Sunday, April 29, 2012

A Year Later....

Well, if you are an Alabamian you will probably never forget where you were the day of April 27, 2011 and everything that progressed the next few days. Really, here we are a year later and there are still reminders all around the state that take us back to that day and force us to relive it. The state of Alabama has never seen such a horrific tornadic activity in its history. Everyone has their unique story of how the tornado impacted them and I wanted to share my personal story.

I honestly have kept a lot of the feelings and sights that I saw on that day and the next few days buried in a place that hasn't been revealed to a lot of people, and because of my profession I can't go into a lot of details. But, here is my story...

April 27th started out very different than a regular day for me. At the time I was living with my family and working in the Emergency Room at Huntsville Hospital. I was working the noon-midnight shift and before my shift had even started Madison County had been in several tornado watches/warnings. The night before my mom and I had spent hours with my brother in the pediatric ER at Huntsville Hospital because he took a really nasty fall in the woods behind our house. He left with a broken arm (the cast was put on by my amazing friend Alicia), chunks of skin missing from each knee and elbow, and a follow up appointment with an orthopedic dr. So, when I left for work that Wednesday morning he was not feeling well to say the least. My mom was at home with him, and they were preparing our safe place in our house because it looked like they would be making several trips to that closet as the day went on.

Fast forward to my shift at work. It started off as a pretty normal day; that day I was assigned to three patient rooms and the ENT room. I got pretty typical patients to start out my shift and I was keeping in touch with my parents and Justin during the day because of all the storms passing through. I hadn't ever been in a "Disaster Mode" situation since I had started working but about half way through my shift we had entered full on disaster mode and were working under generated power. As the storms started to rip through north Alabama we started to care for patient after patient who had been injured; from broken limbs to patients who had been thrown from their cars and homes and suffered serious injuries. Looking back on it everything seems like a blur; a weird dream that still doesn't feel real. It was hot, dark, and full of emotion, but we all pulled together and did what we had to; it was a very powerful experience. I can't go into detail of everything that I was around, but I will share one story. It was a few hours after my shift was supposed to end, I think around 3am and I was done caring for the few patients that were in my rooms. I walked down to a different pod and asked if anyone needed anything before I left. I helped a co-worker who needed someone to take an elderly couple to the ICU waiting area. Both had suffered broken bones, bruises and abrasions that limited their mobility to a wheelchair. They had told me that their middle-aged son was in one of the ICUs and they needed to go to the waiting area to hear updates on him. At Huntsville Hospital we have an amazing family waiting area for people who have loved ones in one of the ICUs. We came up to the entrance and one of the employees approached us and asked if the couple would need recliners to sleep in for the night. I will never forget what the woman said... "Yes honey we do. After today we have nowhere else to go." It was like someone had taken my breath away when I heard her say that and my eyes immediately filled up with tears. That night was a very very dark night driving home; Huntsville is a very dark place at 3am with no power.

Thursday I returned back to the hospital around 11:30 am for my shift. We spent most of the day taking care of patients who had injuries they received from the tornado and then as the day went on injuries caused by the cleanup. We also had a lof of patients come in who needed to use our power for their breathing treatments. It was another long, hot, dark day, but I do remember that Chick-fil-A had brought a lot of their food to us so that it wouldn't go bad in their freezers. We had people who came in to help out that weren't scheduled to be there, and that day we really all banded together and you could tell there was a new found motivation inside all of us. I think that the lack of air conditioning impacted me so much more than the fact that we had very few lights to work with. It was rough; but luckily there was a cold shower waiting for me when I got home late that night.

In the midst of all that was going on at work, I was trying to find friends and family that were scattered around the state. My brother-in-law alont with several of my friends from college were in Tuscaloosa and by Thursday night I had heard the good news that everyone was safe. One of my dear friends; my roommate in college Alison and her fiance live in Cullman which was hit hard by a tornado. They were safe and they were getting married Saturday April 30th in Tuscaloosa. Justin and I had plans to head down to Tuscaloosa early Friday so that I could make it in time for the bridesmaids luncheon, but with all of the devistation in Tuscaloosa we weren't sure at first what was going to happen with the wedding. I couldn't get ahold of Alison on the phone because of the lack of service, but I did find out from our friend Meg that the wedding was still on. So, early Friday morning Justin and I (with wet hair) made our way down to Tuscaloosa just in time for the bridesmaids luncheon. Neadless to say the trip down there which we had made plenty of times during our 5 year stay in college was much different this time. We drove through areas that were hit hard by the tornado; trees snapped in half, power lines bent all the way backwards, cars abandoned on the side of the interstate. But, nothing could prepare us for arriving in Tuscaloosa. Friday was also the day that President Obama came to ttown so we had that craziness added into the already crazy driving situation. We usually take the McFarland exit off the interstate and turn onto Hargrove or 15th street which if you know Tuscaloosa you know this was definitely not an option. Anyways to make a long 30 mintue story short we made it to the bridesmaids luncheon late but we made it.

Fastforward to wedding festivities...
We had such an amazing time celebrating with Andrew and Alison. It was one of the most incredible and beautiful weddings that I have ever experienced. The rehearsal, rehearsal dinner, wedding, and reception were perfect. Even though there were minor snags due to the tornado that had just ripped through the city 2 days before, it was a perfect wedding weekend. It was such a roller coaster of emotions because Tuscaloosa had power so when we arrived we saw footage of the damage for the first time. I will never forget seeing the damage that was done to our state and hearing all of the stories of those who were impacted. But the beautiful part of it was the marriage that still took place despite the destruction and disaster. I think that is definitely a "Ttown Never Down" moment. Here are a few pictures from the Phelp's big day...

We spent the day Sunday with several of our friends from college volunteering in Tuscaloosa; handing out hotdogs and water to people in Holt and on Hargrove. We walked around in the devistation and helped people with whatever it was they needed. We walked by the remnants of a house on a street off of Hargrove and found 2 women trying to move large pieces of furniture. They were in what looked like a dining room that only had half of a wall left standing trying to move a large cabinet. Since we had a lot of guys with us we offered to help them. They were taking everything that was left in the house and packing it up in a large truck to move the owners belongings to a different location. They greatly accepted our offer and we went into the house that had room and walls missing all through out. It was the most bizarre feeling helping a stranger decide what items of her parents they should keep and take with them. I went through closets, drawers, bathrooms, what was left of the kitchen and started boxing up everything that I could. I will never know what happened to the owners of that house, but I will never forget that day. We left Sunday night and headed back to Huntsville forever changed. I hope that we never see such devistation again, and I do know that I will never forget the sights that I saw, the people that I met, and the experience that we as a group of friends had.

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