Our Brooklyn neighborhood fared relatively well this week. We lost a lot of trees, phone and Internet signals were sporadic, and we didn't have subway service for several days, but we were basically okay. Several of our friends were not so lucky; they spent days without electricity, heat or hot water—some without running water at all—and started to worry about extended hunger, thirst and sewage problems. For some, the issues are ongoing.
For me, personally, the most distressing experience was my attempt to volunteer at a shelter for people displaced by the hurricane. I am a member of the city's REST (Resilience and Emotional Support Team), a division of the Medical Reserve Corps with special training in psychological intervention during disasters. I find this work grounding and rewarding.
Several days before the hurricane struck, I began receiving emails urging me to volunteer, and I was happy to do so. The emails continued throughout the storm and in the immediate aftermath, each more pressing than the last. Yet when I called in as requested, I was told that the city now only accepts mental health volunteers who are able to perform 12-hour shifts, either from 8AM to 8PM or vice versa.
I explained that, as eager as I am to be of help, I am 60 years old with health issues that would make it risky to work what would be essentially a 15-hour shift (counting in a 1-1/2 hour walk each way to the nearest shelter). I offered to split a shift with another volunteer, or to work for 8 hours, but this wasn't acceptable.
I pointed out that in addition to the specialized disaster response training the city had given me, I have years of experience working with traumatized and displaced people—I served as assistant director of a prominent trauma counseling center; I volunteered for seven years at a human rights clinic, first evaluating torture survivors, then supervising their evaluations, and finally presenting training seminars to new volunteers. I now supervise clinicians at a major mental health center.
This level of experience doesn't come at 22, and there tends to be a trade-off in stamina. Did the city really want to forego my expertise, and that of others in my position, simply because we might need to shave a few hours off of our commitment? But they were steadfast; that was the rule. I emailed the directors of the volunteer program, but I am sure they are too overloaded right now to even look at non-emergency messages.
So I have been on an enforced vacation. I haven't been able to get in to my job, and my clients haven't been able to get in to see me. I am doing sporadic phone sessions, but otherwise napping, catching up with housework, spending time with Bill and Ben, who are also on suspended schedules, and visiting with neighbors. I have nothing to complain about at all. But I would have preferred to be of use.