NORMAN — Eight years ago, Brenda Carpenter helped open Moore’s new hospital to the world. She helped deliver the center’s first male and female babies and its first set of twins. Now, as excavator machines gather around the shattered ruin of the Moore Medical Center, hit by the May 20 tornado, she has come to lay that part of her life to rest.
“This is just a building,” Carpenter said, nodding toward the twisted steel and concrete. “The thing that we lost was our family. Labor and delivery was a tight-knit group. Thirty of us had been here for more than five years. We’ve watched each other’s families grow up. We’ve delivered a lot of kids of different workers.”
Carpenter, along with some of her coworkers, has found a new job at the Norman Regional Healthplex five miles away. But even doing the same work, things have changed.
“This place was home for us,” she said. “A lot of people spent a lot of time here. When we’re at the Healthplex, we’re all so spread apart. We’re not home no more.”
Carpenter is one of dozens of workers who came to take one last look at the center before the excavators finish the destruction the tornado started. Dressed in tan, purple and blue scrubs, they mill about, chatting, snapping pictures with their phones or staring somberly. It’s something between a class reunion and a wake.
Nick Stremble, once Moore Medical Center’s emergency room manager, was working here May 20. Along with patients and other hospital staff, he retreated to the center of the building, escaping from the winds that blew cars through the air and tore steel apart like paper.
Stremble recalls another hospital employee, a bio-med technician, who helped him hold the cafeteria’s fire doors against the storm. When the doors gave, Stremble was pushed into the cafeteria and the other man was blown out into the hallway, away from safety. Stremble hasn’t been able to get in touch with the man since.
“After that, we moved everybody into the centermost part of the building,” Stremble said. “It was ...” He stops. Coming across the churned-up lawn is Stremble’s lost bio-med technician. His badge identifies him as Curtis Eastwood, a three-and-a-half-year center employee. They grin at one another, momentarily at a loss for words.
“You,” exclaims Stremble, seizing Eastwood’s hand and shaking it. “Man, that’s — Hell, I been telling people about you. It’s so good to see you, man, it really is.”
“Same here,” Eastwood said. “I’m just trying to find some familiar faces out here today.”
Eastwood was returning from joint surgery on the day of the storm, he said. He watched the approaching tornado through a window, snapping a picture of it.
“I waited there at the window, watching everything crash through the front doors,” Eastwood said. “It was such a hard rush, the wind blowing through here like a wind tunnel, everything getting crushed, everything banging.”
When he was blown out through the cafeteria doors, he sought refuge in a corner until the winds died down. He was shaken, but uninjured.
“My office was right up here,” Eastwood said, indicating an empty window with a shattered pane. “It’s pretty sad, but then you see that some other people have lost a lot more. A lot of people lost their lives. Just knowing the scope of the thing is pretty tough. But we do need to move on. We need to rebuild and put things back together.”
Eastwood begins to walk across the lawn toward the tent where commemorative speeches will be held. He seems both grave and hopeful.
“This is too much of a scar,” Eastwood said, glancing toward a yellow excavator preparing to begin demolition. “This needs to happen. We need something fresh and new.”