News & CommentaryArchive
Jan 26, 2011
Insights from New Orleans
This past weekend I had the pleasure of seeing performer and play-write Anna Deveare Smith’s one-woman show “Let Me Down Easy” at the Arena Stage in Washington D.C. Deveare-Smith’s piece consists of a series of biographical portraits of famous, infamous, and relatively unknown figures on the subject of health, death and dying.
One of the more arresting portraits was of a white physician who worked at Charity Hospital in New Orleans. In the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, FEMA worked to evacuate the hospitals in the city, but days passed and no relief workers had come to evacuate Charity, a nonprofit hospital serving mostly poor, black patients. The doctor spoke of her assurances to everyone that she was in touch with FEMA and they were “coming.“ But at the end of the fourth day one of her patients asked her, “Dr. K, do you think they evacuated the white hospitals yet?“ (paraphrase)
She had to answer that she thought they had. Watching the (mostly black, New Orleans born) nurses go about their business, she realized that no one who had actually lived poor in New Orleans had believed the government was coming to help them, and they weren’t wrong.
It was an unbelievably powerful moment in the play and very thought-provoking about the nature of expectations—What should everyone be able to expect from a government? What should the powerful do with limited resources?