The Power of Community

Hylton I Lightman, MD, DCH (SA), FAAP

This October 28th marks five years since Hurricane Sandy blew her way into our lives, leaving devastation and desolation in her wake, including the medical practice I founded, Total Family Care.  With Sandy’s 5-year anniversary looming, there’s no time like the present to sing the praises of community and how the community helped us get back to business as usual.

Designating the area where Total Family Care is located as “Zone A,” governmental authorities ordered an evacuation.  We chose to remain put for several reasons.  Our home, which is less than a mile from the office, is on higher ground and we weren’t as concerned about the storm surge affecting us.  We also have elderly neighbors who were alone and we believed we could help.  Many doctors in The Five Towns and Far Rockaway opted to pull out.  Simply out, that was not an option for me.  It’s not how I’m wired.

Preparing for this uninvited guest was a race against time.  My wife and I physically prepared the medical office by moving computers and medical equipment and supplies onto exam tables and other higher places.  I packed medical supplies and ordered basic antibiotics to have on hand in our home.  We removed the computer server from the premises and stored it in a secure location.

Further, we reviewed in advance our chronic needs patients, contacting and urging those we believed would be best served by not being in the area during Sandy.  We accessed medical and pharmaceutical information for all patients so there would be no gaps in care.  We worked with the local pharmacists to make sure medicinal needs were met. 

We only began to learn the extent of the destruction the next morning when, with great trepidation and a magnificent double rainbow in the sky over Far Rockaway, we entered our office.  It was a mass of ruin and was rendered useless.  I hope others never experience water and sewage damage.  Suffice it to say, there wasn’t a stethoscope or band aid to be found.

Thus began a simultaneous journey — inventorying the damage and working with insurance companies and government agencies while meeting the medical needs of a dazed and overwhelmed population.  It was a maze of confusion.

Yet rays of hope and comfort appeared on the horizon.  Patients and friends voluntarily rolled up their sleeves, donned gloves and helped to clean up the mess.  My children aided me as I saw over 60 patients daily in our home in Sandy’s immediate aftermath, although we were still without heat and electricity.

The White Shul, which already was a community hub for helping both the Jewish and non-Jewish populations, offered a room where I set up a medical clinic for nearly six months while our office was rebuilt.

Politicians and government agencies, including FEMA, paraded through here but to what effect?  We know many people still waiting to be reimbursed.   I’m not sure anyone can ever measure the overall stress and displacement and their effects on physical health.  Never mind the exposure to mold.

Dr. Lightman is sited in a 2013 article written by Al Jazeera on the increase of patients he treated for respiratory problems after Hurricane Sandy October, 2012.

The power of community pulled us through Hurricane Sandy.  The tractor trailer trucks filled by the Baltimore Jewish community brought supplies and other relief to this part of the world.  Boston’s Maimonides School filled a coach bus with high school students who assisted in the clean up one Sunday afternoon.  Local organizations helped people with clothing and other needs.  Most impressively, with funds raised from heartfelt donations worldwide, this community aided many people in moving back into their homes and offices:  I’m but one humbly grateful recipient of this munificence. 

There’s a reason we are called “Am Yisrael,” the Nation of Israel.  We are doers.  A sense of peoplehood has long been one of our defining characteristics.  Like Nachson ben Aminadav who, as Am Yisrael, was fleeing the Egyptians, jumped into the Red Sea, causing it to split open.  And we all crossed over to a new life.  Even when we may disagree with one another, we still care about each other.

Truth be told, it’s far easier to be on the giving end of kindness than the receiving end.  But when you need, it’s comforting to know your community is there.

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