HOUSTON – FOX News medical contributor Dr. Manny Alvarez reported on the public health crisis wrought by Hurricane Katrina for FNC while volunteering at a medical shelter in Baton Rouge, and returned to the Gulf Coast to help prepare for Hurricane Rita.
Friday, Sept. 23 ...Waiting for Rita. It sounds like a big-budget Hollywood movie starring Julia Roberts and Michael Douglas, but this wasn't a movie. Waiting for Hurricane Rita was my latest assignmnet for Fox News.
I arrived in Houston two days prior to the scheduled arrival of Rita, a category 5 hurricane heading toward the east coast of Texas. Rita was expected to inflict massive damage that would match the devastation of Hurricane Katrina, that had hit New Orleans and the Mississippi coast just a few weeks back. You could sense the worry and anxiety of the people of Houston. From the airport workers to the taxi drivers, the tension was palpable. Once again, nature was leveling the playing field among human beings. A person's "status" becomes irrelevant when survival and evacuation are paramount.
More than one million people heeded the call from authorities to evactuate the areas where Rita was predicted to hit the hardest. It was an evacuation on a biblical scale, a modern day Exodus. The traffic jams were of the like of which most had never been encountered. There was no movement for hours as millions of people jammed the freeways at the same time. Many ran out of gas as their cars idled in the intense noon-day heat. They were stranded without fuel in the urban wilderness, yet surrounded by Houston's refineries and oil producers. How utterly ironic a situation, I thought. It made me think of Samuel Taylor Coleridge's "Rime of the Ancient Mariner,"...Water, Water Everywhere, Nor Any Drop To Drink .
The hotels were packed with people trying to settle in, having brought with them as many personal belongings as possible. Pets looked as dazed and confused as their owners.
Upon meeting up with my broadcast crew, we headed out to scout some of the health care preparations being made to hopefully thwart a repeat of the type of health care disaster wrought by hurricane katrina. We came upon the Texas Women's Hospital, one of the largest women's health care facilities in Houston. An average 8,000 babies are delivered here every year. I was quite interested to see what sort of preparations they had made, and were continuing to make, to deal with the anticipated effects of Hurricane Rita.
This hospital and staff were totally prepared to ride out the storm and provide the necessary medical care. The staff explained how they had multiple back-up generators to maintain emergency hospital functions during an electrical failure, regardless of the cause. They had ample stocks of food, water and medicines. Their neonatal intensive care unit had close to 130 premature babies.
These admirals of medicine had also made certain that there were enough staff on board, which included doctors and nurses from surrounding areas. The staff, patients— and in many cases, their families— were all staying at the hospital. A special space had been created for children who were not patients. Even pets had an area set up to keep them safe.
During this massive organizational effort, job descriptions were no longer applicable. It was a comprehensive, monumental volunteer effort on the part of human beings to lend comfort and keep each other safe. Doctors and nurses worked overtime, pulling multiple shifts. Changing diapers was everyone's job. The positive attitude, and the effective steps taken to avoid as much calamity as possible, had a calming effect on everyone there.
The goodness and kindness of the human spirit once again showed its face, and beat back that other side of humanity, the evil and darkness that we often see in times of crisis. It is altogether thrilling to witness this spirit emerge when we are faced with the possibility of devastation, and therefore it is all the more shameful when this spirit subsides as the danger passes.
This isn't the first, and most assuredly won't be the last time, humanity faces the wrath of nature. Perhaps with the passage of time and the lessons learned for the future, we may yet learn to smile and comfort each other, regardless of the circumstances.
As I take my leave from the hospital I face an empty city, but leave behind a band of angels at the Texas Women's Hospital, and always, the hope of a better tomorrow.
My tour of the hospital has left me exhausted, but I have a joyful and admiring heart for what I have just witnessed. So, I am waiting for Rita. Wait!!! I think I hear someone at my door. I think Rita has arrived...
Do you have a health or medical question for Dr. Manny? Email him, and he might answer your question in this space.
Click on the Video box above to watch Dr. Manny's reports on Hurricane Katrina.
FOX News medical contributor Dr. Manny Alvarez is the Chairman of the Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology and Reproductive Science at Hackensack University Medical Center in Hackensack, N.J., and is Adjunct Professor of Obstetrics and Gynecology at New York University School of Medicine in New York City. He appears on FNC's daytime programs FOX & Friends and Dayside.