Even after Hurricane Harvey, laughter is the best medicine

Twelve years ago on August 29th, Hurricane Katrina ruined our childhood home in New Orleans. My parents evacuated last minute and were not allowed back for an entire month while standing water remained in our house, rotting away all our childhood memories. They rebuilt, sold the house and eventually moved to Texas.

This year on August 27th, Hurricane Harvey destroyed my husband and our young girls’ family home and cars and devastated our Houston community. We are shocked, sad and traumatized. I remain strong for the girls, but the reality of a completely changed life and the psychological impact of last week is hitting me hard.

And then, I look at my young girls (age three and five years). And I am amazed. They continually challenge me to be a better mother, physician, and person.

The night before the storm, we had a “family hurricane ride-out” party; we watched movies, and all slept in our master bed, thinking there would be heavy rain but nothing more. At 6:30 a.m. the next morning, my husband woke me up, and we frantically started moving things upstairs. By 11:30 a.m., we had several feet of water on the first floor with continued rain and water level rising. We saw a rescue team from our second story window, had thirty seconds to get on their raft, and we evacuated to a nearby church.

After an eight-hour stay with minimal food, we got drenched again while being taken by National Guard jeeps to the convention center. From there, we ran in the rain to a nearby hotel at around 10 p.m.

Resilience

I couldn’t stop shaking after I got the girls to sleep that night. I kept thinking how could this happen? They sat in wet clothes, slept without underwear, ate nothing but Starburst candies for most of the day and were so … happy. Our little one made me laugh through tears when we finally got on the National Guard Jeep, shouting, “I love dancing in the rain” and singing Ed Sheeran’s Photograph.

So you can keep me.
Inside the pocket of your ripped jeans.
Holding me closer ’til our eyes meet.
You won’t ever be alone, wait for me to come home.

The next morning, I was crying at breakfast; my five-year-old ran up to me, hugged me and said, “If you’re happy, I’m happy.” Later, when I asked what her favorite part of our previous day’s adventure was she said, “Spending time with my family.” I have joked with my husband before how my older one is my soulmate; she truly is my guardian angel. Meanwhile, the younger one kept making jokes and singing to keep us all laughing; our sweet, silly goose. Their imaginative play, ability to smile and laugh with only each other and genuine desire to keep our family happy set an example for all of us.

Laughter is truly the best medicine

In the moments I starting losing faith, a crooked smile or sweet giggle from our goofballs proclaiming they were loving their “Hurri-cation,” gave me perspective. I could either cry or laugh (even if it was forced) so why not try to smile?

I posted Facebook updates to keep friends and family around the world informed and added “I especially enjoy Ryan Gosling memes if you really want to make me happy” to the end of one post and well you can imagine what happened from there. My 17-year-old nephew even sent me one (I can only imagine how awkward that must have been!). And yes, it made me smile. That is one handsome man.

My husband and I also started making #harveyjokes with each other. He has always wanted an open floor plan, so I looked at him after our first floor was completely gutted and said, “You got your wish!” I don’t particularly like driving so my secret luxury desire in life (besides meeting Ryan Gosling of course) is to have a private chauffeur … or at least a personal Uber driver. So naturally, when both cars flooded and we lost them, I told my husband, “I got my wish!”

Gratitude

Looking at my babies and our community, I truly feel we have so many angels among us. Our girls’ teacher (who at that point was still unsure if her own car had flooded) stopped by the hotel with groceries, toys, and hugs.

Our friends selflessly told us we could indefinitely use their rental (the condo where we are currently living) before they could even come back to town to assess the damage to their own house. My work colleagues showed up with gloves, trash bags, muscle power and love to clean out my flooded house. I am so incredibly grateful our family (Core Four as we call ourselves) is safe, that we were able to save the second story of our house and my parents’ house did not flood and for the tremendous support and love from our community that has enveloped us during this time.

Our family has had quite a journey, and we have a long road ahead. I am trying to be gentle with myself and my loved ones, taking time to breathe, and looking to my mighty girls to put one step in front of the other, one day at a time.

Keep spreading joy, love, and kindness, everyone.

Joyee Vachani is a pediatric hospitalist. 

Image credit: Shutterstock.com

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