#FIGSintheField: Taking On Hurricane Harvey, One Patient at a Time

When Hurricane Harvey came to Houston, medical professionals stepped up in a big way – including Houston-based med student, Anh. In the face of destruction, Anh and several other med students came together to volunteer their time and apply their skills to help those in need. FIGS decided the least we could do was to provide the group of medical students-turned-relief-volunteers with scrubs to aid in their efforts. Anh shared her story with us and how one of the things she discovered amidst the devastation was a renewed sense of purpose and dedication to studying medicine.

“There’s no more water. Please. I have 3 babies at home. Please help me.”

It was the night Hurricane Harvey made landfall. Distraught citizens were scraping whatever was left on the supermarket shelves into their cart. There was no water left. There was no bread left. 2 cans of tomato soup were broken on the floor. People were frantic. Children were warned to stay close. Every item was nearly wiped, and employees were working as fast as they could to salvage what was left in the back to help families who came too late.

The supermarket lights flickered. Everyone stood still in their tracks. We thought this was it. Harvey was here. We all had a sudden urge to contact our loved ones. And this was supposedly only the beginning. 

That night, our power went out. The wind vehemently tore against our windowpanes. Rain – real, unforgiving, and capable rain—began pouring down on our driveway. The tires on the pavement slowly began to disappear, inch by inch. It did not stop for the next 5 days.

 

That weekend, every hour, we received a blaring alarm from our phones, warning of severe flash floods. Texts piled up from loved ones asking if we were safe. Messages from classmates frantically sharing that their driveways were underwater, that they had to wade toward the highway in chest-deep water to get help, and that they had to be rescued now – literally, now – but they were trapped in the floods, and there was nowhere to go.

We watched the news in horror. Highways were underwater. The freeway I took every day to school was submerged. Helicopter cameras showed victims sitting on their roofs, stranded – looking for help. Media shared amateur rescue missions on boats. There was a photo circulating of nursing home residents sitting in waist-deep water, waiting to be rescued. Everyone was trapped. We, ourselves, were trapped. Hopelessness seemed tangible. But no one wanted to say it.

And then, we started seeing the miracles. Real, breathing, blood-pumping guardian angels. People started taking their boats out to scavenge for those needing to be rescued when all the emergency lines were overwhelmed. They knocked on every door, checked under every roof, and did not leave until they made sure they could get as many evacuees as they could. Neighbors started to create Google spreadsheets to locate families that needed help. Our medical school classmates started posting locations of shelters who needed medical volunteers. That means you, the comment stated. It was beautiful and overwhelming to see. In a city filled with people of every culture, background, and language – nothing mattered right then. If you were human, and you were in trouble, someone was going to come for you, and someone would be there for you.

When you find yourself in the middle of a shelter and witness with your own eyes people who have lost everything they have worked for, white coat in one hand and stethoscope in the other, suddenly, things like your scrubs smelling like rain or your socks being absolutely soaked seemed to be a privilege to complain about. Worrying about whether you have enough gas to get back home because there were no working gas stations within 20 miles didn’t matter. When you notice resident physicians, who are exhausted from just getting off from their last shift, are spending their precious time off to continue volunteering at the shelter, you become moved. When find yourself trying to correct the mom of 5 when she addresses you as “Doctor” when you take her vital signs, that in fact, you’re only a medical student, and she tells you that she doesn’t care who you are, she’s just thankful you know how to use a blood pressure cuff that won’t hurt her like it normally does, your heart flips over a thousand times and you start falling in love with medicine more than you thought you ever could.

In the next few days, Harvey finally subsided and left our city in a bubble of water. The city did everything it could to drain it as quickly as possible. Little by little, highways cleared, and more and more cars felt confident enough to travel again. Relief efforts multiplied. People were actively seeking ways to help. Trash bags upon trash bags of donations began pouring in. NRG Stadium was packed. George Brown Stadium was so filled with volunteers that they had to turn many away because they were already floored with too much support. BBVA Compass Stadium had college students manning and organizing donations to distribute to local shelters. There were lines of people winding around the street. It wasn’t because they wanted to rummage around for items — it was because they wanted to volunteer.

They need medical volunteers. That means you. Continued to resonate in my head as I helped father of 2 young girls. “You may not be a doctor, but thank you for helping me,” resonated in my head as I helped a grandmother who still hadn’t heard from her grandkids. “Thank you, sweet angel,” resonated in my head as I talked to an elderly couple who were so gracious for their rescuers. 

I glanced over at the head nurse, working on his gosh-knows-what straight hour, and the resident beside him, both doing the best they could to fix a wound that should have been taken care of in a hospital. They continued to care, continued to love and continued to serve others, in scrubs that fit too large, in shoes that felt damper than they should at an hour that they could’ve had to themselves sleeping to prepare for their actual work in the hospital the next day.

In these moments, the rare, raw moments under fluorescent lighting and constant hum of those still waiting to be treated, I couldn’t think of a better example of how humankind is so resilient. Even more so, how resilient the love and compassion that these health professionals showed, not only in this time of great need, but every single day. It was inspiration. A love like theirs was always there, never needing to be sparked by a storm.

Thank you to the medical professionals, assistants, and volunteers who helped and are continuing to help rebuild our city. Thank you to those who risked their lives to save others by boat, by hospital shift, and by being called on duty. Thank you to the first responders who did everything they could to make us feel safe, while sacrificing their own security of leaving their family to serve us. And most of all, thank you to FIGS, an altruistic company who has been with me through both the joy and the sadness, and who so generously donated scrubs to these physicians, nurses, and medical professionals who helped tape our community together wound by wound, and human by human. Because of companies and initiatives like yours, you make our world a better place. From the hearts of Houston, thank you, thank you, thank you. 

FIGS is honored and humbled to have helped Anh, her colleagues and Houston. To read and learn more about Anh, follower her on Instagram and visit her blog