Nurses: Heroes of Hurricane Sandy

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Nurses: Heroes of Hurricane Sandy

By Elizabeth Hanink, RN, BSN, PHN
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Nurses are well known for responding to disasters with selfless dedication. The aftermath of Hurricane Sandy, which struck the east coast of the United States in November, demonstrated once again that nurses are people you can count on in a tough situation. During the aftermath of the hurricane, nurses not only put patients first, but also demonstrated determination and ingenuity beyond anything taught in nursing school.

No Lights, No Elevators, No Power

Throughout the media coverage of the disaster, photos of nurses carrying critically ill patients to safety in other facilities were ubiquitous. Imagine having to work without power because a hospital’s backup generators are located in flooded basements, as they were at NYU Langone Medical Center in lower Manhattan. Imagine having to cope with the high-rise buildings of New York without working elevators, carrying 20 ventilator-dependent babies down nine flights of stairs. Imagine having to evacuate not just a wing or a floor, but an entire large metropolitan hospital like Bellevue, which became uninhabitable even with generator power. Fortunately, a few things did work in favor of the hospital staffs. For example, the highest tide and consequent power failure happened to occur at the same time as a typical shift change, which meant that there were many more staff members on hand than usual.

Calling in the Cavalry

New York nurses also benefited from outside help during the crisis. The Registered Nurse Response Network, sponsored by National Nurses United and the California Nurses Foundation, sent a team of experts who had previously coordinated the unprecedented RN response to the disasters of Hurricane Katrina and the Haitian earthquake. The nurses of the Red Cross and numerous state nursing associations also helped, providing disaster relief to the communities most affected.

However, none of that overshadows the enormous contributions of New York nurses, who, despite losing their own homes and possessions in the disaster, stayed on the job to help those in greater need.


“We just did what  nurses always do”

The above video of NICU nurse Margot Condon evacuating babies from the NYU Langone Medical Center in New York City during Hurricane Sandy went viral on YouTube almost immediately. The following is an except of her own words from an interview with ABC in which she describes the experience of carrying a two-pound baby and his life-sustaining equipment down nine flights of stairs in the dark. The infant was only 8 hours old.

“He couldn’t breathe for himself. We had to breathe for him. On one Level I, I was probably scared, but I wasn’t feeling it. It was a beautiful thing to see everyone helping each other. I was calm. It became a mantra that I repeated over and over: ‘One step at a time, one step at a time.’ We just did what we always do — what nurses do: we took care of the babies. We kept them safe.”  

Photos courtesy ABC Media Room.

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