In the aftermath of a storm, people help one another
By M. P. Ravindra Nathan, MD, FACC

After several days of nervous preparations, it was a mini miracle for Hernando County that Hurricane Charley made an unexpected turn and slammed into Punta Gorda and Port Charlotte.

While I could breath a bit easier, the news from some of my friends hit by Charley wasnąt good. It took me three days to contact them by telephone.

"My beautiful house is totaled," one of my friends lamented. "We tried to salvage what we could and took them to the storage. Now, we are living with our friends."

"The porches of houses from this entire row were washed away," another told me.

Brooksville Regional Hospital and other area hospitals sent several staff members to Charlotte Memorial Hospital to help out. As soon as the call for help came, Sharon Stevens, our ICU supervisor got as many people from different departments, put them all in a Winnebago and drove to Punta Gorda.

A total of 16 people including nurses, respiratory technicians and maintenance engineers made the trip. Some went to Haines City as well.

"Charlotte Memorial Hospital was badly hit. By the time we reached Punta Gorda, they had managed to evacuate a lot of patients from Charlotte Memorial to Leehigh Acres and they sent us there. That hospital was functioning well but some nurses had already worked 20 hours non-stop and they needed some relief," Stevens said.

"Did they expect to see you?" I asked.

"Boy, were they happy to see us! Actually most of them had already worked for 24 hours non-stop. So, we told them that we would cover all the critical areas for the next 24 hours, so they can step back and plan their next strategy. They really appreciated that," Stevens said.

Because the storm turned course quickly, Charlotte Memorial couldnąt be evacuated fast enough. One patient woke up in the middle of the night soaking wet from the water that blew at him through shattered glass windows.

He was truly scared.

Although Charley didnąt hit Hernando County, plenty of repercussions were felt here too. One of my patients couldnąt get her dialysis done on Friday, the day Charley was expected to arrive and had to be admitted on Sunday with lungs full of fluid. Another said during his recent office visit: "You know, I didnąt want to move from my little home. So, I boarded up all my glass windows with plywood. Had to drill holes into the brick front."

I knew with his heart problems and frail body that wasnąt easy. "I am happy you did well," I said.

"Now, I donąt want to take them down till the hurricane season is over. But the house is so dark," he lamented.

Just when things began returning to normal, Hurricane Frances arrived with all its fury!

Although reduced to a tropical storm in Hernando, it was enough to cause pain and panic. Several thousands were left without power and water for almost a week. I called our radio station to complain since I had to go to the hospital frequently and the Department of Public Works sent a crew immediately to clear the roadblocks.

We got our power back after three days but some of my friends werenąt that lucky. Fallen trees, flooded roadways, damaged houses and a big fire, which burned down a famous restaurant in Homosassa as the owner tried to hook up a generator Š the list of damage goes on. I got stuck in the mud and muck a couple of times as I tried to negotiate my car around a fallen tree blocking the road in front of my house.

It will be a long time before life can return to normal for all of us affected by Charley and Frances. Think of a world without electricity or water for a week or more! Many of my friends in Punta Gorda were using the old-fashioned portable gas stoves. Some used pool water for bathrooms and toilets. "The five families in our row have made a pact to help each other. Everybody cooks a dish daily and we all kind of eat together at night. It is hard," one my friends said.

Natural disasters such as Charley and Frances make us all realize that life is fragile. But also I am impressed with the resilience of human spirit and how people help one another when such disasters strike.

Cardiologist Dr. M. P. Ravindra Nathan lives in Brooksville.

Read September's health story

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