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“It is much more important to know what sort of a patient has a disease than what sort of a disease a patient has.” - Sir William Osler

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    Sunday, September 16, 2007
    New Orleans 2007

    As the Times-Picayune headlines reminded me incessantly during my vacation last month, it's been two years since the devastation of Hurricane Katrina. I was eager to see how the city would appear since my previous visit nearly ten years ago - I was there for a medical conference then. This time I went with two friends as part of a summer roadtrip.

    I was struck by the dearth of tourists in the city (granted, it was August and hotter than hell, but still I was amazed). The up side of this was a refreshing lack of crowds, and we were able to make restaurant reservations the same day that we wanted to eat. There was no competition for the hotel pool, either. We did a lot of shopping around the French Quarter and Magazine Street and many of the shop owners told us that business hadn't yet picked up the way they hoped it would.

    Structurally the center tourist part of the city is back to normal - the French Quarter and Canal street, where the big hotels are, is fine. The Superdome is up and running again; in fact the Saints' first preseason game took place while we were there. The moment you get out of downtown, however, it's another story. In the Faubourg Marigny section of town, five minutes' drive from our hotel, were homes still bearing floodwater markings and branded with the FEMA spraypaint sign indicating the home had been searched and found habitable after the storm. Heading in the other direction, to Magazine Street, we had to detour time and time again as many streets still were blocked with concrete barriers and choked with debris.

    We approached the city from the north, therefore having to take the Causeway across Lake Pontchartrain, which is 22 miles across. So there we were driving along this raised freeway and unable to see land when we got to the middle of the lake. I suddenly understood exactly why the city had flooded so badly; I never knew how large that lake really is. While visiting New Orleans we met up with another friend who lives in the parish north of the lake; she told us that drivers' ed classes there include a crash course in what to do if you drive off the bridge. (short version: there's not a lot you can do.)

    If it's possible to describe a mood as optimistic but bitter, that's what I'd have to say the mood in the city was. One bumper sticker we saw read "Forget Iraq, Rebuild New Orleans." It's sad to see a place with so much history taking such a hit and struggling to come back. I plan to go there again soon. I love the atmosphere of New Orleans, the beautiful architecture, the food... all of it.




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