The SMITH Diaries Project

Backed Up in the Big Easy

Friday, July 7th, 2006

By Cree McCree

You know that old adage about how you should always take an umbrella along if you don’t want it to rain? Same thing applies to hurricane season, and if New Orleans gets through this one without an evacuation — let alone a major hit—it’s got my mom Millie, my sister Jill and me to thank. The three of us took out a massive insurance policy against the worst happening by spending the past few weeks in a state of emergency, engineering our own private evacuation.

Getting Mom out of the strike zone to a nursing home in Joliet, Illinois (where Jill and her family live) became an urgent priority in late May, when a nasty fall broke Mom’s wrist, precipitated a heart attack, hospitalized her for two weeks and kept her totally bedridden in her senior residence until just a few days before Jill wheeled her onto the plane up north.

It was a Herculean effort, involving military-style maneuvers across the landmines of the American health care system; mounds of legal and bureaucratic paperwork; the deja-vu-all-over-again logistics of contracting a mover and downsizing her possessions just six months after she moved here from Ohio; and the sheer emotional stress of never knowing when the next crisis phone call would come (for a while, it was at least once daily, including a few in the dead of night).

Though Jill and I had our doubts in the beginning, Mom eventually pulled through like a trooper, goaded by a crack team of physical therapists who got her to meet once unthinkable goals, from sitting up to eat in her wheelchair to actually walking across the room using a special walker that supports her broken wrist. And to keep our spirits up, there was plenty of comic relief.

The grand prize for situational humor goes to LaJuana, the youngest of Mom’s 24/7 home healthcare “sitters” and the only one with major ‘tude. Loathe to do anything that did not fall strictly into her job description as “sitter,” LaJuana spent nearly every minute of her on-the-job hours on her butt, glued to her cell phone, listening to music (I assume) when she wasn’t actively conversing. But she sprang into uncharacteristic action during a “crisis” precipitated by Mom’s first BM in her bedside commode.

Mom’s PT Caroline called to report the exciting news of the chamber pot deposit — a feat achieved, she added, no thanks to LaJuana, who refused to help with the heavy lifting. Not long afterward, the phone rang again. This time it was LaJuana, and she was in a state. Seems the BM in question hadn’t fully gone down when Caroline flushed the toilet, which was threatening to overflow. Well, I asked, isn’t there a plunger?

“Dunno, but it smells bad. You gotta come right away.”

So I rounded up my husband Donald, along with a plunger, bucket and mop, and hightailed it over to Malta Park. A sullen LaJuana greeted us in the lobby; she’d left Mom alone upstairs (presumably because it “smelled bad”) until the emergency plumbing squad arrived.

Up we went, expecting to find the bathroom floor flooded with water and sewage. Unh-unh. The toilet was merely backed up, with a wad of napkins covering the offending BM. And next to it, plain as day. was a big ol’ toilet plunger. So why hadn’t young LaJuana availed herself of this handy tool? Not in her job description. Or as she herself so comically and succinctly put it:

“I ain’t usin’ no plunger!”

That dirty job fell to Donald, who drew on his years as New York super to make short work of it, despite the extra obstacles posed by LaJuana’s cover-up efforts. Mom, mercifully, slept through the whole shebang. As for LaJuana, she was axed before the end of her shift, but her catchphrase will live forever.

“I ain’t usin’ no plunger!” is the perfect bureaucratic excuse for the arrested recovery of New Orleans, which continues to drown in a sea of red tape while government agencies keep the system backed up with arbitrary regulations and deadlines.

How bad is it?

On June 30—amid an extreme drought in a parched, flood-damaged city laden with flammable debris that’s been sparking constant blazes—FEMA sent an email to our severely understaffed fire department that essentially said: sorry guys, your deadline’s up. We’re taking back our two fire-fighting helicopters unless you start paying for them. At midnight tonight. On the eve of Fourth of July weekend in a town whose pre-Katrina fireworks laws were so lax we never had to our leave own porch to watch spectacular corner pyrotechnics. A town where M80s competed with Glocks as the celebratory device of choice in the ‘hood. A town where the armies of returning knuckleheads were as unlikely to heed official warnings that they cool it this year as they are to stop shooting each other in Central City.

What were the Knuckleheads at FEMA thinking?!? They weren’t. Deadline’s up, end of story: “I ain’t usin’ no plunger!”

In other words: tough shit.

Sure, the state stepped in at the 11th hour (kind of like Donald with his plunger) to cover the city’s financial shortfall, averting the immediate ‘copter crisis for at least a few weeks. But this kind of bureaucratic blindness has become a running joke that’s not all that funny anymore.

What is funny is our running family joke. We successfully managed to get Mom out of the hurricane zone—and into Tornado Alley, as the zone’s known around Joliet.

Oh well. As Jill points out, with only 20 minutes warning for a twister, at least we won’t have to worry about evacuating Mom again.

One response

  1. Darby says:

    I like your story,its been a long 22 months,I have 2 lawsuits in litigation sued the Army Corps of Engineers,I am writer,”Google”my name,pen name”Darby Diana”.I have wrote about Katrina online,I am 63 years old,we stayed here in Vegas,we are afraid to come home,we miss the “Quarter”.My only regret is that I didn’t get to see Nagin drown!!!!!!!!!!

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