The water has receded here at Jenny and Clay’s Katy home, exposing the vast expanses of green lawns and fields that surround their property. Squirrels, flush with fallen nuts, seeds and berries once again scamper along the fences and tree trunks, while birds alight on the gooey ground to consume the sudden wealth of worms and insects forced from their subterranean homes. The familiar and ordinary azure colored skies spattered with Texas-sized cumulus clouds, a “Hot-as-Hades” heat index, and the cacophony of cicadas testify to the slow, gradual return to ordinary outdoor conditions in post-Harvey Houston.
Still, Houston is in a world of hurt, and will remain so for the near future. There is no easy and efficient way here to recover from the “record rainfall from a single storm anywhere in the continental United States, with a top reading on Tuesday afternoon, since the storm began, of 51.88 inches.” Coping with 11 trillion gallons of water, the loss of 23 lives (so far), a projected $30 billion in damages to homeowners, and a yet-to-be-determined amount in infrastructure damages, will require a long, arduous healing process.
The last Houston storm I lived through was 1983’s Hurricane Alicia. At that time, Alicia was the costliest hurricane in Texas history. Harvey is projected to be the most damaging hurricane in all of history…”Estimates on Harvey are still emerging, but a preliminary estimate from the private weather firm AccuWeather puts the potential price tag at $160 billion, making it the costliest natural disaster in U.S. history.”
Being back in Houston for cancer treatment has certainly had its challenges. I am still convinced, however, that it’s the right choice despite the hardships, occasional doubts, and Harvey’s determined, but failed effort to undermine my confidence and resolve. But I must admit I had forgotten how frightening these storms can be as they rage for days on end. With the maintenance of electricity, adequate food and water stocks, and a working sanitation system, there exists a sense of safety within your home…until the water gets uncomfortably high. I’ve lived in earthquake/wildfire territory for so long now my danger tolerance dial has been recalibrated for unpredictable, unforeseeable, violent ground shaking, and flame distance. So, on Sunday, at the peak of the storm, when nearly constant monsoonal sheets of rain caused the already elevated water level to rise uncomfortably close to the house, we all became a little more anxious, to say the least. Jenny, Clay, Andrew (Jenny’s youngest son) and I were now stranded on an island, completely surrounded by water with no way out. Except by boat. And, we didn’t have a boat.
That night we monitored the rising water from the screened porch, prognosticating how much more rainfall would force us to take refuge at the neighbor’s two story home. Clay and Andrew lifted important belongings from the floor. I went to bed at about 2:15 am, but sleep was absent. Every 30 minutes or so I used my phone flashlight to check the floor for rising water. Eventually the rain lightened then stopped, allowing the water around the house to recede by several feet. By mid-morning, Monday, the roads were clear enough for Clay’s truck to navigate. And while travel was still considered dangerous, and therefore discouraged, a painful trip to the veterinarian had become necessary.
Clay and Jenny’s 14 year old golden retriever, Sadie, aka “the most beautiful girl in the world,” as dubbed by Jenny, had been preliminarily diagnosed with lymphoma just a few days prior.
As the storm intensified, Sadie faded. By Sunday she would not eat or drink. Clearly uncomfortable, she repeatedly changed positions from the floor to the sofa, always remaining nearby to Jenny and Clay, and keeping her eyes on them as they periodically moved in and out of the room. She knew her time was near, and needed the solace and support of the two people she’d loved most in her life. We were all eager to comfort her, stroking, kissing and loving on her throughout the afternoon and evening. That night Jenny and Clay slept with Sadie in the family room.
When they returned from the vet early that afternoon I met Jenny and Clay in the garage. As they exited the truck, their anguished faces revealed Sadie’s fate. I was overcome by grief. “It was the right thing to do,” Jenny said as she comforted me.
It is cathartic and therapeutic to cry deeply in the presence of those who are not afraid of intense emotion, and who can listen with relaxed attention. So, I reached out to a friend who is able to counsel me at such times. I sobbed until my stomach hurt. Sadie was a sweet, sweet, special girl. And, while I have always LOVED dogs, Sadie was not my own fur child. Before this week, I had never spent more than just a few days at a time with her, so I was a little confused by the depth of my feelings for her loss. We had become cancer sisters, and I felt so very sad about her diagnosis.
But, as I expressed myself, I realized that Sadie’s precipitous death from cancer had reawakened in me deep feelings of profound fear and loss. It’s impossible not to wonder, sometimes, if I will be one of the fortunate or unfortunate ones. Of course, no one can provide a definitive answer. Will I go through a year of brutal cancer treatment and separation from my family only to suffer a recurrence, or worse? Will this time spent separated from my husband, sons and beloved pets be worth it in the end? The anxiety created by a lack of control over my current circumstances was exacerbated by watching sweet, sweet Sadie girl succumb so quickly to a merciless, unforgiving disease during the most relentless, catastrophic U.S. storm in history. It was just all too much, I suppose. My faith, hope and optimism have their limits. And, they have surely been tested these past several months. Still, I strive to recognize and appreciate moments of grace and beauty – like the heron that appeared outside my window as the storm waned.
Chemotherapy, scheduled for Tuesday, was canceled, of course. MD Anderson is closed through Friday to all but inpatient care. The lobby reportedly took on some water, but staffing is the primary issue. MD Anderson employees must also cope with the storm’s impact. The roads into the medical center are now open and clear, so I expect to hear from someone soon about rescheduling my treatment. The silver lining to another delay is a reduction of major stomach upset and fatigue improvement.
I took a long walk through the neighborhood yesterday, taking advantage of some renewed energy to escape the confines of our safe haven. Except for massive amounts of water remaining in the storm ditches, everything looked pretty normal.
My Houston area family members all came through the storm without injury, major damage, property loss, or the need for evacuation. In a city of so much wide-spread destruction that is really quite something.
We are, indeed, the fortunate ones.