Early during Harvey’s rampage across Texas a photo of elderly residents of a nursing home went viral. It showed them sitting in waist deep water waiting to be rescued. It was a vivid image of just how horrific the effects of that storm actually were. A second picture eventually made the rounds showing the same individuals safe and sound in a new location. They were nicely attired and smiling, and it made us all feel better about their fate. The sad thing is that even as we begin the recovery process, the toll that this disaster is taking on our oldest citizens is almost silently brutal. So many of our quite vulnerable elderly population were frightened and confused by a situation that they were too often not able to understand, and in far too many cases the consequences for them have been as devastating as the floods themselves.
I’ll be sixty nine in November and my husband’s birthday will be his seventieth later this month, but I’m not so much talking about people like us as those who are fifteen or so years older than we are. Many of them suffer from Alzheimer’s or dementia and found themselves in foreign situations that made it difficult for them to adapt. One friend’s mother had to be constantly reminded of why she was not in her home, and why she would not be allowed to go back there until the rains ceased. She wanted to know who Harvey was, insisting that she knew no one by that name. It was an exceedingly stressful many days even for those caring for her, because they worried about her delicate condition.
Yet another person with whom I worked for years lost her mother. The woman’s death will not be counted among the victims of the storm, but she most certainly died because of the effects of the deluge. She lived in an assisted living facility because she too had Alzheimers. During the rains the home where she stayed flooded, and the patients were rescued and taken to a shelter. Sadly the sweet lady awoke during the middle of the night and was shaken when she did not know where she was. In her bewildered state of mind she began to wander in the dark, and in the process she fell and broke multiple bones in her fragile body. She was sent to a hospital where it was deemed necessary to operate, but first precautions had to be taken because she was on blood thinners. Unfortunately the poor soul did not make it and her funeral was this past Friday. Her family is heartbroken and, those of us who grieve with them wonder if but for the storms their beloved family member might still be alive.
This past week two of the ninety something year old mothers of high school friends of mine have also passed. I can’t help but think of how much the change in their routines must have affected them. They were such kind and loving women who had at one time been so strong that they would have tackled the beast called Harvey head on. This time they were too old and weak to adjust to the terrible demands that all of the devastation has placed on our city. I keep seeing such incidents being repeated over and over again, and it is beyond heartbreaking.
There are kidney patients who missed their dialysis appointments and then had to wait all day long, sitting on the floor for their turns to receive the life saving treatments that they needed. Surgeries had to be cancelled and chemo-therapies were missed. Some people lost all of their medications and had to go without them for days, risking lethal side effects in the process. It was and remains an incredibly trying time around here that none of us will soon forget.
The sun has been out for days. The temperature is cooler than it generally is in the Houston area. We spend our time attempting to help as many as we can, but sometimes we have to back off just a bit and rest lest we run out of steam before the job is done. In the meantime our elderly are dealing with so many after effects, not the least of which is a desire to be able to do more to help than they are physically able. In my own case I have received phone calls and messages from loving friends cautioning me to take it easy and get some rest. Somehow thus far I have been able to draw upon reserves of energy that I did not know that I had, but I can feel the weariness of the city setting in among even the youngest.
Everything looks and feels so different and we have had to learn how to relax again and return to routines that somehow don’t feel as important as they once did. As our children go back to school we worry about how they will be. How will they do homework and study without the comfort of their homes? What nightmares are they hiding from us? Are they as muddled as the oldest members of our hometown have sometimes been? How can we be assured that they are as well taken care of as they need to be?
I drove through an area of South Houston near the intermediate school where I spent the bulk of my career teaching. I found myself sobbing convulsively as I drove down one street after another in which every single home had been affected. The piles of debris made the scene appear to be a war zone. I know that most of these poor souls have never had much in the way of wealth other than hard working attitudes and pride in knowing that they have places of their own. I truly found myself feeling the pain of their suffering and then I saw a most amazing sight. At the local elementary school the children and their families were playing on inflatables. They were smiling and having a good time if only for a few moments. There were tents where people were serving food and handing out information on how to find help. I felt a bittersweet sense of hope in this glorious vision among the most horrific ruin.
I later worked at a school on Friday where a pantry had been set up for those who needed the most basic of necessities. The number of volunteers and the outpouring of donations was incredible, causing me to think of something that one of the victims of the torrential rains stated as he was rescued from his flooded home, “There is more love in this city than water.” Indeed that is the case, but we cannot be too quick to change the subject and simply move on. This has been a natural disaster that even a talented screen writer might never have imagined. Together with generous individuals from all across the globe we have tackled the initial challenges of our devastation but there is still so much to do. I find myself praying that we do not just become the cause of the week, for even as things appear to be more and more normal the misery continues. There will be those so severely weakened both physically and psychologically that they will suffer for days and weeks and maybe even months to come. We have to remember them. We have to be ready to help them in every possible way. We have to prove that there really is more love than there was water.