by Robin Petrizzo
1 year ago, something happened that changed my life. Superstorm Sandy was one of the worst storms our area has seen. The news had hyped so many storms before and nothing happened, so my family did not prepare. We live in zone B, so we were not evacuated and I was home that night. It was during my surgery rotation. I retweeted El Bloombito’s quip, “Por favor no que be macho hombre. Stay insidero like un pansy por que tu will be dead muerto!” and watched Phil Lipoff blow off the TV screen when I heard the explosions. A blue green glow streamed through the windows. Then,blackness.
I was mostly disappointed that Facebook chat was down and now I’d be bored out of my mind. At least I’d get a few days off. I guess I could read Surgical Recall… With the electricity out, people began to emerge from their houses and cars frantically drove down my usually silent block. The headlights of the cars revealed the water coming up from the sewers at each corner. This wasn’t surprising, as it often happened when there was heavy rain. My neighbors have a habit of throwing trash into the sewer, clogging it up. But then, we saw the wave.
It came from the direction of the main road, which was strange because there is a large body of water in the opposite direction of that. It blanketed the street in invisible shiny blackness. We had to wait until more cars came down the block to see the progression of the flood. When it rose to the level of SUV headlights, my mother and I ran downstairs to look out the front door only to discover the water creeping up our front path in the likes of the classic horror movie, The Blob.
My mother futilely stuffed towels between the storm door and the front door as I sprung into action. The water was entering the garage with a roar. I threw on my crocs and managed to lift every item on our first floor onto a table or the stairs. The sound of water entering my house was deafening.
“When will it stop?” I asked my parents. For the first time in my life, they replied, “I don’t know”. Images of people stranded on their roofs after Hurricane Katrina came to mind.
Meanwhile, at JFK airport, the workers were ordered to open up their dams. As soon as they did this, the water receded from my neighborhood.
I was stranded in my freezing house with no access to communications, heat, or hot water for several days. After this, I never complained about the OR being cold again. Determined to give my niece and nephew a normal Halloween, I dressed up and went trick or treating with them. We were the only ones celebrating (if you can call it that).
Living in a disaster zone takes its toll. When everything you know is reduced to piles of rubble with cars randomly placed on lawns, the only solution is to go mad. Or get out. So, I did both. I got into my Dodge Stratus, stinking of swamp with wet interior coated in golden orange mud dressed as catwoman. I used a trash bag as a seat cover. With a prayer, I turned the key and pumped the gas. Shockingly, my car started right up. Sloshing around trees and debris, I took refuge at a fellow NYCOMer’s apartment, where I quickly wore out my welcome.
I moved into an on call room at North Shore LIJ. Luckily, their on call rooms are quite nice and since it was my surgery rotation, fresh scrubs were always available. I became the student on call for a while, foolishly leaving my pager number on the white board for residents to call me at any time (and they did). Days later, it snowed and the hospital was full of people who were stranded. My call room was a single. A PA on call in a room with bunk beds turned away an Einstein student who had no place to sleep. I helped carry the extra mattress into my room so she could sleep there with me because I understood how it feels to be homeless.
It took almost a year to renovate my house after Sandy visited. My father and I ended up drilling into the gas tank of my car for fuel (with a fire extinguisher on standby). I ended up getting great evaluations for my surgery clerkship and having the best clerkship experience of my 3rd year by far. As Cheryl Corn always says, “A setback is just a set up for a comeback!” She is right.