Reflections on Hurricane Harvey

Koby Caplan (320x240)
Koby Caplan

By Koby Caplan
I arrived at the George R. Brown Convention Center Monday evening for an overnight shift and in the midst of Hurricane Harvey’s lingering landfall. Donations were pouring in, along with newly rescued but drenched refugees. The line for food (at one point only Funyuns and ice cream cones sans ice cream) spanned half of the enormous hall. Others awaited clean clothes, towels and blankets, which arrived by the truckful. News teams asked volunteer and refugee alike for their stories, which broadcast to screens throughout the convention center and the world.

The medical corner, which occupied a generous chunk of the hall’s southwest corner, served mostly those with hypertensive and diabetic patients who could not access their medications; although we also saw individuals who suffered trauma, drug overdoses, hypothermia and PTSD from the storm. The pharmacy was beautifully stocked and organized, considering the circumstances, although at the time we were unable to provide pain relief stronger than an ibuprofen and a Tylenol. Additionally there was a severe shortage of medical equipment like wheelchairs. I did not like to leave the handicapped and chronic pain sufferers disappointed, but the majority of patients were appreciative.

Dr. Ricardo Nuila, a Baylor College of Medicine alum and faculty member, wrote an excellent piece for the New Yorker that discussed “reassurance” in the George R. Brown. He notes that on exams, we frequently select “reassurance,” which is taken to mean “do nothing.” But in times of tragedy and chaos, and treating patients who have lost everything, to reassure means everything. Dr. Nuila notes that “I’ve learned that understanding why a patient might be scared and targeting that fear with your words can serve as a powerful remedy.” It is a lesson as palpable as it is valuable, and it took only a year’s worth of rain in two days to teach.

Since arriving at Baylor, my amazement at the brilliance of my colleagues is surpassed only by my amazement at their generosity and kindness. As a newly minted first-year student, I struggled mightily, not with cutthroat classmates, but with choosing from the multitude of resources provided by my peers and the upperclassmen. Students flock to organize and attend volunteer projects. Spots fill up quickly to tutor anatomy, run the HOMES clinic for the homeless and mentor a network of peers in the year below.

The Baylor family applied the same ferocious generosity to Harvey recovery, showing up in droves to work medical at shelters, organize donation trucks, tear up carpet in the homes of the elderly and house fellow students whose homes were affected. A day of service in memory of a former Baylor student was dedicated to Harvey recovery. In the wake of the tragedy, I texted nine classmates to help me move furniture from my grandfather’s house, which had four feet of water; all nine showed up.

Seven weeks out from the storm, we are still in the infant stages in the recovery process. One of my patients today still does not have hot water, and another has had FEMA cancel twice on them to evaluate the extent of the house. In the meantime, we have seen similar hurricane devastation in Puerto Rico and Florida, the deadliest mass shooting on American soil and wildfires envelop northern California. Perhaps having been recently involved in tragedy, the Houston community can better encapsulate the long lasting damage live behind each of these incidents and continue to live generously.