Providing Healing After the Hurricane
CMDA Member Dr. Cindy Anthis found herself facing an unexpected situation when her local community in Texas was flooded by Hurricane Harvey. In this article from the winter 2017 edition of Today's Christian Doctor, Dr. Anthis shares how her clinic responded to the hurricane and its aftermath.
by Cindy Anthis, MD
It's a situation we never expected to find ourselves in, to say the least. I was trapped in my house in Katy, Texas by the flooded streets and rising waters from Hurricane Harvey. Meanwhile, our executive director was rescuing our office administrator from her flooded first floor apartment in a kayak. Our office administrator, her husband and their 2-year-old son had to wade to the kayak in chest deep water, knowing they had lost most of their possessions. At the same time, we were all communicating with each other about how to respond. We knew we needed to respond. And we knew we were going to respond. But we just didn’t know how we were going to respond. After all, we never expected to find ourselves in this situation.
I am the volunteer medical director at Christ Clinic, a charity clinic located in Katy. We are a small clinic that was started by a local church to serve the uninsured poor in our community (whose income is less than 200 percent of the federal poverty guideline). Our funding comes primarily from individual donations and local churches. In addition, we receive some grant funding and our patients pay $15 per visit. Every year we remain faithful, and every year God provides. In 2016, we had nearly 10,000 patient visits as we cared for more than 3,500 patients as their medical home.
Our small yet dedicated staff, along with a committed group of volunteer physicians, pharmacists, nurses, translators and other do-gooders, are stretched extremely thin during our regular operation. That’s why no one would have expected us to be so involved with providing medical care needed in response to Hurricane Harvey. In fact, if a planning meeting had been held to explore how our community would respond to such an emergency, we most likely would not have even been invited.
Like I said, it’s not a situation we ever expected to find ourselves in. However, God has given those of us serving at Christ Clinic a deep, passionate desire to serve the vulnerable in our community. When Hurricane Harvey brought more than 50 inches of rain, flooding thousands of houses, suddenly everyone in our community became vulnerable. We knew our community needed us, and we were ready for “such a time as this.” As soon as the water around the clinic receded enough to allow us to reach the building, those of us who could get there met to begin planning. And it wasn’t long before we leapt into action.
During the initial days, the water in the area made driving anywhere dangerous at best and impossible for many. Two of our area high schools were turned into shelters to house the residents rescued from the rising waters surrounding their homes. My daughter’s school opened as a shelter less than one mile from our house. At the clinic, we packed boxes of medications from our well-stocked pharmacy and showed up at the shelter ready to work. We worked alongside our dedicated school nurses caring for the medical needs of the “guests” (as we were instructed to call them). At one point, close to 1,000 guests were in the building, along with their pets and whatever else they had managed to gather in their haste to escape the floodwaters.
Many of the evacuees did not think to bring their medicines when they left their homes. We focused on replacing prescription medications and making sure everyone had their chronic medical needs met. Most doctors’ offices were underwater and almost every pharmacy in our area was closed, so we were providing a vital service. One man with diabetes arrived at the shelter with his insulin pump but no insulin or other supplies to use the pump. A call to the supply company revealed it would be more than a week before the supplies lost in the flood could be replaced. We were able to transition him to injectable insulin and instruct the good Samaritans taking him into their undamaged home how to help him manage it. There are so many stories like this. Much of what I did was check blood pressure and blood sugar and listen to people as they recounted the terrifying events of the previous days. Countless tears were shed.
As the initial rescue efforts transitioned to recovery, our care shifted back to the clinic. We made a decision in faith to offer free care to all who came, regardless of income eligibility. We reached out to Direct Relief to expand our supply of medication in the pharmacy. We received tetanus vaccine and asthma inhalers from the county hospital district. Our staff worked tirelessly for several days. I told everyone in the clinic to start each encounter by asking how the patient was impacted by the storm. We continued to see patients free of charge, fill almost all prescriptions onsite for free and, most importantly, pray with all those who would allow it.
It comes as no surprise that the most vulnerable in our community were disproportionately impacted by the storm. Those living with no margin and no support suffer the most in the face of natural disasters. One story that stands out in my memory is one of my long-time patients. She lost her chronic medication during the storm and traveled to the clinic for refills. I started by asking her about her experience, and she burst into tears, a steady stream of sobs that lasted nearly five minutes. She was staying with her daughter in a mobile home helping her daughter care for her 2-month-old twins when the storm started. They lost power on the first day. They could not safely leave, so they stayed as the water continued to rise. They were finally rescued by boat by the National Guard four days later. She described their terror as they ran out of diapers and formula while they sat helplessly as water began rising into their mobile home. This is a trauma that will continue to affect her emotionally for years to come.
She is certainly not the only one, as we have all been impacted and affected one way or another. I heard countless stories and learned numerous lessons in the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey. I want to summarize just a few for you:
- The church is God’s agent of healing in the world. A church in our community started Christ Clinic, and today our area churches continue to be the main source of support. As we planned our response, we coordinated with the local churches and were led and supported by them. We were involved with community-wide planning, and we led the medical aspect of the response. It was beautiful to see our community churches come together and be the BODY of Christ, each operating in their individual areas of strength. In this way, so many people impacted by the hurricane in our community felt the love of Christ during this terrible time.
- God uses the small things offered freely. I am reminded of the boy offering his loaves and fishes to Jesus when there was an enormous need to feed the multitudes. The boy could not see how it was going to turn out, but he freely offered what he had. Christ Clinic is not a big, well-known or powerful organization. In the face of an overwhelming need, we opened our hands (and our clinic and pharmacy) and freely gave what we had. God took that offering and multiplied it beyond what we could have imagined. Several national organizations partnered with us in the weeks following the storm. They sent medical personnel, mental health personnel, logistics specialists and equipment. We continue to see patients in numbers two to three times what we were seeing before the storm. God took our initial small faith offering and multiplied it in ways we could not have orchestrated on our own.
- We are blessed to be a blessing. God spared our clinic from flooding. We do not know why some people suffered complete losses of their homes, cars and property while others escaped the damage. Even when we cannot understand why, we are called to use our blessings to help those around us who are suffering. This has always been how Christ Clinic sees our mission, and we were called to put it into practice during and after Hurricane Harvey.
- Healthcare is a way to be the hands and feet of Jesus in the midst of tragedy. This reality comes as no surprise. We were privileged at Christ Clinic to enter into the suffering of the people in our community during Hurricane Harvey. Christ Himself is the example we follow. He walked with those who were suffering and He cared for them. This is and will continue to be our goal at Christ Clinic, and I challenge each of you to make it your goal as well.
As the water receded, our community began the long, ongoing process of rebuilding. More than 15,000 of Katy Independent School District’s 70,000 students had their homes flooded. This represents thousands of families in our community, families that will spend the next six months to a year trying to rebuild. Others simply will not be able to rebuild. I have been part of disaster relief in the past. I served short-term in Haiti after the earthquake and in the Philippines after Super Typhoon Haiyan, but somehow this has been so much more difficult. When tragedy strikes your own neighbors and your own community, there is no option to be involved in relief for the short-term. Christ Clinic will continue to have an expanded role in meeting the needs of the medically vulnerable in the months and years to come. We have already begun to seek resources to add more mental health capacity, because the scars from this event will be visible for a long time. For me personally, I have been focusing on Paul’s command in Galatians 6:9, “Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up.” I am committed to not giving up and to loving those the storm has brought through the doors of Christ Clinic. May this terrible rain bring a huge harvest for Christ’s glory!
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Cindy Anthis, MD, is a board certified family physician who joined CMDA while a medical student at Baylor College of Medicine in Houston, Texas. She met her husband Joel at the first CMDA meeting of their first year of medical school. She and her husband (an ENT) have been involved with healthcare missions throughout their careers. They served a three-year term with SIM in Jos, Nigeria, where Joel trained Nigerian doctors in ENT practice and Cindy did community health and outreach. They continue to be involved in short-term trips. Cindy traveled with CMDA as they partnered with the Salvation Army in the Philippines to do relief work after Super Typhoon Haiyan. Cindy and Joel have been blessed with four children and one daughter-in-law. They live in Katy, Texas where Cindy is the volunteer medical director of Christ Clinic.