By Jackie Olive
I hail from the foothills of Los Angeles County, where natural disaster comes in the form of forest fires and droughts. Having lived in Houston for over four years for college and now medical school, I’ve learned that disaster here comes in practically the opposite form. Hurricane Harvey was the first significant tropical storm that I have experienced.
Initially, my colleagues and I hadn’t predicted the magnitude of the devastation that our city and neighboring Texas coastline would ultimately face. I remember we first became worried when we heard of friends who were leaving town and grocery stores that had completely empty shelves. We later became shocked when we couldn’t leave our homes because the water levels had dangerously risen and cars had been deserted in the middle of streets.
The immediate aftermath of the hurricane was devastating, as homes were destroyed, families relocated, and stress levels rose high. However, the road to recovery appeared bright, as the volunteer response was overwhelming, even to the point of being in excess at times. Temporary shelters at George R. Brown Convention Center and NRG Stadium actually had to send potential volunteers away. The positive energy and generous spirit of the Houston community were palpable, and it was absolutely vital to cultivate such camaraderie in these most trying of circumstances.
We may think that the biggest hurdle has been overcome. After all, months have passed since the hurricane wreaked immense physical damage on our city. Yet, I’ve learned to appreciate that healing is a dynamic and lengthy process. Sustainable recovery of this kind requires months, even years.
As members of a service-oriented profession like medicine, we anticipate the days when we can discharge our patients after witnessing their labs return to normal or wounds fade. And as surgeons and surgical trainees, we, in particular, feel encouraged when the procedure goes well and we are able to acknowledge the immediate fix and patient’s relief of symptoms. Subsequently, however, what happens after he or she is discharged? Where is home? How will he get there? Who will take care of her if there is a complication? I observe a parallel between post-operative care at some public hospitals and post-Harvey relief efforts: those with fewer resources, including various indigent groups, have a longer road to recovery. Houston’s diversity is one of its strengths, but we must also recognize that it comes with a heightened responsibility to maintain the health of this community.
We are continuing to rebuild homes on the ground in Houston, but I would like to offer the opportunity for others to help in a variety of ways. Most charities prefer monetary donations, as these are more flexible to accommodate changing needs. Please visit this site for specific references to organizations that are supporting the post-Harvey relief effort. I am personally also raising funds for the hurricane relief efforts as I train for the Houston Marathon in January 2018. Any form of support is dearly appreciated and will make a positive long-term impact on our community!
Ultimately, while donations of this kind are always welcomed and productive, it is also important to care for one another on a daily basis. It shouldn’t take a tragedy to build compassion and empower generous acts. I’m humbled by what’s already been done to rebuild our amazing city, and I hope that we may all stay engaged in the future stages of healing from Harvey and other natural disasters throughout the world.
A message from the AWS Blog Team: This is part of a series of blog posts from surgeons who wish to share their experience during these trying times. If you wish to share your story, you may email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Jackie K. Olive is a first-year medical student at Baylor College of Medicine. She graduated from Rice University in May 2017 with degrees in biological sciences and policy studies. Jackie is an aspiring surgeon and researches surgical outcomes and therapies in cardiac regeneration. She is also passionate about healthcare and public health advocacy initiatives.
Our blog is a forum for our members to speak, and as such, statements made here represent the opinions of the author and are not necessarily the opinion of the Association of Women Surgeons.