His mother handed me a newspaper article clipping with a man of similar height and build pictured. It told of all of his physical disabilities and how he was working to conquer them. A journalistic fluff piece but now they presented it as proof of his condition and identity.
“He can’t talk and he has to use the cane.”
“He had a stroke.”
“Which side did it affect?”
“What do you mean?”
“Which side of the brain did it affect?”
Odd thing to say but it was not impossible and then sometimes people don’t really understand their medical conditions. I wanted to give him the benefit of the doubt but a nagging in my gut told me there was something not right. Was I being too judgemental? After all so many people had suffered so much.
Even stranger was that while there was some resemblance to the man in the article photo, they actually appeared to be two different people. I checked the date on the article. Five years. People age, they change with time. This man, though, appeared to be younger than the fellow in the photograph. Furthermore, when I did my exam, he was very clearly faking weakness.
“I am sorry. I cannot write that letter.”
“What? So what is he supposed to do without his check?” Hostility crept into her voice then progressed to outright indignation. “We lost our house, our money, everything we owned. We waded down the street past dead bodies. You have no idea what we have been through.”
She was right. I had no idea what anyone in New Orleans had been through. Had they actually been there, though? I had no way of knowing for sure. I wanted to give everyone the benfit of the doubt but after several of these, I found myself becoming bitter and jaded.
“Let me send you to a neurologist who has also volunteered to see evacuees for free. Maybe he will have a different opinion….”
“Forget it!” she yelled back at me.
They both stood and exited the room. I stared after them. He didn’t even bother to maintain the pretense of using the cane at this point.
This is what I remember about Hurricane Katrina… all of the people using the disaster and the very real suffering of hundreds of thousands to further their own interests and the feeling that nothing I did ended up helping a single soul.