On August 25, 2017, a devastating once-in-a-thousand-years hurricane hit Southeast Texas. My city was its epicenter.
August 27, 2017
I’m safe. My loved ones are safe.
I drove to my parents home to weather the storm and thankfully we’ve only had street flooding that hasn’t risen enough to force its way through our doors. The rain stops enough for our street to drain dry before the next round and we haven’t lost electricity or water. We are in the minority in Houston, by luck of geography, and we can’t venture beyond a couple of streets because we’re an island surrounded by submerged highways. If I were to drive back to my apartment I wouldn’t make it-I would encounter four hundred and ninety billion gallons of water. So here I sit, confined within four walls, shrouded by clouds, afraid of the rain that’s menacingly tapping on my windowpane.
We’ve had the news on 24/7. I’ve been non stop scrolling through social media, horrified and distressed about what’s going on. The media coverage is getting to me-I feel like there’s a sense of sensationalism in which they are covering us. A sense of helplessness with the words they choose to use. That’s one thing Texans are not, will never be.
Our phones constantly go off with emergency alerts. Flash flood warnings followed by tornados warnings followed by flash flood warnings that will go on longer than previously anticipated. They come at all hours of the night, lasting throughout the day, with their ominous horn. If it’s not warnings it’s family and friends checking up. If it’s not that, it’s knocking on front doors and doorbells ringing with neighbors asking if there’s light, and water, and food, if everyone is okay. There are people with boats cruising along roads turned rivers and rescuing those devastated by the floods. As the storm rages, I see communities becoming stronger, rising to the challenge and raising each other up. I look around and see a lot of perseverance, a lot of praying, and a lot of humanity. There’s unity, and hope, and a lot of bracing for what our TVs tell us will get much worse.
In between the raining it’s eerily quiet. We’re all waiting for what we don’t know is coming. The recovery process is going to be hell: houses are gone, major roads have turned into sinkholes, pockets of the city are disjointed. Even the hospitals I work at are flooded, trying to find a haven for their patients.
I don’t really know where this post is going-if I’m trying to depict how bad the situation is in Houston or how freaking proud I am of my city for standing up. I don’t know if I’m trying to bring ease or hope. I just wanted to write, to do something beyond sit and wait as rain menacingly taps on my windowpane.
But I have one.
August 28, 2017
This is the Texas Medical Center. It’s been my home for the past two years. It’s under water. I’ve been getting email updates from my apartment complex: the basement is flooded, there’s no hot water, the electricity is out, and the elevators aren’t working. If I had stayed I would have been cut off. I’m so incredibly blessed.
Just a couple of days ago before the storm I was complaining to anyone who asked about having to do two weeks of Urology instead of Ophthalmology.
Now I’m locked in a house with no means of getting out (albeit safe), getting emails daily about clinic cancellations with no start date in sight, urging us to stay home, and be safe, and not try to be reckless heroes.
Wish I could take all those words back.
We’re just waiting, watching, praying, waiting.
August 29, 2017
For the first time in five days sunlight filtered into my room. For the first time in five days rain did not pour down. The city watched as the sun set, light dancing off pockets of water, and it was glorious. There are shelters opening up around the city with more volunteers and donations than they can handle.
Heart and Soul. This city inspire you.
August 31, 2017
When I entered a clinic for the first time as MS1, I nervously put a stethoscope around my neck and looked at Dr. N with eyes that told her I have no idea what I’m doing and I’m scared. She grabbed my hand, knocked on a door, told the patients that I, Dr. Zainab, will be asking a few questions, and pushed me in. When I finished she threw me a smile. You’re in this now, she said. No going back.
She taught me to build my Doctor’s Bag. No matter where I go, I should have my tools with me.
A couple of months ago I was presenting a patient on rounds. My attending was a particularly difficult attending and I was trying hard to answer all of his questions correctly. At the end of my presentation he asked for an assessment. I told him, ending with I’m just a med student. A nurse with forty years of experience sat beside me, swiveled her chair and mine so we were facing each other, and scolded that I was not “just” a med student.
I have never used “just” to describe any part of me since.
Somewhere in Houston, a makeshift clinic was stocked with enough donations to be fully functional. The whole shelter is brimming with donations. It was a sight-to be side by side with the leaders of my youth, to see them older, to see me grown, to see bags piled high enough to touch the ceiling. It was a blessing, to have my roots firmly grounded in home, to see my home persisting.
Somewhere in Houston volunteers are constantly checking their phone to monitor water levels from released flood reservoirs that are putting their house at risk, yet are still refusing to leave the side of those in need. They are getting updates by the minute but their face is calm and their voice collected. Even at the brink of losing everything they won’t abandon the ones who have.
Somewhere in Houston water is finally draining from houses and receding into the streets, then bayous, then wherever waters flows. Homeowners are starting to inspect what the floods left, looking for what tangible memories can be salvaged. They are prepared for nothing. Good will is putting on gloves, stepping into rain boots, showing up and tearing down walls. These are not just walls of damaged houses, but walls of gender, of religion, of race, of sexual orientation, and political ideology, of everything that once gave us opportunity to divide. The city is opening, the sun is gleaming. It is casting it’s rays on unity, on hope, on community.
I share these memories because I’ve been reflecting about what Houston has been going through this past week. The greatest thing you have to offer the world, the tool you must carry with you always, is your heart: the chambers of you that contain your passion, your compassion, your empathy. Your grit and resilience, your ability to extend a hand without thinking twice, to not release your grip on those who need it. It is navigating disasters, together; healing our broken pieces, together; rebuilding, together. It is everything pulling Houston out of this.
Eid has arrived, a day celebrating the strength in sacrifice. There are people who have lost everything yet are looking for what more they can give. And you-there is no part of you that is “just”-you have more to offer this world than you think.
Thank you Houston, for showing the world what it means to go do great, go be great, and how to do it together.
Now here comes recovery.