Hi Dr. Wible, I’m a current student at Ross University School of Medicine (which was located once on the island of Dominica) so we were in Dominica when Hurricane Maria Category 5 swept through and devastated the island. The hurricane was September 18, a Monday night, and Dominica lost power, running water, the roofs of homes. We woke up to what looked like the end of the world. No leaves on trees, power lines on the street, debris everywhere, doors scattered throughout, our school was destroyed for the most part.
It was chaotic but I found relief with my friends. We stayed focused, looking for a reliable water source to fill up our empty gallon jugs with. We needed water for washing our hands, washing ourselves, and for “flush water” (a few gallons per 1 flush for the toilet).
Dominica is a humid island. So without air conditioning or showers, everywhere smelled really bad. We were dehydrated and sweating more than we were drinking water, and our urine smelled. Trash was burning, people were doing their laundry in the river, there was a curfew for 4 pm because of the looters roaming around with guns, crossbows and knives. It was pure survival mode: for med students, professors, deans, admin, local Dominicans, and even the Prime Minister of Dominica, who lost the roof of his house. Professors lost the roofs of their homes—some of them were alone during that trauma. Students lost their roofs but most were sheltered on campus. One girl broke her clavicle from the roof caving in, and there were other minor injuries. One pregnant woman got medically evacuated by helicopter.
Luckily, my apartment just had some flooding. Roof was intact.
I was grateful to my landlord, who, even though he had lost everything—his home was gone—he still had his apartment building which we lived at, where he and his family stayed for shelter, and he did his best to make sure the generator was working. So by Friday, we were able to shower again. And I took a long shower that day and broke down, finally, after spending the week coping with my friends by laughing and sticking to survival protocol: find water sources to fill up the bottles, make sure we are rationing the food, joke about how insane this is, etc.
We got evacuated by ferry boats and cruise ships and anything that was available—evacuated to St Lucia at first. My evacuation group had about 40 people and we were on a small boat (the touristy type of boat that you spend an hour max on). Well, generally a ferry boat ride takes 3 hours to St Lucia, but it took 14 hours because of the debris in the water. We kept hitting it so we had to go slow. It was a very tumultuous journey. Once in St Lucia, the school put us in a hotel and we all cried with happiness from the buffet and the food and ate as much as we could… Then, the school put us on a charter plane to Miami and encouraged us to go home and bond with our families.
So, we had a few weeks to debrief. And then the school decided to resume the semester on a boat, and many students opted out. But the ones who stayed, like me, are experiencing quite the journey. Med school on a boat, semester at sea. We have roommates. There is no privacy.
The professors also don’t have privacy because they all share on “office” and don’t get their own bathrooms, and they have to be on the boat at 4 am every day, so they come sleep deprived, and are also very vocal about how traumatic this experience continues to be. We are docked at a port in St. Kitts and are sometimes anchored out at sea all day, to allow room for the cruise ships coming in, so we are “trapped” on the boat until we get to dock. The wifi doesn’t always work. And we still take exams and study, albeit not in the most conducive conditions. But we are trying…
But I am wondering how this is going to affect us in the future. I’m ready to throw in the towel. Feeling like I chose the wrong path (how could I not?).
So, I just wanted to share a little snippet of a really crazy situation that I’m still processing. But I know that you would appreciate this unique story. All the professors, students and administration are looking forward to being done with the semester on January 4. We will get relocated to Knoxville, Tennessee, for next semester, luckily. So, here’s hoping this semester goes smoothly, academically speaking, so that these experiences will have at least been worth it!!
~ ~ ~
You are a total survivor! I’m amazed. You’re so dedicated to your medical education that you rode out a Category 5 hurricane with sustained winds of 160 mph, floods, landslides, and total devastation to the entire country that left many dead.
You lost your medical school, all communication with the outside world, even access to drinking water. You wandered around dehydrated. You rationed food. You witnessed violence, looting, and the mass exodus of your classmates. Yet you remained.
You are obviously determined to complete your training. Trapped on a boat. Without privacy. And still passing your tests!
Your strength has come from helping one another in community, huddling together with your classmates, staying in close contact with your professors (since you can’t escape the boat). Catastrophes bring out the best and worst in people. Yet ultimately everyone becomes closer. Disasters tend to tear down hierarchy. To survive we depend on human kindness. People are more real, vulnerable, honest about how they feel. Mental and physical health issues surface and you must be there to attend to each others needs without infrastructure. And you did it!
How will this impact you in the future? You won’t ever need to attend a resiliency class. Trust me. And residency should be so much easier than this!
If you need to talk, I’m always here . . .
So proud of you!
Do you have advice for Melissa? Please leave your words of wisdom below. She (& her classmates) are reading all your comments for support.