Ten years ago I decided I wanted to become a doctor. At least that’s where it started.
Ten years ago this weekend, Hurricane Katrina destroyed the city that I had grown to love. I was part of Tulane EMS, assisting student refugees in Jackson, Mississippi on the day the storm made landfall. The day I left Jackson I drove several hours to a friend’s home in Birmingham, Alabama, while the levees suffered the catastrophic failure that doomed the city. I was unaware of the breach, until we opened the door to his home and saw his family surrounding the television in disbelief, tears in their eyes, and not a single word on their lips to express the sinking feeling in their hearts.
I was helpless in Alabama. I spent the next several months watching the news with the rest of the country, emailing friends providing relief throughout Louisiana, trying to comfort them from the terrors they were seeing. I was trying to convince them, and myself, that the looting, the starving, and the hopelessness caused by such a massive tragedy would get better. I knew that I couldn’t feel that way forever.
Five months later, we were allowed to return to the city that hope forgot. We, and so many others, returned because we wanted it to be better. We wanted to pick it up and put it back together. For my part, I worked hard on the ambulance service, providing care where it was needed.
The months and years that followed in New Orleans showed time and time again how important emergency medicine, both pre-hospital and in the ED, can be. I have countless sources of inspiration from patients I’ve met and things I’ve seen during the renewal of that magical city: A bystander holding pressure on a stranger’s bleeding wound after a car hit a cyclist, or neighbors helping lift a patient who couldn’t walk. For every looting or shooting, I saw loving and selflessness from the back of my ambulance. I saw a unified front against suffering. Nothing has ever been as gratifying.
That is, until I started my emergency medicine residency. When I’m working hard on a busy shift, or when I feel the burn-out creeping in, I remember why I started down this path. Like so many other ED doctors, I work because I want to see a change in front of me, to feel like I’m contributing, like I’m making a difference. When we’re in a resuscitation, or that next sick patient rolls through the doors, I feel that same sense of duty that I felt on the ambulance, but I feel it shared among every other staff member in the room. That feeling of helplessness is replaced with gratitude that I have a means to make a difference.
I. Love. This. Job. And I have the people of New Orleans, who put a whole city on their shoulders, to thank for it. They have taught me, motivated me, and inspired me for ten years to be my best, and I won’t forget it. I wouldn’t be here without them.