Leaving the hospital, he said, was gut-wrenching.
“I felt like a loser. I felt like I was handing patient-care responsibilities to a completely overtaxed system because I was tired,” he says. “When I started not making good decisions, I knew that I wasn’t helping anybody and it was time for me to step aside. But that was a very hard decision to make.”
Dr. Persoff says he’ll never forget the triage nurse on duty. She was there when he arrived, about 6:30 p.m., and was perfectly orchestrating the trauma care, even though there was no way for any of the hospital staff to know what had become of their own families and homes. And she was still there when he left at 4 a.m., so efficient and fresh it was as if she’d “just come in from having showered.”
“I don’t know what she knew or where her house was or where her family was,” he says. “I just knew that she was there working like there was no tomorrow and doing it in a way that I couldn’t. That was one of the times where I was like, ‘Wow, this is really humbling.’ ”
Dr. Persoff, who writes about his hobby at Stormdoctor.blogspot.com, continued his storm chasing; he even helped provide assistance two days later, after storms near Oklahoma City exacted a human toll that was not nearly as severe. But first, he says, he had to do some soul-searching. After all, he had hoped for a tornado to form in the Joplin area.
“My chase partners and I were talking about how can the rational person want to continue storm-chasing after having seen what we’d seen. And it took me a while to sort of figure out where my own conscience was on this,” he says. “I felt very guilty for having even wanted [a tornado] earlier in the day. Then I also felt like, had the storm not formed where it did, I wouldn’t have been there, my partner Dr. Balogh wouldn’t have been there, and we would not have been able to assist in that disaster.
“So in many ways it was karma. It happened. We were there at a time when Joplin needed some help.”
After the storm, Dr. Persoff received words of thanks from the town.
Jane Culver, a floor nurse with whom he worked, told him via email: “People often say to me, ‘Doctors are just in it for the money, they really don’t really care about me.’ Well, I say they don’t know the Dr. Jason Persoffs of the world. You are a true humanitarian, and the people of Joplin are lucky you were in our midst at our hour of need.”
Stephanie Conrad, whose grandmother Clara had her broken hip cared for by Dr. Persoff, called him “the angel doctor.”
“Thank you so much for using your knowledge, skills, and expertise during this crisis,” Conrad wrote in an email. “It is physicians like you that make a difference in the lives of others. You were truly a blessing that night.”