NINE LIVES author, Dan Baum shares an especially peculiar moment in his experience of Post-Katrina New Orleans.February 12, 2009
Every now and then during Hurricane Katrina's immediate aftermath a ghostly apparation would move through my field of vision, and before I could get a purchase on it, it would be gone. Then one day as I was riding a stolen bike through the rubble, it pulled up alongside me. It was an old-fashioned Cadillac hearse, white, with big red crosses daubed on the doors and hood in house paint. Behind the wheel was a scowling, curly-haired young man who leaned across the street and demanded, "Who the fuck are you?"
He wouldn't shake hands. "All the infections going around? Fuck that. Get in." He said he used to be an emergency-room doctor at the Touro hospital, but that he "got tired of the politics and the insurance fraud. Ordering more bloodwork than necessary, ordering more chext x-rays than necessary, just to pump up the bills, you know?" I couldn't follow the story about how he'd acquired the hearse. "To get what I've got, you'd have to put yourself in the system to be evacuated, and a lot of people don't want to do that. This is the choice they give you: you want to get the medicine you need, you have to leave the city. So I'm driving around providing care. To get supplies, I loot. Do you think they'll ever be able to use anything that's in Touro ever again? After the filth and the dead bodies lying in there? They're going to have to throw away everything anyway, so why shouldn't I go in there and get it? And in the pharmacies, the people don't know what that stuff is and it's better off with me anyway so people don't use these things incorrectly. So yes, I'm a looter. Fine. You got me. But I have things even the ambulances don't have. You go to a first aid station or an ambulance and ask for Diavan. They'll say what the fuck is that. Ten minutes ago, you should have been here, the fucking FBI pulls up, like eight agents, and they surround the car. They're like, who the fuck are you? What are you doing with all these stuff? Is it stolen? Who do you think you are, driving around giving out medicine. I say, I'm a doctor. They ask for my license. But I don't carry my license with me because I don't want to lose it. I show them this, this old Tulane ID, which is expired, and they say, fuck, this is expired. Who the fuck are you? So we go round and round. One of them says, what are you some kind of weirdo? This is a car of death, and you paint a cross on it? What are you, sick? Then they find this" - he reached under the seat and came up with a huge Bulgarian army pistol - "and that was another whole go-around. It was just a big fucking hassle, like they don't want anybody freelancing - you know, helping people. They finally left me alone, though they took all the bullets." He took a breath and his eyes seemed to focus on me for the first time. "What do you need? Nothing? Then get out."