Why We’re Staying

Suzy and Gary Lazarus are committed to New Orleans. He works in his family’s construction business and she’s earning a master’s in social work at Tulane University. During the hurricane-enforced evacuation of last fall, they spent two months in Baton Rouge. “Never once did (we) entertain the thought of not returning to New Orleans,” she says in Sunday’s paper.

Dr. Chris Hasney was elated when he received word in March that his residency will be at Tulane Medical Center. “I can get my education and contribute to the rebuilding of New Orleans.” He says, “New Orleans is home for me, and I felt that after Katrina, if (the local) people didn’t come back, no one else would.”

Triplets Sasha, Amonie, and Frederick Johnson moved from here five years ago when their parents were looking for work. They settled in Fall River, Massachusetts, where the three have just graduated from high school. They had their choices of colleges throughout the country, yet this fall they will all begin pre-med classes at UNO. Why are they returning? They missed many things, they said, especially, the “big three”–family, food, and the fun atmosphere of this city.

Miles Granderson is a 26-year-old who had just received his law degree at American University in Washington, D.C. and was planning to see the world when Katrina hit. He returned home to New Orleans to help his grandparents whose home was located near the ill-fated London Avenue Canal in Gentilly. He’s been here ever since. “I wanted to be a part of preserving the soul of New Orleans.” He adds, “I want to be a part of this new beginning.”

Sunday morning, in spite of the deluge which went on for hours, turning the parking lot into a wading pool, Riverside Church in River Ridge was packed. The day camp children had worked up a musical program called “American Ideal,” and were given the 10:30 worship hour. I pulled the huge black umbrella from the trunk of my car and spent 20 minutes doing my best deacon imitation, helping people out of their cars and into the buildings. Lightning was popping all around, and with my umbrella the highest object around, I felt vulnerable.

Riverside welcomed Greg Finch to the staff as educational minister by assigning him sound-board duties for the program directed by minister of music Matthew Hughes. Matt’s wife Rebecca, church pianist, was running a cam-corder in the aisle near where I sat. After her book of Katrina devotions received such a good reception this spring, Becky has been asked to write a book for the WMU publishing house. The kids were great this morning, and my only disappointment was in not hearing the terrific pastor Jim Caldwell preach. Several church members came over to welcome me. I commiserated with one couple whose son and daughter-in-law have moved to San Antonio looking for work. I had performed their wedding over 10 years ago, and been their pastor at FBC Kenner. “We’re really missing that grandson,” they said. Colin Coker must be the cutest child on the planet, and being a grandfather, I can understand their grief.

On Saturday, August 12, Riverside Church will give away school supplies to the neighborhood, first come, first served.

Sunday morning’s front page featured interviews with two of our pastors on future evacuation plans for their churches. Dennis Watson of Metairie’s Celebration Church and Kevin Lee of Edgewater Church in Gentilly are not leaving matters to chance. Dennis told the reporter that Celebration is building a database to match church members with cars to those needing a ride out of the city. He has established partnerships with churches in Baker, Lafayette, and Pineville so that members may evacuate to either of these Louisiana cities and find shelter.

Kevin Lee is asking his church members to provide their ministers with plans for their evacuation, including all contact information. When a storm is threatening, he said, group leaders will check the families under their assignment. “They’ll make sure people are putting their plans into play, that everybody’s getting out safely. Then a day or two later we’ll check in to make sure everybody’s set.”

The story of the doctor and two nurses being blamed for killing four critically ill patients in Memorial Hospital in the days following the storm occupies much of Sunday’s paper. A front page article recaps the story and quotes leaders from the medical community supporting these three. The basic thrust of many comments and letters to the editor seems to be “How dare you sit in judgement on the doctors and nurses who stayed through the storm to tend to the sick? You weren’t there; they were. We must trust them.”

Spokesmen for Attorney General Charles Foti point out that tissue samples taken from the long-dead bodies of the four bear conclusive evidence of “high levels of lethal drugs”. “Blood was not available,” one said, explaining why fingernail-size bits of tissue were used for the tests. A leading heart specialist, defending the doctor and nurses, points out that morphine and Versed may not have been part of the regular medical routine for these patients, but their presence inside the dead bodies does not prove murder. “Morphine and Versed are given to sedate, relax, and control patients all the time,” said Dr. Morrison Bethea.

The newspaper reports that a September 11 article in the London Daily Mail quoted an unnamed female doctor in Memorial admitting she injected morphine into dying patients. “In some cases the drugs may have speeded up the death process. This was not murder. This was compassion. They would have been dead within hours, if not days.”

My understanding of the law in this country is that if a patient is going to die at 3 o’clock and you hasten the process by one hour, you are guilty of murder. Is it fair? I don’t know.

An old quote may apply here: “Morality, like art, consists in drawing a line somewhere.”

In a Sunday letter, Karl Dequine of New Orleans, writes: “While it is unfortunate that New Orleans is losing many of its ‘movers and shakers,’ it must also be acknowledged that in the wake of Katrina a fresh population of ambitious and compassionate young people arrived to lend a hand. A post-Katrina New Orleanian myself, I am honored to take part in and bear witness to the rebuilding of the nation’s finest city. In unexpectedly finding a home and a place I love, I find myself with a vested, long-term interest in seeing New Orleans emerge better than ever.” He went on to say, “Last October was the first time I set foot in Louisiana. Thus the only New Orleans I know is the post-Katrina (one). This likely makes my optimism easier to sustain; I don’t know how it looked before.”

In a few days new students will begin arriving on the campus of the New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary, bringing with them their young families. It will be fascinating to see whom God is leading here, what will be their attitude, and what kind of difference they will make. President Chuck Kelley has called last year’s students “the class of Katrina,” but my opinion is the class for the Fall of 2006 will go a long way to tell the story about this generation of young ministers.

Observing young ministers down through the years–we arrived on this campus in June of 1964 and have been affiliated with the seminary in one way or the other ever since–I’ve noticed how they fall into two groups. There has always been a group of self-centered students, on campus for “what I can get out of it” and with high expectations of the seminary’s obligations to them. You’ll find that type on every campus of every institution.

Likewise, every class has produced its share of young ministers who recognized they would be here for no more than three years and wanted to make a lasting difference in the life of this city and its residents for Jesus’ sake. We anticipate a large contingent of these dedicated and focused ministers to arrive on campus this Fall.

I suppose my experience was fairly normal. Margaret and I moved here from Birmingham–what we call “Baptistland”–with a one-year-old son. She took a job in the campus bookstore and I was soon working in the afternoons at the Coca-Cola Bottling Plant on Jeff Davis Parkway. On Friday nights, I joined a small group of students who had volunteered to preach and witness on the streets of the French Quarter. I figured this was the scariest ministry on the planet and I might as well go off the diving board into the deep end of the pool. We joined the Pontchartrain Baptist Church where I led worship and taught a couples’ class. Within ten months, God called me to pastor a sweet little congregation 25 miles west of the city in the tiny Catholic community of Paradis. We loved a hundred things about this city, its people, and its culture, and we hated an equal number. That love-hate affair with New Orleans has continued to this present day, although the ratio has changed severely since Katrina. Driving back into the city after our four-week evacuation, I found the tears flowing and my heart throbbing.

I was glad to be back. This was my place. As always, the best place on the planet is in the center of God’s will.

That’s why we’re staying.

2 thoughts on “Why We’re Staying

  1. I can understand the viewpoint that administration of morphine and midazolam may result in a hastening of death in the patients who are much in the news lately. But I ask you to imagine that you are in a dark, sweltering, powerless hospital. You have a terminal disease. You cannot breathe except in gasps, but there is no way to generate enough power to run a ventilator to help you breathe. Is asking for pain medication tantamount to suicide? Is it murder to have the compassion to administer a medication that will allow a patient to live another hour or two in comfort, as opposed to living another three in absolute agony, suffocating, dying of thirst, panic eating at the corners of your mind, all alone?

    I cannot speak regarding all of the patients who died. I don’t know their conditions. I do know that it is very easy to sit in a comfortable setting, at a computer, in the air conditioning and proclaim the administration of morphine to be murder, as some in the media are proclaiming. But things look different when one is without power, cut off from the world with no help arriving for several days and no hope of a restock of supplies arriving, when one is severely understaffed and without even the basics needed for human survival. Modern medicine is a wonderful thing. But it is frightfully dependent on the proper setting to be effective. When I am in my element, I can respond quickly and effeciently to try to save a life from even the most obscure causes, in the sickest of patients. But when I stop on the side of the road to help someone, or try to render assistance in a restaurant, it is akin to being on a modern technological battlefield wielding nothing more than a sharpened stick.

    We do all we can to prolong life in modern medicine. But, sometimes, we have to admit defeat and allow a person to live a shorter life in comfort, rather than striving for the longest life that can be obtained. I have seen this both in my career as a physician, and in my person life watching my favorite, closest aunt die in a hospice after a six month battle with advanced renal cancer. These are not easy decisions, and they are never made lightly.

    I’m not attempting to justify what happened at Memorial. I abhor assisted suicide, I’m absolutely against abortion, and I have serious doubts about the death penalty. But all I ask is that you think carefully about the intensely horrible conditions that these health care providers and patients were enduring, and put yourself in their shoes before proclaiming judgement upon them.

    Larry Hutson, Jr., M.D.


    New Orleans, LA

  2. We’re coming back!

    Last time I was home, I had a conversation with a friend about our teenagers, and their unwavering loyalty to New Orleans — they are protective, emotional, and even blind to weaknesses that they complained about a year ago. Teens who a year ago talked about going to college in a far away place at their first opportunity, are now begging their parents to let them go to Tulane, Loyola, or at least LSU in Baton Rouge.

    It seems almost like the sibling relationship to me. You know, brothers and sisters bicker and fight each other — but let one of them get hurt, and the loyalty comes out.

    Our city is hurting, and those of us who love-hate it — have it in our bones — will do what it takes to protect it, defend it, and help it heal. It is, as you say, the center of God’s will for us.

    Joe, thank you for writing about the good, the bad, and the ugly. You keep us thinking, hoping, and praying.

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