shake. He also told us that his family had a generator and a machine gun if we needed help. I then begged Jo and my mother to leave. They refused and didn’t believe that was necessary.
In the next few, terribly long hours Andy called to let us know that there was a very serious breech in the levee. Things couldn’t have sounded worse. There was no longer running water at the Maison. The staff was trying their best to hydrate the residents. Andy was calling everyone to get out. He had a bus company lined up before the hurricane, just in case, but officials were confiscating the busses for use at the Superdome. Andy even found a church in another city in Louisiana to send busses, but they were told to turn back when they reached the Mississippi River Bridge. New Orleans had literally become a war zone and had been taken over by anarchists. Andy walked to a police station to ask for help, but was told “We are saving lives. We can’t help you.” Fortunately, someone at the Maison handed Andy a pistol when he returned. He hoped he would not have to use it.
At about four or five o’clock there was another knock on Jo’s door. This time it was a fireman who warned us that the water was coming. It was only blocks away. Jo placed the pets (a bunny, two guinea pigs, and four birds that she was watching for a friend) on higher ground. We loaded what we could into her SUV, but when I tried to get my cat, Gripper, he tore his way into the box springs under the bed. I could not get him. My heart was broken. We drove to Lafayette to stay with Teche, Jo’s daughter.
Andy and Allen (his nurse Candy’s husband) drove to Jo’s through the water and rescued Gripper, but two more residents died from the heat. The national and international media were now covering the terrible situation. Andy was interviewed by the BBC.
Because Andy had planned to evacuate his staff and residents to Houston, Mother and I rented a car and headed to Houston to stay with Andy’s brother. Those convenient hormones helped me to drive through intense rain. I even had the strength to assist my mother. Seeing all of the troops heading into New Orleans gave me hope.
With an armed guard in Andy’s car, and guards in and around the busses, the Maison was escorted safely out of the city. My cousin in England called me to tell me she saw Andy and the guards on the BBC. Before leaving, the staff sadly placed the three bodies up high in the chapel to keep them from harm. Unfortunately, a few other residents could not survive the trip.
We have been in Houston for one month. We only lost electricity for 21 hours during Rita. The IC flares I’ve experienced since the hurricanes have been caused by the various bottled waters I’ve tried. This week Andy will drive to New Orleans to check our homes, which still stand. Jo and Teche are cleaning Jo’s home today. It was looted twice. Everyone must throw their refrigerators away. Miraculously, the pets in Jo’s house lived even though they did not eat for days.
We will return to live in New Orleans when hospitals and doctors, and grocery and drug stores are in operation again. We feel very fortunate, lucky, and blessed compared to the many people who lost their lives or homes. Andy and I also realize that the “will to survive” is stronger than IC.
The Interstitial Cystitis Network