If you watched any of the drama unfold on television while Hurricane Sandy ravaged the East Coast, you probably saw video and a photo that has since become an icon for disaster heroism.
The image seen round the world features a nurse cradling a preemie, manually breathing for the tiny child as the two are being evacuated from New York University Langone Medical Center on Manhattan’s Lower East Side. The hospital’s backup generators had done the unthinkable – they had failed – and what followed was a herculean effort to evacuate more than 200 patients from the hospital.
The nurse, who later appeared on news shows for interviews, is Margot Condon, a 36-year NICU veteran. She told of the harrowing descent down nine flights of stairs with the 2-pound, 8-hour-old baby boy. The journey was made possible with the help of eight or nine others moving in unison, she related. There were people holding flashlights and a half-dozen others holding machines, tubes and IV lines in the darkness. Somehow this slow-moving juggling act made it out into the ferocious night and into a waiting ambulance.
It was an incredible effort, Condon said later in an interview, but “(we) just did what we always do—what nurses do. We took care of the babies. We kept them safe. On one level, I was probably scared, but I wasn’t feeling it. It was a beautiful thing—everyone helping each other.”
No doubt about it; it was a breath-holding performance and one that I’m grateful was captured for posterity. But we can be sure that there were hundreds of other nurses that night who didn’t make it in the most viewed list on YouTube, but who were as heroic as Condon.
There were those nurses (and residents and administrators) at Bellevue Hospital Center, also in lower Manhattan, who formed a bucket brigade to get fuel up 13 flights of stairs to power backup generators. All of the 32 elevators were inoperative because of flooding in the shafts. One employee at Bellevue said that water could be heard pouring through the elevators, “like Niagara running through the hospital.”
According to news stories, water faucets in the hospital went dry, food ran low, and buckets of water also were hauled to upper floors to flush toilets.
Eventually, even the backup generators at Bellevue failed and it was time to evacuate 700 patients. Imagine the nurses who accompanied an ICU patient as he walked down 10 flights of stairs just days after a triple heart bypass. Another account told of nurses and others who bundled patients into emergency sleds and dragged them down as many as 13 or 15 flights of stairs, ventilating them by hand if necessary.
The enormous strength and scope of Hurricane Sandy eventually forced several other Manhattan hospitals to evacuate. That meant the receiving hospitals were greatly impacted. Hundreds of weary nurses worked overtime with fewer resources to care for all those displaced patients, and to cover for the nurses who couldn’t make it in to their workplace.
As time goes on, more stories of incredible bravery during the hurricane will surface. All these nurses will say that they were just doing their job – and they were – but they also deserve hero-status and the undying gratitude of patients and the public.
Do you have any stories to share about working though disasters?
Tell us about it.
Wednesday, November 7, 2012
Posted by E'Louise Ondash at 12:38 PM