Commentary

Letter from an associate editor: Hurricane Harvey’s wrath


 

It seemed appropriate this month for me to step aside for the Editor’s commentary and provide a forum for one of our associate editors to talk about his experience during Hurricane Harvey.

John I. Allen, MD, MBA, AGAF
Editor in Chief

We knew that a powerful storm was coming, but very few anticipated the widespread destruction Hurricane Harvey would bring. Houston is no stranger to floods, but the amount of water that Harvey unleashed was record-breaking. Areas that had never flooded were underwater, evacuations were commonplace; the devastation was heart-breaking. In the midst of significant personal tragedy, Houston came together. Neighbors took in flooded colleagues, personal boats were used for rescues, and many braved impassable roads to donate clothes, food, labor and medical aid. Shelters across the city were assisted by volunteers; community groups collected and coordinated distribution of supplies. Medical teams were mobilized to treat chronically ill patients who evacuated without their medications or those injured while escaping the floods.

At one of the largest medical centers in the world, floodgates constructed after Tropical Storm Allison kept the waters at bay. And physicians, nurses, janitors, and other employees slept in hospitals for days to provide care to our patients during the worst of the floods. Those who relieved them worked long hours to see the many patients rescheduled in the aftermath of the storm. After-work crews of neighbors continue to go from house to house removing flooded floor boards and ripping out drywall. Houston came together.

Dr. Gyanprakash A. Ketwaroo
Dr. Gyanprakash A. Ketwaroo
Unfortunately, these massive storms are now all too frequent, as we show solidarity with those who recently suffered in Florida, Puerto Rico, and the Caribbean from Hurricane Irma. Lessons have been learned as with prior natural disasters, including consideration of hospital-owned boats to maintain access to care while the streets remain flooded. As we slowly return to normal operations, with areas still underwater, the outpouring of support from friends and strangers across the world has been magnificent. The magnitude of loss and the psychological toll are immense. As physicians, we are guided by a professional duty to help our patients. But that ideal of serving others is seen most vividly in those small acts of kindness, of neighbor helping neighbor, that are commonplace as we recover and rebuild. Houston Strong.

Dr. Ketwaroo is an assistant professor in the division of gastroenterology and hepatology at Baylor College of Medicine, Houston, and an advanced endoscopist at the Michael E. Debakey VA Medical Center in Houston. He is an associate editor for GI & Hepatology News.