We filed off the airplane, slowly and steadily. I was not sure what to expect when we stepped off the plane. A part of my mind expected to still be surrounded by chaos and destruction and water. Liam and I clung tightly to each other for fear of being separated. Liam grimaced in pain, and he limped so terribly that I attempted to hold him up while struggling with our luggage that contained our precious few belongings.
A slow line formed. They checked each one of us in with the Red Cross as we exited the plane. Liam struggled to stand and the pain had grown marked for him. A man came around with plastic armbands and a permanent marker. He recognized Liam’s grimace of the injured and called a medic over. He wrote our names, followed by the numbers 261 and 262, one on each band. We put the bands around our wrists.
Before my cloudy mind realized what was happening, they whisked Liam away from me to be seen by a doctor. Panic once again riddled my heart. One of our greatest fears was being separated. We had heard too many stories about families separated in the evacuation process. A nice lady from the Red Cross stayed with me, assuring me he would be back. I had no idea where he was going. I had no idea when he would be back. I had no idea where I was going. And I had no idea how he would find me later.
They eventually led me to a massive medical tent, but once you entered it did not seem so large and intimidating. Inside, there were army green canvas partitions that made hallways and little cubicles where there had just been grass before. I lumbered along, turning when told, sitting when told, and answering as many questions as I could. I waited and waited in the make shift corridors. I wondered if Liam was in these hallways somewhere. I was sure they led him in this direction. I listened for his voice, but could not hear much over all the confusion in my head.
Finally, a volunteer escorted me into the “doctor’s office”, which was merely a canvas partitioned cubicle. It was dark in there, with only a naked bulb on the corner of the room. In the middle sat a rolling silver examination table and I sat on it, as instructed. Once again, I was alone with my swirling thoughts. I was too tired to panic about all the needle marks on my body, and at this point I really did not care what a doctor had to say about it. I looked down at my disheveled body and waited for the worst.
A doctor entered pulling me pack from my blank fantasies, drawing the curtain back as if it were just a regular door. He dragged the light in the corner over to the table, and suddenly the dark room felt very bright and intrusive. The doctor was a small Asian man. He smiled with understanding and sympathy. He talked in a gentle and soothing voice, as he began by asking me how I was. He reassured me that I was now in a safe place. He reassured me I was in good hands.
When he looked over my body, I became aware of the strange looking rash that was splotched all over my skin. It looked like chiggers to me, which are a type of insect that can burrow into your ankles in the fields and mountains of the Carolinas where I grew up. It looks like tiny red splotches concentrated in a small area. I believe chiggers live in the grass, and they can leap onto your ankles, burrowing in. They itch. They are treated by smathering toothpaste on the rash. I think that this “smothers” these little creatures and in turn gets rid of the itchy rash.
This rash was most concentrated in the areas I had worn the fentanyl patches. In those spots, the rashes were almost the same square shape of the patches. The doctor commented that he had seen these rashes on many of the people he had looked at, although he thought the pattern of mine were strikingly different. I casually told him I had worn nicotine patches in those spots. Looking back on it, he probably knew exactly what I was wearing. I am sure any able doctor would have made a note of my pinpoint pupils, as well. The doctor was unsure of a treatment for these rashes, but he prescribed an antibiotic to take by mouth for ten days. He also said everyone was getting a shot of Robaxin, which was a strong antibiotic to combat many of the possible infections we could have picked up during the days wading around in those deadly waters.
At first, it was strange how the events of the Hurricane began to play back in my head. Because of so many days of destruction and madness, piled on top of so many years of insanity and addiction, caused me to remain in New Orleans, in my mind, those first couple of days. I saw the scenery unfolding around me, almost like I was watching television, devoid of all emotion, as I went through the daily motions. I waited in lines, I talked to people, and I tried to get some semblance of reality back. I had no idea what to do. I was in shock. In those next few days, all of it would start to sink in through that faceless exterior, just as the cracks began to break down the levees in my mind, and the deluge of water would nearly drown me all over again.
And then, inevitably I always thought of all the people I left behind. I thought of all the things I left behind, and now that I navigated this strange land…I wondered what happened to my beloved family of junkies. To Sophia…Linda, Johnny. And all those who I cannot name here.
I left the medical tent alone with my thoughts and rampant images of the last thirteen days, clutching little manila envelopes full of the doctor’s pills. I still clutched our duffel bags, guarding them with my life. I knew there were much more precious pills hidden away in these bags than we could not afford to lose.
I also knew that there was not much else in those bags strong enough to keep the Sickness at bay much longer. Chills spread up my spine as I thought once more about the horrors off withdrawal. Instantly, I began to feel sick. My stomach started to churn once more, and I was glad I had not eaten. I sat down in a chair in a make shift hall of this elaborate maze made of tents. I think we were on an airfield, and I remember seeing several airplanes in the distances here. It was definitely a military base because it was spotted with both officers and camouflaged trucks. It crawled with Red Cross workers. The idea of the Sickness entered my mind, and it became all I could think about. Time crept by at the junkies pace waiting for the impending doom, impatient and anxious.
I realized how tired I was, as I sat there on that military base waiting for something to happen. I still clutched the doctor’s pills and the duffel bags. I was sinking into the hard metal chair I sat on. I could see a corner of the night sky, peeking around from the edge of the tent’s entrance. I could hear the noisy din of action all around me, people milling about, talking, and nervously chattering. The crowds seemed to get thicker, randomly milling about as I sunk deeper and deeper in to my tired soul. I just wanted to sleep; I just wanted relief, as I knew the feared Sickness would soon be screeching down on my sorry soul again. I needed a place to get into this bag, without being surrounded by military. Authority and uniforms scared me more than the impending withdrawal.
I thought about relaxing on the floor of a hotel room, or better yet…a bed. I thought about putting on clean clothes, and taking handfuls of pills as I crawled into clean sheets in a super soft bed, curling up and fading into my clouded mind, as I faded from moderate numbness to sleep. I thought about a shower, and I vaguely wondered if I was too tired.
My mind flashed back to the darkness. Clouding over, I searched for the lights of the city. I searched for something familiar, and the only thing that was remotely familiar to me was the enveloping fear of the impending doom as my stomach turned and rattled once more. It was a slight comfort, to realize that at least something remained similar. Surrounding myself in the encompassing blanket of numbness, as I shut the world out, and I focused on my pain for a few minutes.
Closed my eyes, breath quickening, as I tried to get a hold of the flashing images in the back of my mind. I watched a slide show, displayed in my head, as I struggled for control. With a deep breath, I pushed the thoughts away, and reached for the cover of comfort once more, detaching a little from the reality that was quickly sneaking up on me. I probably would have tried to run like I normally did, if I had not been so tired.
I put the images back on the shelf. I tried to turn the light off, but bits and pieces of pictures and light were already splattered to all corners of my brain. It was impossible to turn it off, but was possible to turn the volume down a little.
I opened my hand, taking an apartment key while I breathed a sigh of relief because I knew I would rest my head comfortably tonight. I sat down to wait for the rest of the instructions. I managed to get a plate of food now. It seemed there was some kind of nourishment at each stop. People bring food when someone has died. People bring food to parties, and family reunions. And people brought droves of food out to the refugees from the Hurricane. I was so tired at this point that I could not tell you what I ate, only that I did finally eat that night.
We were eventually led to the apartment, and I went straight to the kitchen relieved that it was full of food. There were plates, and glasses, and bowls, and silverware. There was food in the cabinets and in the refrigerator. I plopped down on the modern black couch. It was long, flat, and comfortable. I admired the furniture from the vertical position, impressed with the multi level intricate glass table. The décor was modern and refreshing and inviting. Each bedroom had a big bed and a dresser. I sunk into the couch, but could not really sleep as I twitched a little from the inevitable uncomfortable feeling of impending withdrawal.
Liam and I soon retired to our bedroom. We took a couple of Vicodin, and sunk down into a deep and honest sleep.