"It's like a bad Dali painting."
Looking numb and weary, Dr. Gary Levy stands emotionless in what appears to have been a waiting room. His co-owners fled to higher ground, staff relocated and all that's left is the seemingly insurmountable task of reviving a practice disaster covered in mold, rotting in water and radiating a noxious stench.
Dr. Patrick McSweeney
The small animal practitioner and his longtime friend Dr. Patrick McSweeney seem impervious to the New Orleans heat as they carefully step through the dark, water-soaked building using flashlights to dodge downed furniture. "Everything moves in a flood," McSweeney observes. "Furniture in one room finds its way into the next." They stop to salvage associate Dr. Amy Grayson's diplomas from a disintegrating wall.
Levy has insurance on his mind. Three weeks after Hurricane Katrina ravaged the city, adjusters had not assessed damages. He predicts the practice's $100,000 flood policy won't come close to covering repairs, and with little structural damage to the brick building much aid isn't likely to come from elsewhere.
"I can not begin to image how you can recover from this," he says, examining the wreckage of his waiting room. "I don't even know what questions to ask. Seventy percent of my clients come from a zip code I think will need to be bulldozed."
Armed with his records, Levy now wrestles with billing those same clients the $40,000-plus in accounts receivable to get repairs moving and possibly pay health insurance for the practice's 20 employees. It's delicate business, especially considering the financial plight of most clients. While his house escaped flood damage, he knows many area residents weren't as fortunate.
Dr. Gary Levy
"What do you say to clients who don't even have a home? Please pay if you can?" he asks. "Being hopeful is definitely not easy, but you do it or you walk away. I'm not ready to do that. The dust hasn't even settled yet."
Test of fortitude
Levy got out of New Orleans 48 hours before Hurricane Katrina roared into the Gulf Coast Aug. 29. He spent three weeks with his wife and children in Baton Rouge living with strangers. Now back at his virtually undamaged home, he's trying to pick up the practice pieces. While McSweeney, who practices in nearby Metairie, receives government assistance because floodwater ravaged his New Orleans home, business owners aren't as fortunate. Money hasn't been handed out to them.
Facing the devastation: Dr. Gary Levy (Photo 1) and associate veterinarian Amy Grayson (Photo 6) take in their flooded five-doctor Lakeview Veterinary Hospital in New Orleans (Photos 3, 5, 7). Levy long-time friend Dr. Patrick McSweeney (Photo 2, left) offered his nearby practice as refuge to see clients and patients until they can rebuild.
"If some of that money doesn't eventually trickle down to small businesses, there's no hope," Levy says.
'A storm hit Metairie; a bomb hit New Orleans'
McSweeney's practice keeps the team occupied while they await damage estimates. The Animal Medical and Surgical Hospital, one of just two open practices in the area, has water damage and a temporary roof, but losses are minimal compared to New Orleans. The first floor of McSweeney's house looks much like Levy's practice — bowing floors, moldy walls and furniture everywhere. Now homeless, the 45-year-old practitioner, his wife Beverly and nearly 30 of their cats sleep on the hospital floor. In between caring for roughly 100 intakes, McSweeney and Levy take on the business of saving animals.
Dr. Patrick McSweeney home was ravaged by floodwater (Photos 8, 14). "Everything moves in a flood," he tells DVM Newsmagazine. His nearby practice's roof and outer facade (Photo 9) sustained damage from the high winds and rain. Senior Editor Jennifer Fiala (Photo 10, left) talks with Beverly McSweeney (right) about her experience in the storm. In Photo 13, McSweeney eyes the repair of the now infamous 17th St. Canal levee.