Mary Gauthier- Some thoughts on the past, present and future of New Orleans music. Hoping for the best.
I was in Hawaii when my sister called in a panic to tell me that it looked like a hurricane was going to hit the Louisiana Gulf Coast in the next 36 hours, and we had to figure out what to do about daddy NOW. My father lives in a nursing home in Houma, Louisiana. He is unable to recognize us, unable to walk, unable to eat without being fed. He is often agitated, needs multiple medications to keep him stabilized, and dehydrates very easily, which requires hospitalization when it happens.
The nursing home’s idea of an evacuation plan is to call patients’ families to come pick up their loved ones, but even though this is the third time this has happened, we never know what to do when the phone rings. So we go into a panic, making frantic phone calls to other family members, hoping for an answer to appear, hoping for the best.
My sister lives in Houston with her husband and three small children and I live in Nashville, but neither one of us could handle my father even if we lived next door to his nursing home in Houma. That’s why he’s in a nursing home to begin with; he needs nurses.
This time I told her I had no idea what to do except to somehow make the nursing home deal with getting him to safety. I told her that there’s nothing she or I could do at this point, with the storm probably hitting tomorrow morning and all….I told her that if we didn’t call the nursing home back, we could assume they would have to find a safe place for him to ride out the storm, hopefully staffed with professionals whose job it is to care for those who can’t care for themselves.
I hung up the phone not knowing that the storm would go from a category three to a four to five, and not knowing that the decision I made…could have killed my father. Good Lord, this time my family got lucky.
Less than 57 miles away, at St Rita’s Nursing Home in St. Bernard Parish, 34 patients drowned in the floodwaters that poured into the patients’ rooms when the levees broke. My father’s nursing home is less than 50 miles from yet another nursing home in New Orleans where another 17 patients died in their wheelchairs and hospital beds, waiting in the hellish Louisiana late August heat for help that never came for them.
I’m writing this two weeks after the storm hit, and bodies are still being pulled out of flooded and destroyed hospitals, homes and businesses. Fifty percent of New Orleans is still under water. We all knew it could happen. That’s what I keep thinking. Deep down, we all knew that one day it probably would happen. Hell, the New Orleans Times-Picayune wrote an expose on it, and they predicted almost exactly what did happen with the levees.
But the children of Louisiana grew up knowing this anyway, and it’s probably the true motivation for the “hurricane parties” we’ve been known to throw, a massive denial of vulnerability combined with that familiar Crescent City fatalism that laughs in the face of death.
As it turns out, it wasn’t just me and my sister hoping for the best, but every level of government as well. In addition to me being personally guilty for not knowing what to do with my dad, the mayor of New Orleans is guilty for not figuring out how to properly evacuate the poor and the sick, the governor is guilty, the Louisiana state legislature is guilty, Congress is guilty, and the president is guilty. Hell, I can’t find an innocent party anywhere.
Instead of carefully planning what to do when the worst came, we put our money on hoping for the best. Pretty damned stupid, huh?