When I signed up to do my residency at Ochsner, which is in New Orleans, I signed up to spend half my time in a small town an hour south of New Orleans called Houma. I wasn’t sure about this at first but Houma turned out to be the most delightful place ever! Houma is right on the Intercoastal Waterway and they have shrimp boat festivals and other fun water activities. The locals love to fish, and if you are very, very nice, they will share some of their favorite fishing holes with you. You can actually see the oil rigs on the Gulf from the upper floors of Chabert Hospital, which is part of the Charity Hospital system, and which we called “Little Charity”. Big Charity is in New Orleans. It is not Ochsner and I did not have to work there, thank goodness.
Most of our patients came into Chabert Hospital straight out of the bayous. Grand Cailloux bayou had a bridge over it that we drove into town on, but at one time there was no bridge; there was just a ferry as the only way into town. There were many a tale about babies born on the ferry as their mothers tried to get over to Chabert to birth their babies. There were many feuding families out there on the bayous, and you had to be careful who you put next to who in the hospital beds.
The drive to Houma from NOLA is about an hour, and it passes along sugar cane fields and factories, and numerous bayous. In hurricane/rainy season the road floods and has sandbags along side of it. You can frequently see alligators floating in the water when it covers the road. We were expected to make the drive there whether the road was flooded or not. They used to have a rule about driving back to New Orleans postcall because so many sleepy residents wound up in ditches along the way back. There is a fabulous stop off on the road between Houma and NOLA: an A-frame building called Frank’s Bloody Marys. Frank makes the best bloodys I have ever had in my life. They are topped off with homemade pickled string beans rather than celery, which I don’t like anyway. You can even buy you a jar of those delicious tangy beans if you like. Frank’s is a great stopoff if you are on the way back to New Orleans for the weekend. You can sit out back along the bayou, watch the garfish roil the water and pirogues pass by, and sip your bloody.
Houma itself boasts some of the most wonderful food – real down home Cajun cooking. There was a restaurant called Geno’s across the street from the hospital where you could get low country boils with crawfish, potatoes, corn, sausage and onions, or if you were in the mood for something amazingly rich, Geno’s she-crab soup. This was more like a bisque cram-packed with lump crabmeat straight out of their fresh she-crabs. You can also order a plate of the crabs for cracking – they have a handy “pull tab” on their underside that opens them right up. Don’t eat the yellow stuff.
Next to Geno’s was a pub where the residents went after work to throw darts and blow off steam. I spent many an enjoyable night in there tossing down beers and tossing out darts – of course, the more beers I had, the better I got. They also had a couple pool tables and we enjoyed many an evening there shooting pool if the dart boards were occupied. I have heard, tragically, that Geno’s and the next door pub are now closed, and the hospital is closing too. The Charity hospital system is just flat running out of money, like every entity in the United States now it seems.
We stayed in apartments out behind the hospital that were provided by Ochsner. There was a pool back there and we used to have crab and shrimp and crawfish boils out there, swatting mosquitoes and jumping into the pool to get the dozens of biting bugs off of us. We used to find little round silver dollar sized baby turtles in the pool drains, and one day they pulled a six foot gator out of the pool.
Houma was great for biking. One day I rode all the way up to the airport and rode up a “road”, which turned out to be a runway. A startled pilot in a small plane came in right over me and I threw my body and my bike to the ground. That was very exciting and I felt real stupid. I also did a lot of rollerblading, mostly in the flat empty parking lot out behind the hospital when I was on call. It was in view of the window from labor and delivery, and the nurses used to hold up signs with scores on them evaluating my roller blading performance. I fell on my butt a lot, once so hard that I went and had my tailbone x-rayed. I don’t know what I would have done if the tailbone was broken, because you can’t cast a tailbone.
Houma had myriad shave-ice stands, which were open most of the year, and offered the most flavor varieties of snow cones I’ve ever seen. I used to get those to cool off in the afternoons, and my tongue would turn blue or green or orange according to my current flavor of choice. They even had sugar-free flavors!
There was even a nightclub in Houma where we could go out dancing. Weekend nights, groups of us headed there. I had a friend who was an opthalmology resident who came from a family that was rich as stink, and he had an Acura NSX. I made sure to be around him when it got late in the evening, because he would be too drunk and would let me drive it back to the apartments. I loved that beautiful car. I had quite a thing for its owner as well.
I know people were hesitant to accept the residency at Ochsner because of the half year every year spent down south in Houma, but for me that town was a wonderful experience. It survived Katrina somehow and it survived Isaac. I’m dying to go back down there and see what it looks like and sample that wonderful food and those bloody marys once again.