Integrative / Intuitive Health and Empowerment Coaching
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'Guilty of Libel...?'
June 3, 2014
'Angels of the Flood...'
June 21, 2014
Today marks the one year anniversary of the devastating floods that swept Southern Alberta. In actual fact, this has gone down in Canada's History as the worst and most expensive natural disaster in the Country's history. High River, and at it's hub, the High River Hospital which brought me here to Canada, was the worst hit. Over the last 48 hours I have held lengthy conversations with some of my nearest and dearest as they relived the nightmare that was June 20th 2013. Homes, possessions and lives were swept away in the torrents of the Highwood. But today, despite alarming rainfall once again, High River awoke to blue skies and sunshine and the day brought ceremonies of remembrance, tributes to communities and heroes, and thanks, that this community's remarkable resilience is proving that High River is once again, strong.
It seems only fitting to post below my own story of the High River Flood. With it, I pay tribute to my dearest friends and colleagues who gave unconditional love, support, friendship and their much needed skills during a time that not one of us will ever forget. Possessions may have been lost, lives changed forever, but they were replaced with friendships and community that none of us had ever experienced before. In time these are the memories that will heal the still fragile minds and souls.
I was asked to write this piece in contribution to a book soon to be published. Enjoy!
"I cannot quite recall when I first realized how serious the flood situation in High River was… Facebook and the internet were full of images of raging torrents of water sweeping through Canmore and then Black Diamond... that was closer to home. I remember thinking how crazy people were for going so close to the angry waters’ edges to get videos and photographs… crazy stupidity… But I was one of the ones watching the results of their risk.
Then there filtered through word of evacuation from various communities in Calgary… and then High River. I called my friend who advised that they had already left their own home and were now at her fathers’, still in High River. ‘No…you must all come here! The whole of High River is to be evacuated… I’ll get the beds ready…’ and we did, but they didn’t come.
By now there were no land lines in operation… and I grew more and more concerned for my friends' safety… she was no longer answering her cell….
I spent a fretful night, watching social media and news bulletins, images of familiar places devastated… this was starting to become surreal…
Eventually, the next morning, my friend called. They had been evacuated a second time, this time from her fathers home. Literally hiked from their sleepy slumber with minutes to spare as the community was lost to the rivers rage… I remember her so calmly telling me that they had merely thought, 'oh yeah, another flood…' She described her youngest son’s panic as he and his brother were told to get to the car in their bid to escape. He was jumping around, hither and tither, not knowing what to do… His dad shouted to him to get to the car… ‘Don’t yell at me...This is my first flood y’know!’ he shouted back… Striking, how a part of ‘normal’ life the annual threat of a flood in your basement could be…
So she was safe. Soon I was invited to a Facebook page that had been set up by one of my former colleagues from High River Hospital… little did she know when she set it up how invaluable a resource this would prove to be. The page, ‘High River Hospital Family Updates’ was buzzing with questions… Had any one seen, heard, know about…? Who was still in High River? Who wasn’t? And then the realization that many of our colleagues were still in the hospital which was now surrounded by water. They were still waiting to evacuate patients… It soon became apparent that many of friends’ families on the ‘outside’ had not yet heard from their loved ones on the ‘inside’ … At the time, it beggared belief, now, it still does.
Then came a message to our group from one of the girls who remained in the hospital… ‘Can somebody come relieve us? We have been here all night…’ Word filtered through that the Fire Hall had been set up as the emergency evacuation centre and one of the girls, who’s husband was in the Fire Service, had been at the Fire Hall all night, administering First Aid to evacuated residents alongside EMS. ‘Could somebody come and help us here?’
Although the town had been evacuated and was now ‘road blocked’ we were advised that if we showed our Alberta Heath Services pass, Police would permit our entry. Within an hour, 5 of us in one car and another 2 in another were on our way to the Fire Hall. Sure enough we were allowed to pass through. The town that we knew had taken on a different guise… Soldiers and Army Vehicles greeted us along deserted streets… Tanks and heavy equipment vehicles towing pontoons, passed us by… The skies were blue and the sun warm… but mother nature, although now calm, had ravaged our town.Cars were submerged in water, boats in tree tops, debris, uprooted trees scattered… The few ‘civilians’ to be seen were wandering, desolate… there was a chug chug chug of helicopters flying over head…reminding me of the back ground noise heard in the movies about war zones. That’s exactly what it looked like, a war zone…
It soon became evident to us all that the Fire Hall had become a well oiled machine. Fire Service, EMS, Paramedics, Police, Army and volunteers were all working shoulder to shoulder. We met a couple more nurses from the hospital who had turned up to lend a hand. You see, in an emergency, nurses and medical staff are mandated to turn up for work. Our Code of Conduct is to be a ‘Good Samaritan’.
Most of us were from Okotoks and unaffected, but some were from here, in High River, evacuated from their homes and with nothing else to do but sit and wait, they turned up, to help.
Residents were still being rescued from their homes .Their tales of woe were sobering. How they had been in their homes all night and day with no power, and now cold and hungry, they had either found their way to the safety of the Fire Hall or were being rescued by boat / helicopter and attending the Fire Hall to be ’triaged’, fit to go to an evacuation centre or hospital. It soon became apparent that pets had had to be left in the flooded homes and evacuees were confused as to their other family members’ whereabouts. I cannot say how many phone calls were made to relatives to say they were ok and had been rescued. Mine was one of the few cell phones still working in the town… I racked up quite a bill that month.
When we had arrived at the Fire Hall and explained who we were, Fire and Rescue crew without hesitation, organized to get us to the hospital in heavy equipment vehicles. They too were concerned for the staff who had remained at the hospital.
Our transport arrived… it soon became apparent that our mode of transport was to be within the ‘bucket’ of a huge dumpster truck! Hold on! Spirits were high. We all felt at last we could do something to help our colleagues and were on our way to relieve them so they could get word to their families and return to their young children and loved ones. But word came via two other colleagues who had tried to access the hospital, that nobody was allowed in or out. Disappointed, but not deterred, we organized ourselves into teams who would accompany patients/evacuees via bus to the shelter in Nanton. Another group would relieve and staff the Fire Hall.
Our colleagues had set up a modest First Aid post in the back room of the Hall, stocked with an accumulated supply of basic clinical equipment. A make shift IV pole had been set up using a broken broom handle. An antiquated army stretcher had been used to transfer patients. An EMS defibrillator, oxygen supply, IV fluids, had all been set up in case of resuscitation. This make shift team had already run a code that very morning and we would continue to stabilize patients , then transfer them to hospitals in the city. The prevalent complaint was hypothermia. Others had left their homes without their medications. We soon realized the need for a physician to help us with prescriptions. We contacted the pharmacy in Nanton who said they were already struggling to meet demand. Their pharmacists had been on duty for more than 36 hours… Yes, this was raw. This was real. This was like nothing any of us had ever experienced before. The way this team pulled together all their resources, communication, leadership, organization, clinical skills and limited supplies, saved lives in the field and made the experience a little easier for once residents, now ‘evacuees’ of High River. Crazy. The Fire Hall had become a ‘field hospital’. I called a couple of my physician friends who agreed to come on board. We spoke with one of our lead physician who organized the Urgent Care facility in Okotoks to become 24 hour while the High River ER was ‘down’. Between us, we staffed the Fire Hall, The Okotoks and Nanton Recreation Centres and Black Diamond. All had become evacuation centres.
Later on that day, the evacuation of the majority of patients from the hospital was complete and a couple of our girls were permitted entry to help support the now weary team who had remained with their patients in the hospital. The final patients were to be airlifted to Edmonton and the South Health Campus.
I was one of the nurses who volunteered to escort evacuees to Nanton. The Recreation Centre there was full of people. Cots had been set up in what would have been the indoor hockey rink. Piles of pillows, blankets, bedding, clothing could be seen, all donated in the short time they had opened the centre. The local Hutterite Colony had transformed the kitchen facility there into a full scale cafeteria, hot coffee, soup and sandwiches available to all who needed it.Their beautiful smiling faces keeping everyones spirits uplifted. The overwhelming sense of community and unity was evident everywhere you looked. I took messages from relatives who were still looking for family members who, as far as they knew, remained in High River. I met a colleague from the hospital who had not heard from her mother in 36 hours and as far as she knew, was still inside the hospital… I counted my blessings… but my heart ached for my friends, colleagues and the people of our community.
And so this continued… Until the next phase would begin. That of helping our friends to salvage what they could from their homes…
We again, organized ourselves into teams. The messages would filter through our now very busy Facebook page, with an address of where help was needed. In we would go, with protective clothing, boots and respirator masks that by now we had accumulated from local vets and stores. In we would wade to our friends once beautiful homes, now filled with the unforgiving thick, sticky mud and sewage that had found its way into absolutely everything. Furnishings, pictures, clothes, children’s toys, photographs, books, prized possessions, all had to be hauled out into the streets from basements that would then be emptied, bucket by painful bucket, shovelled from a space that no sooner was it removed, seemed to refill… When our job was done, we would move onto the next home… We were witness to every emotion. Tears, laughter, despair, disbelief, faith, gratitude, comfort, anger... The way people pulled together to keep everyone going was something I will never, ever, forget."