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The Winds are Blowing

Those of us who lived through the hurricanes of 2004 all have our own horror stories. Certainly everyone was affected differently this is our story from the point of view of a veterinarian and business owner.

We thought we were reasonably prepared for a minor hurricane, after all Frances was only a category 2. The days prior to the hurricane were filled with preparation by us and our clients. As usual before a hurricane hits, there was panic in the air. People were flooding the roads gathering supplies such as gasoline, food etc. Our hospital was no different. People were picking up food, and medicines, especially tranquilizers, for their pets. Animals can sense changes in barometric pressure so even though Frances was barely discernable on radar, some animals was already exhibiting nervous behavior due to the dropping barometric pressure. To prescribe medications we need to have examined the patient within the past year. Unfortunately, people we had not seen for several years were getting upset with us because we could not fit them in during the mad scramble before the storm.

We also upset quite a few people by refusing to board their pets. We knew that our hospital was no safer than the average client's house and it was safer for people who were going to evacuate to take their pets with them. We put our storm shutters up and prepared to wait out the coming storm. It was definitely a stressful time for everyone-man and beast.

The problem with Frances was not the winds but the duration of the whole event. We lost power both at the office and at our house way before the storm even hit. It lasted a full 24 hours before things settled down and we could get out (breaking curfew) to check on the hospital. One of our technicians found a 5 month old puppy running the roads prior to the storm and instead of taking it to animal control, she dropped it off in our kennel. Aside from our unexpected guest, the hospital was as we left it. We had no electricity (a power line was down in our lot), had a lot of debris in the parking lot and our sewers had backed up but the structure itself was safe and intact.

While I began to clean the debris, Mike (My husband and hospital administrator) began to try to get our small, portable generator to work. Even though it worked just 5 years earlier he couldn't get it to work now (I wonder why). I left the hospital to go home for a bit and when I returned someone else had broken curfew and kicked in our back door. They were long gone and I really couldn't figure out what was stolen, if anything. I called the police and they nicely told me to get over it, they could get to me in about 2 weeks. I explained that I could not leave the hospital wide open for 2 weeks. They said, do what you need to do. Mike brought some wood to the hospital and we destroyed the evidence of the break in by boarding up the kicked in door.

While I was cleaning debris an FP&L emergency response van stopped in our parking lot. I showed the men the downed power line and they took down our address and phone number. I was confident that we would have our power returned fairly quickly. We were on a main road in Port Saint Lucie, it was unthinkable that we would be without power for very long.

It took 3 days for Mike to find a working generator and enough gasoline to run it. We lost everything in our aquarium during this time. A casualty of Frances. We started to open up for 3 hours per day. I told the staff to think of this like a M*A*S*H unit. We were doing triage and field medicine. Anything very sick or dying needed to be referred to West Palm or Melbourne where we knew they could be properly cared for. We were still without power but I knew that soon we'd be back up and running, we were on Port Saint Lucie Blvd for goodness sakes! And I personally told the FP&L emergency team about the downed power line.

We slept fitfully in our 80-86 degree house. We had the generator on but it was a small one and we needed to keep filling it with gas every 8 hours. Instead of trying to cool the entire house we tried to keep just one room cool. We had a fan in the window and 2 fans on us in our family room. We had 3 dogs of our own plus the stray puppy, which we had brought home because of the backed up sewage and lack of power at the hospital. We also had 2 cats. We slept in the family room, all of us. I slept on the sofa with the stray puppy at my feet. Clyde and Blue alternated who slept on the floor next to me and Bonnie slept on the floor next to Mike on sleeping bags. The cats avoided this doggie and people sleep-over and found their own places to spend the night. We woke every morning at 7:00, got as cleaned up as possible, turned the generator off and packed it up to travel to the hospital. We took our bedroom lamps and every possible extension cord we could find to the hospital. Mike would set up the generator out in the back and we would run extension cords through the hospital and hookup lights, computers, phone, microscope and a few other things that didn't use too much power. We lost all our reagents to do blood work (they need to be kept frozen) and we lost some drugs and vaccines. By 9:00 everything would be hooked up and we were ready to help whoever came through the door. By 12:00 noon it was too oppressively hot to continue and we would shut down, dismantle everything and head home.

Every day we would get ice from FEMA, not for us but for the cadavers in our not so cold freezer. And every day we would come home from the office and work in our yard clearing debris from our house and yard. Mike would make the gasoline runs twice a day to keep the generator running.

By day 6 post Frances, I was complaining to Mike about FP&L and he called to let them know that we were still without power. Of course he was only one of thousands that were calling. By day 8 post Frances, a lot of our clients had electricity and were coming to our office expecting us to be back at 100% and able to serve them. We still did not have power. Clients were starting to get annoyed with us.

A client came in with her very sick kitten and we did the best we could. The little guy had a fever of 106.7. That is incompatible with life. I took my flashlight and started searching for the injectable drug that we use in cats as a fever reducer. It is always in one spot. And it wasn't there! I started searching all over the place looking for this little bottle and then it hit me what the burgler took! Ketamine is a controlled drug used by some veterinarians and on the street is used to make the drug called Special-K. The drug I was looking for is called KETOPROFEN. I'm sure the burglar thought ketoprofen was ketamine. I used another drug to try to get the kitten's fever down and sent home some antibiotics but told the owner that TLC from her is what would probably save the kitten's life. She needed to force water and food into him and to keep him as cool as possible. She left with her little guy but I really didn't hold out much hope. The kitten was too young and the fever was just too high.

Another casualty of Frances.

By day 10 we still had no power and I was beyond upset. And poor Mike was bearing the brunt of me cursing FP&L. I didn't care that I had no power at home. I didn't care that I didn't have a warm shower or good meal in over a week but I did care that I couldn't do my job! On day 11 Mike got into the jeep and started to drive around Port St. Lucie. He found a crew working on the lines. He explained the situation to them and was getting nowhere until he told them the problem with the pets in the freezer. Suddenly, THAT made them say WOW! We need to get your power back on! The FP&L crew said that they would get to it by that afternoon and that we would have power the following day. We were pleased but wanted to see it before we believed it. About 2 hours later, as we were closing up at noon, a Canadian electrical crew came by and asked us where that problem was. We showed them and asked them if they thought they could have the power on by the next day. They said they thought they could have it on that afternoon. Mike and I went to eat lunch in a restaurant that actually had air conditioning-at this point it was a real treat. After eating, we decided to swing by work to see if, by some miracle they actually had the power back on. Well bless their hearts, the Canadian crew had our power back on and it only took them an hour and a half! We were back at work, cleaning and washing and trying to get the hospital back into hospital shape the next day.

Then a few days later came tropical storm Ivan. Then 2 weeks later came hurricane Jeanne a Cat 3. We were without power during Jeanne as well but only for 6 days and the Canadians repair stayed repaired. Also during the lull between Frances and Jeanne Mike bought another generator so with Jeanne we had TWO generators, one for the house and one for the office. It helped us avoid the daily schlepping of the generator back and forth between the house and the office. And also it helped us avoid the loss of all our vaccines and refrigerated medicines so we were able to work better during Jeanne, if only for 3 hours per day.

So what did we learn from the catastrophe of 2004-the Canadians are good people even though they do talk funny. Seriously, we learned not to underestimate even a cat 2 storm. You need to be prepared and you can't rely on others. It wasn't the winds but the duration that was the problem. Be prepared for the long haul and be ready for disappointments and we'll get through it easier. Estimate how much water, ice, gasoline that you'll need then double it. As long as you are there to give them food and water and attention, your animals don't care if there is heat, electricity or air conditioning. Animals are so easy as long as you are there to reassure them.
Don't leave them behind. Also we learned that generators are a necessity.

Mike and I invested in a diesel powered generator capable of running 90% of the hospital. It is the most money we have ever spent on something that we hope we will never use. However, if we do need it, we will be ready and able to serve our clients and patients.

And we also learned that sometimes love and prayer do work miracles. The little kitten with the very high fever lived through sheer will and love. I had very little to do with it but every time the now BIG guy comes in, I am encouraged that life finds a way if only given a little help.



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