Ten Feet and Still Rising

Ten Feet and Still Rising

From Chicken Soup for the Soul Celebrating People Who Make a Difference

Ten Feet and Still Rising

Knowing which way to turn gives you self-confidence. Taking a chance and going the opposite way gives you a chance to see what you are made of.

Bob Perks

BOOM! The skies lit up, and the rain continued to fall. The deafening noise sounded as if bombs were falling, but it was only a natural rainstorm. I wondered what could have so upset the gods, but then I realized that it was just a freak of nature.

Tropical storm Allison kept the rain falling in Houston, Texas, as the TV weathermen cautioned that the storm had stalled, dumping record amounts of rainfall on our city.

Houston is home to the world’s largest medical center, and the hospitals were directly in the path of the storm.

Would the gods spare the hospitals?

Unfortunately, the answer for most of the hospitals was no. The worst hit was Memorial Hermann Hospital, which has approximately 600 beds. Furthermore, the hospital serves as one of only two Level 1 trauma centers and is the only facility in the city that has Life Flight air ambulance helicopter service.

Houston has many bayous, natural and man-made. Their function is to prevent flooding during torrential downpours; however, this storm didn't relent, and the bayous near the medical center rose to dangerously high levels. The underground storm control systems were being severely overloaded. It was only a question of time before the hospitals would be forced to evacuate the patients.

For Memorial Hermann Hospital, that time arrived too quickly. We began evacuating the patients as soon as the water infiltrated the hospital and power was lost. Even the backup generators began to fail after a short period of time. Staff, doctors, emergency medical staff, patients’ families, and volunteers worked together to safely evacuate the hospital.

Many unsung heroes rose to the challenge during that weekend in early June. Many critically ill patients had to be kept alive without electricity to power their ventilators. Nurses, technicians, doctors, staff, and anyone with an extra hand automatically joined the team to keep those patients alive. Workers relentlessly puffed and deflated the ventilators by hand and diligently kept every patient alive.

Evacuation of the hospital continued without power, lights, or elevators. Everyone from the CEO to the cleaning staff who were either already at the hospital or could make it there through the flood carried patients down the stairs to ambulances, or up the stairs to the Life Flight helicopters waiting to transport patients to other hospitals. Many patients were taken to sister hospitals in the system that were not affected so severely by the flood. Still others were taken to hospitals outside the system, some as far away as Austin. These hospitals, in and out of the system, saved our patients’ lives.

Evenually, the rain stopped, and employees who were not at the hospital gradually made their way to the medical center through the drenched streets that only a few hours before had seemed like natural lakes.

As the last patient left for one of the other hospitals, I realized how grim the situation actually was when I saw the baby grand piano, which had been located in the “basement” atrium, floating in the water that was approaching the first floor level.

I was speechless and began to weep. I noticed others crying, also. Before, when we had patients who needed to be evacuated, we were all focused on that vital goal. However, now, we saw just how bad the hospital actually was damaged and we were devastated.

At first, the staff thought the hospital would be closed for no more than a few days, but the engineers uncovered more damage than had initially been thought. Those few days turned into a few weeks, and those few weeks turned into more than a month.

More than 1,500 contractors worked on the hospital twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week, while many of the staff simultaneously assisted at the community hospitals where our patients had been transferred. Everyone was awaiting the day when Memorial Hermann would reopen.

On Tuesday, July 17, 2001, that day arrived. At 9 AM on the helipad, a glorious, meaningful ceremony with many speakers reopened the hospital. It was truly a celebration.

Prior to the flood, Memorial Hermann Hospital was “home” to many, and on that bright sunny day in July we were back. I truly understood what Dorothy from The Wonderful Wizard of Oz meant: “There’s no place like home.”

Michael Jordan Segal

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