In the wake of Hurricane Sandy, the destruction of the city and the destruction within peoples’ lives is devastating. As a chaplain, I am used to hearing the stories of individual traumas, but I was not prepared for the widespread impact this disaster is having on the psyches of those in the tri-state area. I have spent the past week listening to patients, families and staff tell their stories as a way to process all that is going on with them. This is some of what I have seen and heard.

Hospital staff put their lives on hold to work tirelessly. Sleeping on floors, sometimes not sleeping at all. Not going home. And in some cases not knowing if they have a place to go home to.

“I’ve been told my house was washed away. What are you gonna do, you know? At least I still have my mom, unlike them (motioning to a patient who had just passed and her family) I really have nothing to complain about. I am lucky.”

Other staff members were at home in areas that were heavy hit and carrying those memories with them as they sought to care for their patients.

“That night keeps playing on repeat in my mind. I thought my husband and I were going to die. The wind blew the windows in, it was dark and there was glass flying everywhere. I just wish I could forget what it was like.”

Many of the patients who were evacuated from other hospitals talked about being terrified in the midst of chaos. Reports have said things were smooth and orderly, which I do not doubt, but patients are vulnerable to begin with and those vulnerabilities were exposed as they were carried down flights of stairs in the early morning.

“I don’t think I’ll ever get over that trauma. They made me lie down in this sled, it was so uncomfortable and I thought for sure they were going to drop me. The only thing that helped was I had a terrible stomach ache, and I focused on that pain instead of what was happening around me.”

With the flooding and loss of mass transit, the hospital was very quiet. Family and visitors were unable to be at their loved ones’ sides.

“The doctor told me I have two weeks. I’m dying. All I want to do is go to hospice, and I can’t do that. And my son and daughter can’t get here. I can’t even talk to them on the phone, all the lines are down.”

I often have patients tell me they can’t watch the news because it depresses them.  The coverage of the Hurricane took that to a whole other level.

“I cannot watch the news anymore. I can’t keep seeing all the awful things and hearing about all the deaths. How could God do this?”

In a city not unfamiliar with disaster, I’ve been hearing lots of comparison to 9/11.

“We were prepared for a terrorist attack. We were not prepared for this. That’s why so many people didn’t take the mayor seriously and evacuate, because they never thought a hurricane could hit here the way it did.” 

The overall theme is one of helplessness. That’s the same theme I hear as people navigate their diagnoses and the reality of the human condition.

In the face of helplessness, here are ways of helping:

Give    Act    Pray.

And in the words of the great theologian, Bruce Springsteen, “With these hands, I pray Lord for the strength…for the faith…rise up.”

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