I'm back from rafting the New River in West Virginia. We had an amazing time! The water was high, the sun was warm, the beer was cold, and the gourmet pizza from Pies and Pints was fantabulous! I do have some catching up to do with work, so please welcome NYC Watchdog from A Pile of Dog Bones, who has graciously accepted an offer to Guest Blog on MTMD. I think you'll find this Hurricane Rita tale quite entertaining!
Thanks for reading.
Wednesday September 28, 2005 was R-Day + 4. The sun had woken me up coming through the windshield of my ambulance that was parked in the Texas DOT lot across the street from the Sabine County Hospital. We were entering our official 7th day of deployment, our 3rd day in Sabine, and the 2nd day of depleted rations. Having been diverted from the original deployment plan of stationing in Houston be the Austin EOC on R-Day itself had put the 3 days worth of rations we had brought to good use.
I started the day at our ad-hoc command center, the picnic table. My early morning meeting with the heads of the two other task forces, NY-2 and WV-1, continued where we had left the daily recap meeting the night before on the topic of food. We had been able to secure a case of emergency rations but there was no way to heat them up. We now had confirmation from the EOC that the Wal*Mart in Nagodoches was stocked with emergency supplies, although the food was still questionable. At the very least in my mind we could get a microwave we could operate off the ambulance inverters and perhaps some tents. We remained in agreeance that a mission needed to be sent out and we needed to continue not to tax the already limited resources of the hospital. After the meeting I sat at my bench seat in staging and was handed a Dr. Pepper by Doc Croc.
"Dude I know it ain't Pibbs but we're kinda running on empty in there," he said referring to the vending machine. At this point it really didn't matter, because caffeine was caffeine and I needed the jump start.
"I need you and Big J. We need to fly a mission into Nagodoches to the Wal*Mart. Wake the slumbering beast up." I told Croc.
With a nod Croc was off to the Doctor's private office across the parking lot. Ever the resourceful one, Big J was sleeping on his arrow bed in the lobby of the office in air conditioning. A few minutes later Croc was bounding back across the lot with Big J and another man in tow.
The other man stopped a good ten feet from the table as J and Croc approached. Wearing coveralls over a wife-beater t-shirt and an oil stained hat he was definately a local. Perhaps a local firefighter sent as a possible guide? Perhaps a mechanic looking for fuel?
J sat down opposite me on the table and the wood creaked. I motioned to the man standing off to the side. Jay explained, "He's one of the Doc's patients. He's a Vietnam Vet who's a diabetic and his meds are caught up in the post office that he can't get to because of the fuel situation. Croc says we're runnin' a mission, so I was thinking we could take him with us to the post office to grab his meds." Diabetics have become increasingly dependent on their needles and medications being shipped to them from Canada... which believe it or not was cheaper than getting it in the United States and was a route the HMO's were taking more and more.
"Why not just let him be seen at the hospital?" I asked the obvious question not wanting to ignore the white elephant behind me.
"He don't trust them in there. He only came in to see the Doc but as we all know he won't be back until next week." replied J. The doctor who's office was across from the hospital had been in Arizona for a conference when Rita hit. He had been trying to make his way back but wasn't expected to do so until the end of the week.
"So I guess when you rolled over that's what greeted you this morning which is why your all chipper?" I inquired, looking past J at the man who must have then realized I was glancing him over and smiled showing me the three teeth he had left in his mouth and a whole lot of gum.
"Well, yeah. Not that I slept well because I'm starvin like Marvin. You guys can stuff down these carbs but that stuff'll do me and Kevin in real quick." explained J. J was a diet controlled diabetic who basically followed a high protein and low carb regimen. Kevin was insulin dependent but had the same diet requirements. "Look at the very least we should try. The guy's a vet and he's on of us."
One of us. I didn't need to look again to know what he meant. He was a Vietnam Vet who suffered from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. I looked at Croc who nodded his agreement to J's implication. We had been under a strict order to make any transportation of civillians for emergency situations only. Trips to the supermarket or places of business had been banned because of the fuel shortage. It only made sense considering that we were working in a disaster area. Yet here was a guy in need who had suffered the same way the three of us had for the last 4 years. In fact he had been suffering for quite a bit longer than us.
After a moment of thought I said, "Okay. I can deem this as a preventive measure otherwise he'll end up as an emergency. We need to stop that from happening and if this is what will do it, then so be it." With the decision made the three of them set off in the logistics truck.
It was 8 hours before I would see Croc and J again. In the disaster zone our business is relatively simple... take care of the sick and save some lives. Business was good. We did over 23 911 missions in the County that day, along with a emergency intubation by Rotor Ray in the triage tent for a patient that got medivaced out (anything Rotor Ray touched got flown out... it became the nature of the beast). Everyone was doing admirably with only crackers and some sodas in their stomachs... but morale was dropping and Smoot from WV-1 and I agreed if the Wal*Mart mission didn't come back with something we would need to look further north... perhaps even Arkansas for supplies.
J and Croc pulled back in around 1600. They came back with a bunch of tents, air matresses, batteries, and some sleeping bags. Croc advised me that the food however, was a no go, and neither was the microwave. As they were unloading the Wal*Mart haul I asked J who was unusually quiet how everything went.
"It's all good," he replied.
Croc looked at him and then said, "Dude, you better tell him." Not good.
J looked around and then back at me and said, "Well remember the guy we took?"
"What about him?" I asked with a sinking feeling. Visions of him running off with the company credit card while flapping his gums down the street entered my head.
"Well, the way there he was telling us how he smokes pork. He's got these huge smokers in his yard and if we got him the medicine he would hook us up with some pork," he explained rubbing his hands together. "So when we got to the post office they had his meds. The box was right there on the counter, only he didn't have his ID on him."
"So..." I prodded.
"Well, the guy behind the counter was being a real douche, and Dog, I gotta tell ya I was jonesin' for that pork. So, I snatched the box and we walked out," finished J before quickly turning back to the truck.
"So what your telling me is you committed a Federal Felony by interferring with the US Mail for a piece of pork?" I asked increduously.
J turned back with a huge item wrapped in brown paper. He handed it off to me and it weighed a good twenty pounds. "Dude, I committed a felony for three of these suckers. Not only that, but he's gonna smoke us some more tomorrow. Let those Postal Police come for me tomorrow... but tonight we're eating good!"
A few minutes later the town mortician showed up with a grill in tow and a flatbed full of charcoal and a bunch of hamburger and hot dog rolls from his store. Not only was he the mortician, but he owned the gracery in town as well. While everything in the freezers had gone bad, the bread was still decent and unmoldy. J fired up the grill and began heating up the smoked meat.
Sure enough, the pork shoulder and butt was the best I had ever had. We were able to feed all 76 of our responders off it and the hospital staff. Morale rose considerably since people were able to actually sleep in tents instead of in the hallways of the hospital or the fronts of ambulances... but most importantly they went to bed with full bellies from a hot meal.
Two days later Pork Man arrived with three more pieces. That's when we learned that he had hopes of opening a smoked meat stand/store next to his smokers. He had framed the store out, sinking all his savings from odd jobs into it, but it got wiped away by Rita. He now also faced the prospect of replacing all the windows in the trailer he was living in as well as repairing its roof. On R-Day+8 we took up a collection for him and was able to give him $500 towards his store or windows, whichever he felt he needed more. The man stood there and cried, and hugged us all.
He became a staple of our stay in Sabine County, making us gumbo in a pot Smoot from WV-1 ran over on R-Day+13, then making us Crocodile Jumbalaya with a fresh croc he had caught just for us in the new pot we bought him on R-Day+17, and finally doing an uncountable number of ribs for us the night before we left on R-Day+20. Every visit from the Pork Man, no matter how bad a day we had, was a lifting experience.
Pork Man was a saving grace hidden behind the mask of a PTSD afflicted Vietnam Veteran. He helped us from becoming victims of Hurricane Rita ourselves... and what's a little Federal Felony between friends? He was afterall one of us.
Hurricane Rita, Hurricanes, Hurricane Stories, EMTs, Search and Rescue, Texas, Louisiana, Hurricane Victims