Why I Wrote a Book About Hurricane Sandy

Finding Maslow front cover LR

As my first post, I thought I would like to share my personal story of why I wrote my book, “Finding Maslow”.

First, I will go back in time to 2011.  I was in a work situation where I knew I needed to change.  Not because I was bored, or wanted more money, but because it was clearly time to go.  I received a random call from a recruiter, asking me if I might be interested in an interim position in New York.  Since I had a son and husband, I was not looking to relocate.  But I heard him out, and the opportunity started to sound interesting, particularly since I knew I needed to find a new job.

I went to New York for the interview.  It was at St. John’s Episcopal Hospital, in Far Rockaway.  I knew nothing about Far Rockaway or the hospital, so as the taxi drove me through a quasi-industrial area with bad roads, then wound me through a neighborhood that looked like it could be a bit rough, I wondered what I had been thinking.

St. John’s looked like it hadn’t had an upgrade in a very long time, and I realized that I had gotten spoiled with some pretty well-funded healthcare organizations up to that point.  The interview went well, and the people there were very nice, and although I was taken aback by the clear lack of resources at the facility, I was intrigued by the idea of building a compliance program for them.

When the offer came some time later, I took the plunge and agreed to take it.

Needless to say, it was a huge adjustment.  I’m a Seattle girl, moved to Maryland, and then I was dropped down in New York in a poor hospital where nearly everything was either broken our outdated, or so it seemed. My start date was pushed back a few days, however, as the hospital was threatened by Hurricane Irene.  They had a mandatory evacuation, but it ended up causing minimal damage, so I started a few days later.

On the other hand, I was provided with an apartment in Long Beach, across the street from the Boardwalk.  Wow.  Who knew that New York had such a great beach, complete with a boardwalk and surfers?  And such an amazing community.  Unbelievable.

So I commuted home on weekends, and seemed to be consistently sick and exhausted.  Things at home were not good, and there was a lot of stress in my life from all that.  The people at the hospital, both employees and other consultants, became friends to me, and I became immersed in the hospital and Long Beach.

My 9-month contract became a 13 month job.  I tackled some pretty challenging situations during the last few months, and when my contract was up there was a party for me, combined with a ‘welcome’ party for the permanent person they had hired for the role.  I was moved by the amount of support I received, even from a number of physicians, as well as the various consultants and employees.  Everyone was telling me that I had made such a difference, and was sorry to see me go.  This is not typical for a Compliance Officer, I can tell you, so the accolades were particularly meaningful.

As I flew out, for the last time, I felt very sad, as though I wasn’t supposed to be leaving that place.  It was a very emotional experience for me, not one that I am used to having with respect to leaving a job.  But I felt like it wasn’t done, as though I was walking away from something left incomplete.  I also had no job lined up, and with the trouble at home, I didn’t know what was next.  I watched from the plane as the hospital, and my Long Beach neighborhood, disappeared beneath me, and all I felt was extreme sadness.

That was in the middle of October, 2012.

A few days later, my bags barely unpacked, I started hearing about Hurricane Sandy.  Maryland was under warnings for the storm, as well, and we prepared by getting ready for power outages and securing everything outside.  We were told we might get winds as high as 70 miles per hour, which could bring down the large trees around my house.  So we were concerned, and remained glued to the television to watch the progress of the storm.

Our power never went out; we were some of the lucky ones.  But as I watched the news, Sandy destroyed New Jersey and then moved on to New York.  Long Beach, a barrier island, had water coming at it from both sides, and ended up completely submerged.  Far Rockaway, where my hospital was located, was decimated, and the news showed all the clips of waves washing over everything, cars floating with alarms blaring, and then later homes catching fire at Breezy Point down the road.

I texted one of my friends, who I knew lived in Far Rockaway.  She said she was actually staying with a family member, because her apartment was at risk for extreme flooding, but that her neighbor had just watched a car float past.

The hospital remained open, even though it had been evacuated just a year prior for Hurricane Irene.  Apparently the zones were reconfigured after Irene.

I followed the story in New York religiously, and was beyond surprised one day, while flipping channels, to happen upon an interview on CNN with the executives at my hospital.  They were telling the reporters that people had received instructions on the radio to go to St. John’s, but that the hospital had no resources to care for people, and probably wouldn’t receive funding for it.  I thought about all the times, while I was there, that the hospital struggled to make payroll and to fix its Emergency Department, which was inadequate for the patients it served.

I called one of my friends at the hospital, who was interviewed by the reporter for Anderson Cooper, and she said they were still operating on generators, that many staff had gone missing during the storm, and that others were sleeping anywhere they could find a spot, hallways, closets, whatever.  People were still without power, sick and cold.

Then there was a Nor’easter.  Unbelievable. The power in the Rockaways was still out, and  I wondered how much more the people up there, many of who were poor and had few resources to begin with, were going to survive.

At some point I knew I needed to tell the story of that place and what those people went through.  I think, in large part, I had some form of survivor guilt for having so narrowly missed that disaster.  I felt that I should have been there, although what sort of sorry help I could have provided I do not know.

It’s now three years later, and the book was mostly written within the first 6 months after Sandy, but I needed to step away and deal with life issues.  I was finally able to re-focus this year, and was committed to getting it out before the 3-year Sandy anniversary.  I have been back to ‘my’ hospital a number of times. and will always have a connection to that place.  I am hoping that the book will perhaps help raise awareness for that hospital, as it struggles to find funding to finish fixing the Emergency Department and other projects that were put on hold due to Sandy and have still not been completed.  There were also many people who never financially recovered due to issues with insurance companies (60 Minutes covered this issue a while back, and it’s still ongoing) and many left and have not returned.

Thank you for reading my post on this topic.  Telling this story was important for me because of all the reasons above, but it has also been the fulfillment of a life-long desire to write a book.  I’ve been at it since I was a child, but doing a whole book is certainly much more complicated that ‘just’ writing!

Now I have discovered the rewards of writing, however, I will continue… so I hope that people enjoy “Finding Maslow”, because there is more to come….

For information St. John’s Episcopal Hospital, or to make a donation, visit their site: http://www.ehs.org/Ways-to-Give/Make-a-Gift.aspx