Editor’s note: Yet another awesome post from Whitney Mackman (@wmackattack). Enjoy.
Lindy Boggs Medical Center Explorations
Like the Market Street Power Plant, the abandoned Lindy Boggs Medical Center dangles itself in front of me every time I run Bayou St. John. It just sits there, wearing the sad, dark brick, like it would do anything to shake such a burden. A chair dangles stubbornly over the edge of a blown out, third floor window. Dark green water sits silently under the Emergency ramp, harboring 9-year-old lily pads of mold. Mattresses, ones possibly used to transport patients above the floodwater, gather leaves near the main entrance.
Forty-five people died at Lindy Boggs during and after Hurricane Katrina. When the power failed, the remaining patients were left in stifling heat without life support, crucial medicines, and blood. After the floodwaters rose, the sickest patients and pets were left behind with only three medical professionals. If those professionals didn’t stay, those patients would have been left behind to die, alone, in an empty hospital. I’m glad I didn’t know this during my first exploration, but I could definitely feel that kind of energy inside. Each place that lies abandoned cradles its story within its wall, however moldy and crumbling.
The damage sustained is shocking. I wandered the halls imagining nurses and doctors trying to find their way in this sweaty, pitch-black apocalyptic labyrinth. Boxes full of sterile syringes, test tubes, and IV needles sit untouched in their boxes above flood level. An x-ray table waits, with a lead apron casually dangling from a nearby counter, as if the next patient is about to walk in from the dressing room. But the creepiest was turning the corner to face a room that caught fire post-abandonment. The burnt paint chips, with their coal black bodies and gray tips, animated the wall. I couldn’t breathe for a moment, as if the room was still on fire, and I had to blink a few times to ensure the room was not engulfed in ghost flames. I take moments like these as my cue to leave.
A few months after my first venture into Lindy Boggs and after reading Five Days at Memorial, I felt the urge to get inside one more time. A man pumped the nasty water out of the basement and told me gutting would begin once he was done. They have even painted over all the external graffiti tags. “Coming soon” was finally coming true. A slight panic rose within me: I still hadn’t made it to that third story window that I always look at while running along Bayou St. John. Also, no one has seen the recently drained part of this hospital in years.
After entering, we immediately went to the basement. The ground was red and squishy; the walls were still dripping wet. Above and below us, rust reigns. Trash rests in piles as if someone arranged it. Chairs, metal, gloves, and biohazard cartons stick out of the mud. This floor hasn’t had a breath of fresh air in far too long. I pulled my bandana off my nose for less than a second and knew instantly we had to get out of there.
While hunting for my third story room in the dark maze, we happened upon creepy after creepy. All the beds are on the upper floors, crammed into rooms that still have white boards reading: “Today is August 29, your nurse is ____.” There are no mattresses and the bed frames are mangled in painful positions. In one room, a day-by-calendar reads “Today is Tuesday, August 30, 2005,” and tubes still run from the wall to the twisted bed frames. Down the hall at the nurse’s station, a white board announces the names of patients and their assigned nurses. Around the corner, water drips onto debris. It is so loud and rhythmic, it sounds like footsteps.
The graffiti is honestly the scariest part. The adrenaline I feel while exploring is full of wonder and shock. I experience only minimal pangs of horror – until my flashlight illuminates, written in classic horror-film-blood-dripping-font, “Are you scared yet?” Other graffiti is helpful, telling us which stairs lead to roof access or pointing out open and plunging elevator shafts. The horrific demon-faced caricatures, however, are not helpful. After finding the room I always look at from Bayou St. John, I enjoyed the gorgeous panoramic view of the city from the roof. However, my throat was getting itchy, and an itchy throat is also my cue to leave.
Lindy Boggs has been looming in my world for the past four years and I feel honored to be able to explore it. I want to help tell a story and spark interest in and anger for what happened to the people who remained in hospitals during and after Hurricane Katrina. The failure of response at all levels of state and government created situations that each doctor, patient, and family should never have to face. The choices they were forced to make are things we cannot forget.
For more information on Lindy Boggs, read:
For a similar story, read Five Days at Memorial by Sheri Fink.
For not-so-similar, but equally horrific stories, read: Zeitoun, by Dave Eggers,
and One Dead in the Attic by Chris Rose.