Originally published on Medium 9/23/2019
I was standing in the control room when it started.
It was May 22, 2011.
To date, I’d been in radiology for over 13 years.
The majority of my career had been working in emergency rooms all over the United States.
I’d seen hangings, beatings, stabbings, shootings, life-altering-split-second-decision-catastrophes and gruesome accidents that no person should ever see.
But I’d never seen anything like this.
I arrived early to work after hearing the news.
An EF-5 had obliterated the town of Joplin. The tornado had spanned a mile wide.
The destruction was incomprehensible.
Twenty trauma surgeons squeezed into our tiny control room.
They stood shoulder-to-shoulder in complete silence.
In unison, the pagers started piercing our ears.
The first bus load of victims had arrived.
I remember it like it was yesterday.
One of the surgeons held up his pager and asked- What exactly are we supposed to do now?
All of them shrugged their shoulders in uncertainty.
Up until that point, drills and videos were the only training I’d received on disasters as a healthcare worker. The truth was, nothing could prepare me for what I was about to experience.
I did a record number of cat scans that night.
And heard a record number of terrifying stories.
There was a dad whose family disappeared as they were being chased by the tornado down the center aisle of Walmart.
There was a couple who’d stepped into their garage just as the tornado devoured their home. They narrowly escaped with minor cuts and scrapes.
There were stories of families reunified among the destruction.
There were stories of those who suffered a slow and painful death.
And there was a story of a friend of ours who literally disappeared and wasn’t found until several days later. I will never forget driving his widow to the cemetery.
With every story, the weight of the night became heavier and more unreal. The exhaustion both physically and mentally were so intense that when it came time to walk to my car, I struggled to put one foot in front of the other.
As I made my way across the parking lot, I could feel the sobs bubbling up inside me. It was like a volcano about to erupt.
Just outside my car was a bird still alive but traumatized. Its feathers were ruffled, and it was crying out in a way I’d never seen.
Yet another victim I can’t help.
I dialed my husband.
All I could manage were broken phrases and screams of anguish for the victims of this incomprehensible tragedy.
I could barely formulate a sentence.
In my hysteria, I told him I couldn’t drive home. And then I told him about the traumatized bird with a broken neck outside my car.
We lived an hour’s drive from the hospital and having him come get me wasn’t realistic.
Pick up the bird and bring it home, he said.
Without hesitation, I scooped her up.
For the next several days, I focused on her. Fed her. Gave her water. Talked to her.
And told her she wasn’t alone.
I often reflect on this experience.
The tornado of parental alienation has ripped through our lives and taken our loved ones.
Some have narrowly escaped its destructive force with minor damage.
Some have suffered a slow, torturous alienation process.
Some have been reunified.
And yet some still wait for days, weeks, months and years to find out their loved one’s fate.
Yet even though our experiences differ, we all remember when the EF-5 Parental Alienation Tornado came, the toll it’s taken on our lives and the wreckage it’s left in its wake.
And no matter the damage endured, all of us have suffered great devastation that can never be fully restored.