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Sandy, Part III: The Day After the Night Before

by Bernadette Sheridan, MD, family medicine

You can read Part II here. 

It was over. The lashing and howling of Sandy was over. Night turned to day and the sun came out. We took down the barricades and went downstairs. The sight was indescribable. I was OK. My house was not.

My home office was gone. No need for a de-cluttering expert now that Sandy removed 30 years’ worth of medical books and journals. My copies of Grey’s Anatomy and Harrison’s 2nd edition, college notebooks, yearbooks were all as if they’d never been. Desks, my computer, the washer and dryer, all the “stuff” you keep promising to unload at that great garage sale… purged.

The water had not begun to recede and would not for several days. I stood in water that came halfway up my calf as I walked from the garage, which was really difficult because the garage did not exist anymore. I came upon a scene that left me in absolute awe. My basement was completely empty.

I now had an inkling what Hurricane Katrina survivors must have felt, without the 100-degree heat. It also dawned on me, at that particular moment in time, that I could not stay in my home. I stood on my porch and looked down the street to see EMS crews walk into homes with empty body bags slung over their shoulders. It took two to carry the bags back out. I knew I had nothing to complain about. Sure I lost “stuff,” but I gained perspective and I promised to use it to make myself a better physician.

My home is on Staten Island but my practice is in the Canarsie section of Brooklyn. It took me two days to get there, and two days for my staff and patients to breathe a sigh of relief on my behalf. Today, I am still striving to return to the comfort zone of routine, knowing all the while that a rubber band, once stretched out, never returns to its original shape.

It’s an understatement to say that I have an attitude of gratitude. I am blessed and thankful for so many things. But very high on that list is the appreciation that I can return to some semblance of normalcy largely because my office sits on relatively high ground. If it had been lower and closer to the water, my practice might have been damaged like so many others in the area. I know because some of my colleagues lost their offices. Some lost their offices and homes. My heart goes out to them in a way that only humans who’ve shared the experience can understand.

If I could convey one thing to unaffected colleagues, it would be to think ahead about the future of their practices, recognize the changing times, and consider getting rid of  paper charts in favor of a cloud-based system. It was reassuring to know that my patients’ vital health information, the details that keep my practice flowing, was safe in the cloud no matter the weather. And the fact that I could get to it all as soon as I fired up my laptop meant there was one less hassle in a world that is so unpredictable and uncertain.

Dr. Sheridan runs Grace Family Medical Practice in the Canarsie section of Brooklyn. She’s a native New Yorker and an athenahealth client.

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