Friday, September 02, 2005

Mental Health Day

Yesterday turned out to be very hard. As you know from prior emails, we've gone from fear to relief to anxiety and grief to starting to feel a little better due to the volunteering. With the volunteering, also came adrenaline. Yesterday came the inevitable crash of exhaustion. Accompanied by the miserable reports from New Orleans and the ridiculous rumors about our own downtown.

Ah, the rumors, don't know if any of this made the news, but as early as Wednesday night, there were small rumors of muggings and carjackings in downtown Baton Rouge, near the shelter. We made a point of walking in a large group with other volunteers to our cars at the end of our shift, and encountered nothing of any concern. Then, yesterday the rumors grew, making it sound as though the New Orleans looting fever had caught on in our city. It is not true! Apparently, sometime in the morning, someone did try something in the shelter. The police, anticipating this, rushed in with a large show of force, to try to get a message across to anyone who might think of trying anything later. This did cause a large number of bystanders to panic and run from the area, which a friend who was reporting to volunteer happened to get caught up in. She was pretty shaken up and left. She didn't know what had really happened, only that there was a stampede. I've pieced the details together from the news and I trust the news on this. Louisiana cops know how to deal with large crowds. I'd bet they're better than any in the world. I'm willing to trust that their calculated show of force was the right course, even though in the short term it caused some panic.

After that, the rumors went nuts. Another truth is that several downtown buildings sent workers home, or went on lock down, and LSU went on lock down as well. I think it was really just part of the effort to exert control and send a message. Unfortuntately, office workers locked in their buildings with internet access can get a little nervous.

While this is all going on, I'm at work. At noon the whole staff went to a university wide prayer service. The service was beautiful. Officials of several faiths spoke of overcoming this disaster, of generosity and love, and of thankfulness for what we still have. As, with any service here at a historically black college, the highlights were the songs of the interdenominational choir who blessed us with several selections. Although, I was feeling some physical exhaustion in the morning, I left uplifted, having cried and held hands with my coworkers. I was ready to go back to the shelter.

Janet was having a very different experience. Her friend who witnessed the stampede was giving her a first-hand account of her ordeal. This embelished by the rumors really affected Janet. She couldn't help, but remember the horrible Cincinnati riots that we were so close to. She's also feeling the physical and emotional exhaustion of the past few days. So she calls me at work and the phone rings and rings with no answer. She doesn't know we're at the service. Now her wheels start turning, maybe they've shut down the university and everything is true. What if Don has to take an alternate route home and go through downtown? I almost drove into the start of the Cincinnati riot heading downtown to pick her up from work, unaware that anything was brewing. Janet gets contacted by another friend who is frustrated that she's been told not to come in to volunteer, another lock down situation. This friend is pretty convinced that it's mostly rumors and starts to ease Janet's fears.

I have now come back to my office from the service, to some disturbing email asking if I know anything about the safety of going downtown to volunteer, and one message from a friend who is in a locked down building. Now, I'm starting to get caught up in it. However, I went to the local newspapers website and found a very clear article stating that there were some precautions being taken, but our city is secure. There was also video of a press conference with our mayor (only good thing to come out of the last election). He was explaining the danger of rumors and the truth of the situation. Janet finally reaches me and we realize, maybe we need a mental health day. One of the best parts of the Red Cross orientation is that you must take care of yourself, if you are to care for others. Besides, there were announcements on the radio that volunteers should not come in anymore yesterday. They were staffed, and controlling the flow of people around the shelters.

Ah, but there's more. We have two friends (Malcolm and Chicory) from New Orleans who teach at LSU. They keep an apartment here, so they've been safe throughout. However, the apartment here is just a place to sleep during the week, so it's small, and they've been without power since Monday. They also have Chicory's mother, her mother's pets (I'm not sure how many, but several dogs and even chickens), and 2 friends. We had already offered for any or all of them to stay, but they weren't taking us up on it. They had stopped by a few times to check in on the news. Chicory did spend Wednesday night with us, due to pet allergies (and maybe a brief bout of mom allergy).

So, for Janet's mental health break, she cooked a big pot of a cajun influenced stew with chicken, sausage, and shrimp. And, she and Leanne did their toenails. We had Malcolm and Chicory and their crew over for dinner and we were able to enjoy each others company for a few hours.

Now, with bodies and minds refreshed, we're ready to get back at it this weekend.

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