The Magazine of The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America


April 1, 2010

An appointment with Dr. Yahoo

I get the "Spring into life" focus but I think some people should refer to it as "spring cleaning." You know the promises of the swimming suit, reunions and wedding commercials — all of those things are coming up this summer and we have to get ready now.

Like three months are going to make a difference!

Myths dispelled

I have read with amusement some of the confessional postings about gaining weight and getting into tight jeans. Either a) leave them on so you know something is going on or b) figure out a way to use a trampoline, hanger and harness to jump into them.

In a recent conversation I had with Dr. Yahoo, I was surprised to learn about some of the myths we live with. Dr. Yahoo informed me that:

1) Exercise is not good. Your heart is good for only so many beats ... take naps.

2) Alcohol is good. Wine and beer are made from fruits and grains.

3) Chocolate is good. It is from the cocoa bean, another vegetable.

4) Swimming doesn't help. Have you ever seen a skinny whale?

5) Sit ups don't prevent a soft middle. Exercise makes muscle which makes your stomach bigger.

I confess that Dr. Yahoo won't be included in any future health program (or current ones) and you won't find any of these tips on the ELCA Board of Pensions or Mayo Clinic website — but you will find answers to everything else.

Now for my confession. I went to dinner with my daughter the other night and she paid. My pants were too tight to get my hands in the pockets.

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September 16, 2005

Out of New Orleans

By Sunday, Sept. 4, it became crystal clear to my mother, my brother and his wife that the original one-week survival plan was going to be tested. The flood outside was not receding as hoped, and the water continued to become a rancid stew. The reconnaissance for food and water became dangerous as people were becoming more vicious with animal-like survival instincts taking over. Food and water couldn’t be distributed back at the apartment without families fighting over a bottle of water.

Outside the “war-zone” environment was enhanced audibly with the constant booming of helicopter blades providing the signal for search and rescue. The same pilots that previous provided life-sustaining supplies were now looking for people in dire need of evacuation. A wave was created in the cesspool as water was forced out with one sortie then sucked back in the street with the one. I imagine more rescue operations were conducted in this one-week period then in a real-war situation.

On Tuesday, rescue operators told the family that things were not going to get better and it was time to leave. Some other people in the apartment were inclined to stay, but my family knew it was time to go. They were instructed to get to the top of the apartment building where they would be transported to safety. I think my mother expected she would be beamed inside the helicopter. Instead, she had to get in a basket and be hauled up into the helicopter.

From that moment, it was a blur for the family. They remembered getting into the helicopter, arriving at the New Orleans airport, getting on a plane not knowing where they were going—and then waking up at Chicago’s O’Hare Airport.

I know it is their jobs, but the search and rescue operators, the Red Cross staff, and other emergency station personnel provided care and sensitivity that could only exist because those people actually cared! The concern for safety and wellbeing felt genuine to my family; at no point did they feel like they were simply a case number.

When I received the call from the Red Cross that my family could be picked up at a welcome station in Tinley Park, it took a moment to register what was said. Up to this point, I still had no idea where they were.
When we got back to my house, it was a moment of irony and humor when my daughter asked her grandmother if she wanted a bottled water…. But after hearing her grandmother’s story, she now better appreciates how even a bottle of water can be extremely precious.  

Now I wonder in the long-term, how other displaced families are connecting and what will become of all of our situations: Who wants to stay where they were relocated?  Who wants to move on, and who wants to go back?

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September 13, 2005

Surviving in flooded New Orleans

From the last phone call on Monday, Aug. 29, five days dragged by without knowledge and no way to know the condition of my family. My sister and her family got out Friday and found transport to the Houston dome. Through e-mail provided by the Red Cross on Saturday, Sept. 3, we knew she was safe, but still had no idea of the status of my mother, brother and his wife.  It wasn’t until Tuesday evening, Sept. 6, that I received a call from the Red Cross that all three were on their way to Chicago.

From the first point of no contact, our primary concern was that everyone was alive. From my brother, I learned they made plans for a one-week survival, thinking the floodwaters would recede. Water and food was not their only concern.  Apparently, emergency efforts in New Orleans were dedicated to evacuating the Superdome, hospitals and other places of life-threatening situations the first three days after the storm. It was during those days that the highest crime incidents occurred in homes and vandalism on the streets. My brother and mother said they slept with knives at their sides “just in case.” Despite being on the seventh floor, they did hear the windows being broken in the lower levels.  It really wasn’t until Thursday that life supplies came in helicopter drops.  During the weekend, efforts turned from emergency provision allocation to evacuation.

The family solved the boiling water problem by building a makeshift hibachi and collecting wood from the lumber floating in the streets and from the roof. The toilet was still usable when they figured they could use the floodwater in the basement of the apartment building to fill the bowl. Food and water were available by wading and/or swimming to local stores. As the water turned more rancid, my brother and a couple of people developed a network of boat or flotation devices minimizing their time in the water. I was told that maggots would attack within minutes. My brother confessed “to looting” to local media, but glibly qualified it by saying the windows already were broken. Police did not have a problem with the people who were taking needed supplies. The rampant stealing of TVs and jewelry was a concern of the understaffed authorities.

Not only were my family worried about safety while out collecting supplies, it seems the conditions in the apartment turned dark and dangerous. The best way I can describe it is the degeneration of young gentleman in the Lord of the Flies or, most recently, the Gollum character in Lord of the Rings with “ my preciousssss.” I will expand on some of the personalities later.

In my next entry, I will give examples of the good that came out in people too!

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September 9, 2005

Out of New Orleans

I always thought my first blog would have been about an unplanned weekend trip, a statistical survey on The Lutheran or most likely, some government conspiracy (I am an X-files fan).

It never occurred to me that I would share thoughts on the most recent catastrophe that either has or will impact every one of us. On Monday, Aug. 29, we lost contact with my mother and family just after she informed us that water flooded the lower level of her apartment building in New Orleans ... but “they thought the worse was over.”

Little did any of us know the journey was just beginning. The last thing she said before hanging up the phone was, “And how are you supposed to boil water if your power is out?”

I’d learned from her that, in many cases, people did not have a way to leave their flooded apartments. The gas stations were already closed and people couldn’t get gas to leave town. Many streets already were flooded, impeding any movement. Anybody who was waiting to see the storm get downgraded or didn’t want to believe, was stuck. So the only thing people could do was store up on as much food and water as possible and get to higher ground.

In my family’s case, three different family units converged to my mother’s apartment located on the seventh floor. In the morning, 10 family members woke up in her apartment to get a first hand view of the new, New Orleans swamp and began planning how to survive the next few days until the water receded.

If they had left at first chance, they would have been stranded in the Superdome ... and I do not believe we will ever know of all the horrid details of the events that transpired in that arena.

One week ago today, my sister and her family had to take a chance on evacuation since her children were becoming sick and one was already ill from lead poisoning in their apartment. They were among the first relocated to Houston. A strand of communication was reconnected when the Red Cross provided my sister access to e-mail. However, we still had no word on the status of my mother, brother and his wife.
Space is limited for blogging, and I promise to finish this story. Two things have been made clear to me that I hope I can accurately portray. First, nobody can really appreciate the devastation or anguish through the accounts in the media. Secondly, the axiom that trying times bring out the best and worst in people is true.

I have to collect my thoughts before the next transmission. You will not believe everything I tell you.

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