10 Years. It has been 10 years since those flood waters rained in and took away all that was, leaving with us to survive and then build something new. I've told my stories from Katrina many times. I even published one once. But so much of the bravado of the times have washed away. What has remained is a deep sadness that I could not have predicted.
I have often submitted that Hurricane Katrina, and its aftermath which left us without a school, without a home (well, with a scumbag landlord), and for the first time in this overachiever's life, without a certain future.
The story of my arrival in New Orleans goes back long before 2005. In 2002, I first arrived in New Orleans to attend Phi Kappa Sigma's 91st biannual Grand Chapter as chapter president-elect. It was a fantastic trip, 100 similarish dudes sweating their asses off in the August heat and humidity whilst wearing tuxedos on Bourbon Street.
Flash forward a year later when I started applying to Medical School. My parents were quite generous in supporting my during the shockingly expensive interview process. Knowing this and having an interest in New Orleans and Tulane as a school, I decided to apply. At the very least I would get a weekend in New Orleans again. It started as something as a goof. I arrived Friday afternoon for my Monday morning interview. I was picked up at the airport by officers of the local Tulane Chapter. Upon getting in the car, Matt, the president, tossed me a Walmart bag with a length of fabric.
"What is this?" I asked?
"Your toga, Welcome to New Orleans," he replied flatly.
That night was awesome.
It was a little strange for me to drop in solo on a group of strangers. To be honest, I'd never felt more welcome. I distinctly remember starting a conversation with another partygoer who originally hailed from nearby Lafayette, Louisiana. I confessed that I was not sure that I was ready to take the plunge to move to this strange, strange place. Besides, I didn't know anyone in Louisiana. She looked me with complete seriousness and said, "Well, now you know us."
The rest of that weekend was great fun, exploring what would become my new home. Eating, walking, taking the sites, more eating. If you've been, you know. If you haven't been, shame on you.
Monday morning I walked into what I can only describe as a 1950s high school which called itself a medical school. I met the students in the hallways, who to this day have the distinction of being the happiest medical students. Think about that, happy medical students. When I later called my sister (a physician herself) and told her how happy everyone seemed, she did not hesitate to offer advice (she is a Schutzbank).
"What? But it's so far." I replied.
"Andrew, no one is happy in medical school. If that many people are that happy, they are doing something special. Go there."
Several interviews later, one with an Episcopalian minister/faculty member with an amazingly raucous laugh who asked me to tell a story about which I was proud. Keeping in the meathead, fraternity theme, I thought it would be a good idea to tell a story where I physically removed a MUCH LARGER individual from our house who was intoxicated and trying to steal our composite photo. It wasn't that I enjoyed the physical confrontation. In fact, as I shared with Father Don, I was scared shitless. But it had to be done, and I was the person to do it. When those around me needed me, I stood up to my own fears, to the challenge, and got it done.
Realizing how stupid it was to tell that story, I began to gather my things and conclude my short trip to New Orleans as thugs and fraternity meatheads don't necessarily make great physicians. Much to my surprise, Father Don turned to me and said simply, "We need more people like you here."
I was hooked. I called home to tell my parents that I had decided on my new school. I do this. Things like geography, distance, or even getting accepted don't seem to factor in once I have made my decision.
My father, always wise and prudent, asked simply, "What happens if the city gets destroyed in a flood?"
"Dad, you worry too much, that's not going to happen."