EDITOR'S NOTE: This is the first of a two-part series about Thomasville native Arden Singletary's decision to leave a New Orleans hospital after Hurricane Katrina slammed the city. The series will conclude Thursday.





THOMASVILLE -- One of the 45 bodies pulled out of Memorial Medical Center in New Orleans in the wake of Hurricane Katrina could have been Arden Singletary. Fortunately, she pulled an IV from her own port and walked out.

"My legendary lack of respect for authority in this case saved my butt," said Singletary, 36, who was in the hospital on a two-week antibiotic treatment for a line infection (she has a life port IV installed in her shoulder).

This is what scares and angers the Thomasville native -- how close she came to dying and what she believes was an unnecessary loss of life.

"My partner, Susan Killam, and I were at the hospital and were assured by the staff that even though we were about to sustain a direct hit from a Category Four hurricane, the hospital was completely stocked with medication, food and equipment," said Singletary. "We were also told the building would be able to sustain a Category Four hurricane. That was a lie."

Singletary lived in the Uptown neighborhood of New Orleans, one of the areas that sustained the least amount of water and flooding, where small Memorial Medical Center is located.

She utilized the hospital because of pancreatitis, a chronic illness that requires frequent treatment.

"I've always been very happy with the hospital and nursing staff," said Singletary. "I found it to be a top-notch hospital."

Singletary was admitted to the hospital on Aug. 15 and, when Katrina hit on Aug. 29, was only mid-way through her treatment. She wanted to move to a hospital in Houston where she had relatives but was rebuffed.

"We discussed options with a doctor covering for my regular doctor and I was strongly advised against evacuating before the hurricane," said Singletary. "I was ambulatory and could have easily been moved to Houston. Instead, I was told to stay in the room and keep the door shut."

Margaret Titus, Singletary's mother, said she was very distraught over the news that Arden would have to stay in New Orleans.

"The news was telling us that the hurricane was going to hit that area and be catastrophic," she said. "Everything spotlighted just how severe the damage was going to be. Arden called me and said she could not be evacuated and would stay through the storm. She was very optimistic and trusting at that point because they were bringing in the storm team who, they were told, knew what to do and had protocol in place and that the hospital was fully stocked. She put a very positive face on the situation."

Still, nothing could have prepared Singletary for a Category Four hurricane.

"It was absolutely terrifying and times like that you wonder whether you are going to die," she said. "It definitely crossed my mind more than once. It was very frightening and very loud. The ductwork for the air conditioning was located on the roof. It was the size of a house, blew off and hit the ground. That was pretty scary. The windows blew and patients were running from their rooms and screaming. I tried to remain as peaceful and calm as possible and stay put."

There was "a great deal of damage" to the hospital despite assurances. Crosswalk bridges were simply blown away.

At 5:30 a.m. the day the storm hit, the power went out in the hospital and backup generators were activated.

"The only thing that ran in the hospital was one plug in the room for my IV and the bathroom light," said Singletary. "There was no air-conditioning and the temperature in the hospital quickly rose to more than 100 degrees."

It also became clear by Monday afternoon that the hospital was not properly stocked with food and medication.

Singletary did not sleep much and spent most of her time talking with the nurses and Killam.

"I could tell by the food that they were bringing me that they were running out," she said. "There was a curfew after the hurricane and no one was allowed to go anywhere."

Killam snuck out of the hospital and went to their house off St. Charles Avenue, a major thoroughfare that was virtually impassable except on foot. She returned with food and other supplies, including a battery-powered radio.

"It was so chaotic. If Sue had not brought back that radio, we would not have realized what was going on," said Singletary. "Our room became communication central."

By this time, the medical staff and patients were virtually without access to any media. Singletary called the hospital an "island of nothing."

"Frankly, I felt incredibly powerless and helpless, and very frightened," said Titus of her daughter. "There was nothing we could do, but she faced it with courage. Then we breathed a sigh of relief and thought she had made it through, but we had no idea that the worst was yet to come."

The flooding caused by a broken levee began on Tuesday morning, causing water to bubble out of the sewage system.

Killam reported to Singletary after returning from a smoke break that Napoleon Avenue (where the hospital was located) was filling with water.

The duo listened to the radio as FEMA went from not knowing the levy had broken to not knowing how to fix it. Citizens still in the area were urged to evacuate.

That same morning another anonymous doctor came into Singletary's room. She told him she knew the city was flooding and that she wanted to be discharged and moved to Houston where she would be safe with relatives.

"I wanted out of there right then before the city was so full of water that we could not get out," said Singletary. "There are lots of bridges in New Orleans, but only the Mississippi River Bridge was still open. The doctor told me again that they were fully supplied and we should stay where we were. By then, I knew that was crap and I wanted to go to Houston."

Singletary said if she could get a patch for pain Sue could drive her to Houston where she would simply walk into the emergency room there with her discharge papers.

The doctor finally agreed and left ,but Singletary never knew his name or saw him again.

A nurse was called to start the discharge process but returned with news that there was no record of the doctor having been in her room or of their conversation on her chart. Neither could the doctor be located.

A doctor who agreed to discharge Singletary was finally located (for insurance purposes), but he did not agree to give her a patch for pain, only a prescription for one. There was no way to fill it and no more time to waste.

"I walked down to the nurses station dragging my IV and said, 'Every second that you waste is a second that I am risking my life'," said Singletary. "I could see the water from the nurses' station and the avenue was full of water. I pulled the needle out of my own port, handed it to the nurse, grabbed a stack of gauze and tape and left."

At the front doors to Memorial Medical Center, Singletary and Killam encountered officers in fatigues carrying M16s at the door. They tried to keep the duo from leaving the premises.

"I told them we didn't want to come back and left," said Singletary.

The duo walked out of the hospital and into waist-deep water.

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