By Julio Gonzalez, M.D., J.D.
“Mann traoch, Gott lauch.” Yiddish Proverb for “Man plans, God laughs.”
Plan A: Get the Miami family to Venice
As Hurricane Irma made its way up the Caribbean, we had been begging my family in Miami to make its way down to Venice and ride out Hurricane Irma with us. After all, we had plenty of room, and the track showed the storm clipping Florida at that small protrusion we call Dade and Broward County. Being of stubborn Spanish blood, my family’s reluctance to seek shelter away from the storm was predictable.
But we were sure, as they saw the massive path of destruction Irma was forging, that they would see the light and make that westward trek across alligator alley to relative safety.
But then, the track kept moving ever westward across the state. By Thursday morning, the sobering new truth became apparent. Miami was about to have one hell of a hurricane party, while we in Venice were going greet a monster.
So much for Plan A.
Plan B: Board up and ride out
Plan B called for the office to be closed on Friday so we could make preparations for the hurricane scheduled to arrive on Sunday. The first step was for my wife and I to see all our patients with Monday and Friday appointments on Thursday so we could go home and begin boarding that afternoon.
Quickly, we called our affected patients. Needless to say, I was surprised to find we were able to accommodate all of them.
As it was, I happened to be on call at two hospitals that day and ended up having to see consults into the evening, one of which was going to require urgent surgery on Friday.
By the time I got home, the preparatory work had begun with my wife and my younger daughter having already loaded up four hurricane panels. A few hours later, between the three of us, we had made more progress at readying for Irma than Irma had made at barreling toward us.
Friday morning found me incessantly clicking my computer’s refresh button while I willed the National Hurricane Center’s 5 a.m. update to appear. The track placed Irma still to the east of us, but it appeared the track was continuing to make its way to the west and closer to our community. Too dark to put up panels, my younger daughter and I continued moving the outdoor furniture indoors while my wife scurried to her hospital to perform two surgeries.
By 7:30 a.m., I got word that my hospital would accommodate my patient’s surgery at around noon, giving me about five hours to put up more panels. And as the sun brought that welcoming glow heralding the day’s arrival, Jessica and I busied ourselves with placing more panels. The air was filled with the distant sounds of hammers impacting boards and power saws buzzing through wood, and you just knew, everyone, was getting ready for the inevitable.
It would be mid-morning, under beautiful blue skies, when my daughter and I felt the faintest hint of a breeze.
“Such a pleasant little breeze,” I recall telling her. “Don’t you wish we could get more of that?”
And we laughed for lack of a better option.
By the time my wife got back from her surgeries, our home was under a mandatory evacuation; and now, it was my turn to stubbornly make the calculations of how I would get through this without leaving.
Twelve-thirty came, and with 70% of the panels up, the generator out of our storage unit, and the house loaded with comfort food, the operating room called. It was time to go to work.
Worry consumed the hospital, and it wasn’t the life-saving measures that gripped us. Those tasks, the staff was handling with grace and professionalism. It was Irma that was causing all the strife. The sterile equipment was being moved from the basement to the second floor. And auditoriums were being fitted with cots and supplies to house the “Code Brown” personnel, which would inhabit the hospital during the hurricane.
Three hours later, I returned home, the job of finishing up the paneling still before me, which I completed with my incredibly resilient daughter at my side.
Saturday morning greeted me in the same manner as Friday; frantically hitting the refresh button hoping to see the 5 a.m. advisory.
I shouldn’t have checked! Irma would no longer be coming in from the Everglades. She would be making her entry through the gulf, a la Hurricane Charlie, her fury now fueled by the warm waters of the Gulf of Mexico. The sinking, helpless feeling that had descended upon me while hunkering down for Charlie 13 years ago, hit me once again with an eerie familiarity, interrupted by the blaring of the telephone.
It was my father-in-law urging us to get to Orlando.
Plan C: Evacuate!
In the darkness, we moved every projectile we could find into the house. We decided each of us would drive a car out to protect them from the impending floods.
Those irreplaceable tokens of yesteryear suddenly became our most prized possessions as we grabbed them and stuffed them into our cars. By 11 a.m., the house was completed boarded up; the gasoline that was supposed to be used in our generator was now loaded up in our caravan of four cars as my parents and another couple joined us for the trek.
There was only one more thing to do.
I found the Scotch tape and placed a laminated card bearing the likeness of St. Michael upon the panel protecting our front door. My wife placed one of our Lord and Savior.
If something similar had worked for the Jews, then, maybe…
The strangest and most sobering feeling hit me as we drove over the Venice Avenue Bridge with my father in my passenger seat. I remember looking at him for a moment, wondering if this was how he felt as he fled Cuba.
I didn’t have the strength to ask.
The trip to Orlando was surprisingly benign. We made it in about two and a half hours. Everyone was driving particularly carefully, no one wanting to be the one who caused the traffic jam that would mess everything up. Along the way, we saw troops transporting bottled water and supplies. We enthusiastically honked at them, giving them some very grateful thumbs ups. They were all too happy to smile and signal back. (OUR TROOPS ARE THE BEST!)
And we saw dozens of work-trucks heading towards the storm, not away from it, and despite the impending despair, I was reminded of how incredible blessed all of us in this country really are.
So now, we sit in Orlando, watching The Weather Channel, having successfully executed Plan C, and anxious at not knowing what will happen next — but having done all, to stand firm.
Dr. Julio Gonzalez is an orthopaedic surgeon and lawyer living in Venice, Florida. He is the author of The Federalist Pages and serves in the Florida House of Representatives. He can be reached through www.thefederalistpages.com to arrange a lecture or book signing.
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