Monday, February 21, 2011

New Orleans - a city of contradictions

I am in the New Orleans airport waiting for my plane to take me home.  I have been at a wonderful seminar on Psychodrama for Lawyers, put on by my friends Joane Garcia-Colson, Fredilyn Sison and Mary Peckham.  It was an innovative and creative experience.  However, I want to talk about what I saw in New Orleans while we were there.

This is the first time I have been back to New Orleans since Katrina.  The French Quarter is filled with revelers, people celebrating and letting loose.  Wherever you walk down Bourbon Street, music fills the air.  I am imagine some people engage in behavior that they later regret, and sometimes hardly remember.  In two candy stores, women bickered over who was next in line, making snide comments to other candy buyers.  The streets are filled with people, some sober, some not, some pushing baby carriages.

However, on Sunday, Joane, Fredi, Mary and I have an experience that I will not soon forget.  Joane wants beignets, so we wait while she stands in line with scores of others.  After she gets the fried treats, we decide to walk along the Mississippi River toward our hotel.  It is a little chilly, with the wind blowing.  We are bombarded with smells, most of which are unpleasant.  Homeless-looking men sit on benches, playing musical instruments with guitar and horn cases open at their feet for donations.  The music is beautiful, but most people, including us, do not stop.

As we walk along the sidewalk, past a Holocaust memorial, a man, shabbily dressed, runs up to us, shouting, "Help! Help!  Please give me a phone.  She's having a seizure and I need to call 911!" People are ignoring him.

I look over to where he had run from and a short, squat African-American women is trying to leave the sidewalk, as she sways and stumbles and sits.  Across from her is an older man, named Jesse, shabbily dressed with a long white beard and yellow mustache, drinking a large can of beer.

Joane immediately responds, "I'll call 911."  She pulls out her phone and starts talking into the receiver, "We need an ambulance here at Riverside Park by the Holocaust Museum.  No, the Holocaust Museum.  Holocaust.  H-O-L-O-C-A-U-S-T.  By the aquarium.  In Riverside Park.  By the river.  In the park.  Near the aquarium.  Holocaust museum.  I don't know the address. . .  In Riverside Park."

In the meantime, the man who accosted us goes back to the bench where his friend is. "Tell them her name is Marsha and she is 52 years old.  She is having a seizure.  She is not taking her Dilantin."

He grabs Marsha and holds her down on his lap.  "Marsha, I am not letting you go.  You need to go to the hospital.  You are my best friend, Marsha.  I am going to take care of you.  I know what I am doing.  I was in the 82nd Airborne.  I am not letting you go.  You are my best friend and I love you."

Marsha, an African-American woman dressed in jeans and a tee shirt, struggles to free herself.  "I d-d-d-don't want to go to the hospital.  They hurt me."  She holds up her left arm, where there is a large bump.  "Th- th-ey couldn't get the IV in."

The man holds Marsha securely. "Marsha, you have to go to the hospital.  You made me promise that if you had a seizure that lasted three minutes, that I would get you to the hospital.  This seizure was more than three minutes.  You are my best friend and I am going to take you to the hospital."

Jesse chimes in, "Marsha, you need to go to the hospital."

A tourist couple tells us that they will go to the end of the street and flag down the ambulance.  A man in a golf cart drives up, and looks at the the scene and tells the homeless people, "You all are going to have to leave."

We shout at the man, "She's having a seizure, she's sick.  We called an ambulance."

The man in the golf car looks at us, obviously tourists, and it dawns on him this situation is different, "Oh, oh, okay.  Is this the woman who's sick?"

We wait.  I am afraid to leave because I am fear that the homeless woman will be blown off by the paramedics.  Marsha is still struggling to free herself from her friend.  When she talks, the right side of her mouth is drooping.  The man, a white man in is 40s wearing a ball  cap with a fleur de lis over his shaggy dishwater brown hair holds Marsha tight.  I can't help but notice how blue his eyes are and how, under different circumstances, he might be a handsome man, this war veteran who lives in the park.

The paramedics arrive.  To us untrained tourists, it doesn't look  like Marsha is having a seizure, it looks like a stroke since the right side of her face is drooping.  The man tells the paramedics that Marsha is not on her medication and Marsha struggles to free herself.

The man again Marsha, "I am not going to leave you.  You are my best friend.  I will make the paramedics take me with you."

Marsha relents and they strap her to the gurney as Marsha surrenders.  The man follows close behind, holding his belongings in a green recyclable bag.  "I won't leave you, Marsha."  And they disappear into the ambulance.

I , and my friends, have been standing on the bench making sure that Marsha gets the attention in the park that she needs.  Jesse remains seated, looking like a homeless Santa Claus and engages Joane in conversation.  I turn around and see the sculpture of a Menorah behind us, to signify the Jews killed in the Holocaust.  The scene is overwhelming and I begin to weep.

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