When a hurricane comes a-calling

My grandmother, my father’s mother, was diagnosed with cancer when I was only a child. She was told she had only months to live. She wrote a note to the family and toured the world, I assume saying her last goodbyes to friends, before settling into a house on an island in the middle of the Caribbean Sea known as St. Martin or Sint Maarten depending on which side you were on.

ST-Martin-026-Edit (8575653057)
By Chris Favero from USA (ST-Martin-026-Edit.jpg), via Wikimedia Commons
I visited her there once with my father, months, if not years, after her original prognosis. I guess the climate suited her more than the cancer. I remember her out on the porch under a brilliant blue sky in light summer clothes, though it was mid-January. She sipped her coffee, looked out onto the horizon, and said, “it’s just another G-D day in paradise.” Except she used the full phrase. My grandmother was not one to adjust her style for children.

And so it was – paradise, that is. So much so, that my aunt lived there at the time as well along with two of my cousins, both near my age. They invited me to visit their school so they could introduce their American cousin to their friends, but I couldn’t fit it in. There was simply too much else to do, like dodging incoming airplanes or sitting on the beach.

Maho Beach, near Princess Juliana Airport, Caribbean island of Saint Martin-8Feb2008 (3)
Not exactly the image of relaxing on the beach that immediately comes to mind (By alljengi from Edinburgh via Wikimedia Commons)
My dad rented a catamaran which my aunt helped crew. It was the most gorgeous boat (excuse me, yacht) I’d ever been on with window in each of the hulls allowing you to see beneath the turquoise waves and a mesh net over the top where you could enjoy the ocean’s spray as well as the journey.

We let the wind take us to another nearby island where engines and bits of WWII fighter planes still dot the landscape. To both my amusement and embarrassment, we also learned that particular island also happened to be a stop for a nude cruise, giving a whole new meaning to the term, history buff.

We spent the rest of my visit scuba diving where I was given the nickname ‘she who sings with the fishes,’ as I had come up with the brilliant (and I now know completely ridiculous) idea I could extend the oxygen in my tank by humming. That’s also how I learned sound travels farther in water.

I have beautiful memories of that trip and always intended to go back and share it with the family. Maybe we could go one year when our work isn’t so crazy or the next when the kids aren’t quite so young. One cousin still lives there. We had plenty of time to visit.

But a category five hurricane with 185 mph winds decided to beat us to it.

Wednesday, September 6th, I spend a good portion of the day stalking the social media feeds of my extended family. Hurricane Irma had made landfall. My aunt had lost contact with her son, my island cousin, around six am. His brother, now stateside, forwarded links to island webcams showing a vaguely tree-like shadow shaking in an otherwise gray nothingness. The image wasn’t exactly comforting.

I clicked on another link. This one had a slightly clearer picture and I was relieved to an extent until I saw a notice posted above the video. It was only a loop of earlier footage, taken prior to complete loss of power and connectivity.

Nearly the entire day passed before we got the news – my island cousin had checked in from the other side of the storm. He’d lost his roof but helped rescue another person stuck in what was left of their home. Looters roamed, but he was making his way across the island with a chainsaw and a 4×4. He was okay, though the same couldn’t be said of the island I’d once known.

In the US mainland, we waited as the hurricane hit Antigua and Barbuda, Saint Barthelemy, Anguilla, Saint Kitts and Nevis, the US Virgin Islands of St. Croix, St. Thomas and St. John, the British Virgin Islands as well. Then Puerto Rico, the Dominican Republic, Haiti, which never seems to be able catch a break, the Bahamas, Turks, Caicos, and Cuba too, resulting in the deaths of 68 thus far [82 as of September 15th] and rendering thousands homeless. (Source: Don’t forget about us: Irma’s desperate Caribbean survivors, CNN & Irma’s Staggering Toll: At Least 68 Dead, Billions In Damage From the Caribbean to the U.S., The Weather Channel)

When the storm finally arrived on the mainland, no longer a category five, some people said they were unimpressed. However, I say, when a hurricane comes a-calling but decides at the last minute to turn away, the word you are looking for is grateful. Because as the last few days proved, when a storm like this comes to your door, it is anything but another day in paradise.

For those wishing to do more, I would encourage you to check out the facebook group SXMabroad which is a group whose goal is to A) provide a consolidated list of reputable organization to for the purpose of financial donations B) organize groups of people who have the time and ability go and help re-build and C) do whatever this group can to encourage tourism to rebound as quickly as appropriate.

When a hurricane comes a-calling www.alliepottswrites.com
Infrared storm image by NASA, via Wikimedia Commons


You don’t look so good – a healthy reminder

background image courtesy of www.flickr.com

The hacking, wheezing and overall not sleeping finally got to me. I took myself to the doctor thinking I would be in and out of the office in no time flat. I wasn’t. Though I had gone to a clinic with a word meaning speed in its name, it would seem that I wasn’t the only one seeking medical treatment that particular afternoon. The waiting room was packed.

After two hours sitting in a stiff pleather chair surrounded by the sounds of other sniffles, groans, and easy rock ballads, the battery icon on my phone turned red. Well, shoot. Faced with no other easy distraction, I looked around the room. I found myself beginning to question exactly how sick I really was feeling. What’s a little cough? I mean I had made it through an entire week already. I could make it another night. What’s the worst that could happen?

My rationalization grew louder, certain as I was that the doctor was going to tell me that I’d caught a simple virus. I knew he or she would just have to rest and run its course, things I was well equipped to do from the comfort of my home. So why continue to wait around in a room staring at my thumbs or other sick people when I could be back with my family?

I walked to the front desk. “I think I am going to leave,” I told the nurse. She blinked. Clearly, this was not a statement she was used to hearing.

She looked out into the waiting room. “But you’re next.”

I sighed. I’d been there two hours already but had only seen three patients go back. My place in the queue meant little. I followed her gaze. Two more patients had arrived after I had. A girl, barely older than my son, lay draped across her father’s shoulders. An older couple – a woman who could barely sit up, and her partner, a small man who’d caught my eye when they’d entered the room and had attempted to make small talk with me as if I was a life raft while clutching her hand.

“But there are other patients here that need the spot more than I do,” I said, and I meant it. I’d be fine.

I’m not sure the nursing staff was convinced. “We are equipped to deal with everyone. All we need is for a room to become available.”

“Right, which is why I would like one of them to go in my place.”

“But you’ve already paid.”

This was true, and my copay for a visit like this wasn’t cheap. “Can’t you just cancel the transaction or refund the money?”

“No. Once you’ve paid, you would have to wait for a check to be mailed at the end of the month.”

Well, that was a wrinkle I hadn’t quite considered. As I mulled over my response, another nurse appeared, taking the decision from me. “If you’ll come back with me now.”

I followed her through the hall and into a back room where we discussed my symptoms, each of which sounded more and more petty to my ears. So, I have had a cough and can’t sleep. I’ve had a fever and the chills, but the fever goes away and sure, I have shortness of breath and a rattle in my lungs you can hear from space, but I’m fine or will be soon. I’ve waited this long, I can wait a little longer. Really, why don’t you go and help the others?

The doctor looked at me as if she couldn’t quite determine if I’d insulted her professionalism or simply grown two heads. “You don’t need to worry about them. We’ll take care of them too.”

But I did worry. It is the downside of knowing you’ve been pretty lucky in life. You can always imagine those who have had it worse. In my mind, I saw the little girl calling for a mother who hadn’t yet arrived and her father pacing around the room at a loss as to what to do. I saw the little old man struggling to stay strong for his partner waiting to be told that their lives wouldn’t be the same. These stories played out in my head, each more tragic than the one before. I knew my story couldn’t compare – that the doctor would write me off as a waste of her time before she closed the door. Or at least that’s what I convinced myself would happen.

“Now take a deep breath,” the doctor said, pulling me out of my imagination.

Two minutes later, I learned I wasn’t fine. I had pneumonia (aka fun stuff).

While I still feel guilty thinking of those other faces in the room, it doesn’t change the fact that I was sick and deserved to be cared for too. If I had given into my doubts and gone home, those other patients might have been seen fifteen minutes earlier, but I would have been at greater risk of secondary infection, hospitalization, or even worse. The guilt I felt at delaying the other patients’ never-at-risk treatment by fifteen minutes would have paled compared against potential outcomes I now realized I had avoided by allowing myself to come first.

It turns out I needed more than just a day off. I also needed an antibiotic, a steroid, and an inhaler, but most of all, it seems I needed a reminder that while yes, I am often lucky, that doesn’t mean bad things can still happen. It was also a healthy reminder that every now and then I need to put myself first and not feel guilty about it. Because while generosity of spirit is always admirable, strength of body can be a good thing too.