Losing all they owned, suffering in silence, initially denigrated by many others who were in a position to help, and perhaps ultimately set aside by contemporary U.S. culture, most Katrina survivors will never be acknowledged for who they were—American heroes. The evacuees were strong for their neighbors and families not to gain recognition, but because their strength of heart required that they endure. And endure they did—with dignity.
The stories comprising most of this book reveal not just the best of the American character, but the affirmation of the survivors’ perseverant spirits. The light generated from their efforts just needed time to shine through the dark mists of prejudice and negativism through
which they were initially viewed.
Many clinic workers in Houston volunteered their time, energy, and the best of their spirits and attitudes to first stand for and then stand with the evacuees. These tireless workers didn’t just reflect the light from the evacuees; they were their own source of inspiration and
revelation. This book revolves around these twin suns which together shine light on us all.
Gripping as many of these stories are, hard documentation for them is impossible. While I was the treating physician for many of these survivors, only their names, their physical ailments, and the treatment of those conditions are recorded in their medical charts. In accordance with the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA), I am prohibited under federal law from collecting and transporting any personal information (e.g., patient names and personal information) from health facilities for anything other than official business. Several additional conversations with the survivors were not formal patient-physician interactions at all, but conversations in the general evacuation room, of which there is no official record whatsoever. In addition, as in any emergency room, the treatment circumstances were sometimes urgent, and commonly dire, further precluding any documentation.
Thus it was impossible for me to keep or report any evacuee’s real name, characteristics or treatment details in this memoir, and I have no record of the original patient’s name. All I could legally do was record in my personal journal at the end of these long clinic shifts my own recollections of these patients, deliberately changing their names, and, sometimes, the details of the treatment of their condition. I have used the actual name of a fellow first responder, only when permitted and when that responder has reviewed my description of our interaction and agreed. These included the following healthcare providers: Ms. Mindy Cox, Dr. Barry Davis, Dr. George Delclos, and Dr. Kristy Murray.
Finally, no one’s memory is perfect. Any inaccuracies or omissions concerning the dates, treatments, and details of my interactions are mine and mine alone, and I accept full responsibility for them. I freely admit that, if anything, I have left out many compelling examples of compassion, conviction and strength of evacuees that the urgency and fatigue of clinic circumstances precluded me from recording or remembering. Fortunately, these omitted examples of heroism and heart strength, equally visceral, intense, and gripping, rest in the minds and bosoms of the evacuees and the volunteers who aided their recovery.
Furthermore, should any evacuees, despite my attempts to shield them, recognize themselves in these stories; I would only ask that you accept my occasionally imperfect memory as my sole excuse. My only intent is to respect and value your sacrifice, and through this memoir, to reveal your honor and valor to the world.
The text did not arise all at once; it developed slowly, gradually taking shape from my querulous recognition of the great schism between the common media portrayals on the one hand, and my personal experiences with the evacuees and the volunteers who cared for them on the other. Unsure what to do with observations that I couldn’t ignore, I began sending e-mails to several friends and colleagues across the country. Many people responded sympathetically, but one, and only one, suggested that I begin to write and clarify my observations—Ariela Wilcox.
Ariela Wilcox, a literary agent and book producer in San Diego, California, accepted me as an untested nonfiction writer. Knowledgeable, competent, and approachable, she listened patiently and repeatedly as I ached over this book’s early drafts. The perfect counterbalance for my efforts, Ariela kept me in stable writing equilibrium. Sensing the theme of the word-song I wished to create, her deft touch was expert; she knew that if she simply hummed the tune I would write the lyrics. This book would not be in your hands if it weren’t for Ariela’s solid, sensitive guidance and editing during its creation, and its appearance would have been impossible if she had not persistently sought out the right publisher.
If Ariela was the gyroscope, then Richard Koritz, Editor and Publisher for Open Hand Publishing, LLC, was the engin. His consistent enthusiasm for the project, like raw rocket fuel, propelled the book through production and on to market. Richard worked strenuously to settle the book’s theme into place, and then, redoubling his efforts, he tirelessly reviewed the book’s contents, reading draft after draft of the manuscript, all the while sharpening its message.
Our frequent, almost daily contacts, were both professional and cordial, allowing us to focus on our shared, mutual goal—to get the true story of the Katrina survivors out to readers interested in the survivors themselves—not just their plight. Through his labor, Richard demonstrated the insight of the leader who understands the need to not just “sound the charge,” but to “lead the charge.”
Ariela, Richard, and I, of different backgrounds, creeds, and races, recognized the quintessential message of the Katrina survivors—strength of heart triumphs over adversity. I welcome your responses to the evocative themes portrayed in this book. Please email your comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Finally, my dearest thanks go to Dixie, my wife, on whose personality, character, love, and common sense I have come to rely, and to my daughters Flora and Bella Ardon, whose continued emotional and spiritual growth reveals anew to me each day that, through God, all things are possible.
Lemuel A. Moyé
University of Texas
School of Public Health