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12/24/06
Lower Ninth Ward of New Orleans
Filed under: General, Florida & SE US, Medical, Hurricane Camille
Posted by: Ken @ 1:10 pm

Lower Ninth Ward after KatrinaThis is the fourth of four posts on this subject. First Installment is here

During the late 1960’s in New Orleans, one of my volunteer projects was to institute a weekly evening medical clinic in the Lower Ninth Ward. This was accomplished with much help from local citizens (notably Mrs. Allie Mae Williams and Mrs. Morrice Johnson) and medical students from Tulane University. Sadly, this old neighborhood was devastated by Hurricane Katrina.

A very memorable experience was on Friday, April 5, 1968, the day after Dr. Martin Luther King was assassinated. I had to park quite a distance from the shotgun frame house that served as our Lower Ninth Ward free clinic. Parked cars had already taken up both sides of the shell road for more than a block. People were out on their front porches. Usually, we exchanged cheerful waves to the sounds of jazz music as I trudged along with my white coat and little black bag. That evening there was silence. There seemed to be agony oozing out of the houses, and I found it hard just to look up.

When I entered the waiting room I saw that the power had failed, a not uncommon occurrence. In the gathering darkness, I could barely see all the people who were silently awaiting my arrival. A couple of Tulane medical students had gotten there before me, and they were already busy triaging the patients and getting them ready for the physician. We examined by candlelight and flashlight. Gloom pervaded the day and then, the night.

The next week pain had turned to tension, and as I walked to the clinic I encountered a gang who had surrounded two fighting men. One had a knife, and the other wielded a baseball bat. As they scurried about, the crowd ran along with them and pressed around them. Did I ever feel silly, standing there in my white coat like the ringside doctor waiting for my victim! Luckily, both were simultaneously restrained without signs of major injuries.

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