On route back from Chicago, Hubs gets a call. From a coworker who happens to be a psychologist. He’s giving a lecture tomorrow on Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) after natural disasters and major crises, and he wants to discuss this topics with the Family Medicine residents. Physicians and other men and women like police officers and firefighters can be perceived as invincible during a crisis. Rick Vickers helped hospital staff walk through the aftermath of 9/11 and the 1990 Avianca plane crash in Oyster Bay. He’s keenly aware that when doctors get flooded with patients hungry to share stories of their losses and heartaches, someone needs to turn the tables and say, “What’s up doc?” to help the physicians process their personal experiences as well. After all, they’re only human. In turn, the residents will hopefully be able to use the same line of questioning and counselling with their patients in the coming days and months post Sandy and all her side effects.
“Would you want to share some reflections on what life was like during and after Hurricane Andrew?” Rick asks Hubs.
“Of course.” Hubs remembers certain key details of the ’92 disaster like it was yesterday. Some is fuzzy. [A normal part of PTSD involves blurred memories.] He and his family lost nearly everything. It’s a miracle that they’re alive. Really.
I think God saved him for me.
Hubs has told me bits and pieces of the story so many times during the past seventeen years that I feel like I know it by heart. When Sun and his brother heard Andrew was coming, they began to plan a Hurricane Party. They were teenagers who had recently moved to Miami from Chicago and delayed school openings and grocery store mobs only meant one thing: Buy some Ding-Dongs and Root Beer before they run out.
Then the brothers ventured over to the killer lines at Home Depot to buy wood. Everyone was doing it. But they used up most of the wood helping neighbors and friends board up their windows. By the time they returned back home, they were too tired to do their own. So they went to sleep in the same room. It was not even midnight.
An hour later, the sound of fierce winds woke them up and the first sight their sleepy eyes saw was the bedroom window bowing in and out like a sheet of paper fluttering in a fan. Were they dreaming?
Before they descended the steps to awaken their father, they noticed the attic trap door. It bounced up and down uncontrollably like someone was trying to break in from the roof. That someone had a name. His name was Andrew.
Appa (Sun and Arul’s dad) was asleep on the living room couch. [Their mom was at her hospital, working the night shift as a nurse.] The sons shook Appa awake and raced around the house to see the same phenomenon happening to all the windows. The patio doors looked the eeriest. Like a scene out of Twilight Zone, the glass doors were bowing in and out like ocean waves. Glass wasn’t supposed to bend like that!
At around 2:30 AM, the boys decided the tiny bathroom was too claustrophobic for three men to huddle in and changed locations to the garage. Water was already pouring in through different corners of the garage roof, so they dragged a mattress in, placing it under their ping-pong table and laid down to keep what little semblance of dry they could manage. Then they waited, with flashlights, snacks, and candles and listened to the Appa’s battery-operated radio for the constant updates of Andrew’s path outside their walls.
At one point, Appa left the garage to retrieve the forgotten matches. A huge aluminum beam, a part of their neighbor’s house, came crashing through the glass kitchen windows and just missed Appa’s head. He ran back to the garage to take cover.
The last thing they heard before the radio went out [when the radio towers lost power] was the coast guard clocking the winds at close to 200 miles/hour. The truth is, no one will ever know how high the wind speeds peaked at, because the instruments failed shortly before 4:00AM.
As the radio announcer detailed the hurricane’s path and the location of the eye, predicting that the eye would make landfall 20 miles south of DownTown Miami and continue southwesterly. Sun looked at his brother. “He’s talking about us. We’re right between Homestead and Downtown. In the direct path of Andrew.”
Then the radio went quiet.
Twenty minutes later, the corner of the garage closest to the driveway began to curl and lift. Water poured in like a waterfall, and the mattress and the boys were all soaked. The ping-pong table was like an umbrella with bent spokes and holes that they held onto more for comfort than function. They were surrounded by water, loud noises, and the sound of their pouding hearts and silent prayers. The future never seemed so uncertain. Sun really thought, this was it. They were going to die.
Miracle of miracles, moments later, the winds stopped and the storm had passed. The boys and their father had survived. But this was just the beginning. After almost an hour of effort, they finally pushed their way out of the garage door back into the house where debris had piled up against them right up to the roof. The house was a wreck. Most of the roof was gone. Furniture was missing. And mangled furniture that belonged to neighbors lay in the middle of the mess.
The initial shock of the devastation that lay all around them paralyzed the boys and their father. Tears were shed. Prayers of thankfulness were breathed. They were alive. It was time to give hugs. And then begin the long process of what would take months. The clean up.
**Come back tomorrow for Part Two of “From Andrew to Sandy… The After-Math.”
**How are you doing after Sandy? Do you have a natural disaster story you want to share…