As we watched the horrible news this past week while tragedy blew through Oklahoma, we heard frequent references to May 3, 1999. But it was the day after — May 4, 1999 — that will remain forever etched in my memory.
I was working in a small, privately-owned hospital in New Boston, Texas. Primarily specializing in foot surgery — the owners were podiatrists — we also did a moderate amount of med-surg care, some simple surgeries, and delivered a few babies every month.
We had an active emergency room. A small one, with two exam rooms.
I was assigned to the ER that day. During the morning, no one had presented for care, so the routine was for the ER nurse to help out on the floor. As I delivered a dose of medication to a patient, she called my attention to the TV news, and that would worry me the rest of the day.
The weatherman was telling about a tornado heading for Abilene, Kan., where I had a daughter and three grandkids. And there was no way I could call to check on them until after I got off duty at 3:30 p.m.
3:15 p.m.: Noting the time, I begin to relax a little — it would only take me a couple minutes to get home, as I lived close to the hospital — and I could pick up that phone.
3:20 p.m.: The hospital administrator came flying through the halls announcing “Code brown, code brown — get everyone away from the windows!”
“Code Brown” means “tornado on the ground and approaching.” Worry about my family had to be pushed aside for the next five hours as we put 60 people through our little ER.
The twister had plowed through the town of DeKalb, five miles away, collapsing a cinderblock wall, and taking out the high school in addition to the usual widespread destruction.
The wall had fallen on one of the city workers, causing crushing injuries. We stabilized him and transferred him into Texarkana to St. Michael’s. Suddenly, we were inundated with kids, their friends and their families. After a bit of sorting out and sending all but one person for each patient to the cafeteria for coffee and snacks, we were able to set about caring for our kids. And thank God for all those off-duty nurses who suddenly materialized!
I will never forget the blank stares and lost expressions on those kids’ faces. And I cannot imagine what it must feel like to have your school coming apart around you.
That was the closest I ever came in the 10 years I lived in “Tornado Alley,” though several of my family members still do live there — in Texas and Kansas.
Sue and her family were okay that day. As they were this time. It seems there is a Native American legend that says the winds will not come through their town — and it has apparently proven true a number of times.
• Mission activity is the focus this week.
On Wednesday, missionaries Harmon and Cindy Schmeltzenbach will make a presentation at the Crescent City Church of the Nazarene at 6:30 p.m.
Harmon is a fourth-generation missionary who was raised in Africa by missionary parents. He is the field strategy coordinator for the Melanesia South Pacific Fields of the Church of the Nazarene. His great-great-grandfather was the first Nazarene missionary to serve in Africa.
All are welcome to come and listen to their presentation. Sounds to me like one that will be fascinating and inspiring to hear!
• School is almost out — time to be extra watchful, as we know lots of the kids will not be watching where they’re going as they celebrate freedom from classrooms.
• Be sure and keep me informed of your Vacation Bible School plans so we can be sure to include them. Kids do look forward to these programs — as, I suspect — do parents who will be wearying of those complaints of “I’m sooo bored!”