Superstorm Sandy one year ago: Remembering the nurses

Eileen Williamson, RN

Eileen Williamson, RN

By Eileen Williamson, RN, MSN
Senior Vice President & Chief Nurse Executive

In late October last year, many lived through what has been referred to as “the perfect storm,” “Frankenstorm” and “the storm of the century.” But most remember it best as Superstorm Sandy. As we near its first anniversary, Nurse.com again would like to pay tribute to the nurses who acted and reacted so quickly, so bravely and so well — before, during and after the storm. We remember how it ravaged our coastline and how we were blown and buffeted, soaked and flooded by it, but we also remember how magnificently, efficiently, generously and compassionately nurses rallied to care for its victims, under some of the most dangerous and extreme conditions.

The largest Atlantic hurricane on record and the second-costliest in U.S. history — surpassed only by Hurricane Katrina — Sandy’s damages reached an estimated cost in the U.S. of more than $65 billion, according to the Annual Global Climate and Catastrophe Report. Affecting 24 states on our eastern seaboard from Florida to Maine, and moving as far west as Michigan and Wisconsin, storm damages were  particularly severe in New York and New Jersey.

Lights dimmed and generators failed, but nurses’ spirits never flagged. Their bravery and resolve were unfailing as they struggled to keep patients safe, warm and dry in the cold, dark and wet. Outside there was wind and water, debris and dirt, fallen trees and downed power lines, but inside there was a calm in the storm and a special light in the darkness that was the presence of nursing.

Patients suffered injuries and acute illnesses, families lost homes, some tragically lost their loved ones. And through it all, nurses responded with talent and skill, amazing determination, know-how and strong resolve. They were responsible for random acts of kindness that were too numerous to count, and for untold heroic decisions in hospitals, healthcare facilities and homes. Their patients were priority No. 1, and whether that meant using stairways instead of elevators, hallway stretchers instead of beds, or flashlights and blankets instead of overhead surgical lights and drapes, they cared and cared. And then they cared some more. To use adjectives like strong, generous, dedicated or professional is not nearly enough. The things nurses did as they ministered to the victims of Sandy were nothing less than acts of heroism, decisions of bravery, and unprecedented feats of selflessness and sacrifice.

Hospitals coordinated moves with government agencies; emergency preparedness plans were put into action; workplaces were turned into shelters; and flooding, power losses and freezing cold were the order of the day. And nurses were at the center of it all. They moved critically ill patients to other facilities that were less hard hit than theirs. They carried ventilator-dependent babies to safety, as units, wings and entire hospitals were evacuated. They opened and manned command centers for homeless families and operated shelters for medically fragile patients who came from homes no longer safe to remain in — often wading through water or waiting for hours on a gas line to get there. Hospitals, nursing homes, assisted living and rehab facilities, and so many others who provide healthcare ran solely on generators, and moves had to take place in the dark as even backup generators failed. The images of these moves shared by the media let the world know just how vital nurses are to patient care; but even they couldn’t tell the whole story.

No words could overstate the enormousness of the contributions nurses made during Sandy. Despite having suffered damage and loss even to their own homes and possessions and being worried about the safety of their loved ones, they stayed on the job to help those who needed them more. And during the many TV and radio interviews that took place throughout the storm, they would simply say, “I’m just doing what nurses do.” I recall one news article saying that after Sandy made landfall and washed ashore, nurses achieved a hero status that is generally reserved for first responders only.

The role of nursing in Superstorm Sandy underscores once again why we at Nurse.com place importance on recognizing nursing excellence. We are in awe of you and what you do all the time for patients and healthcare, and we thank you for the vital role you played in this historic disaster. We are privileged to be able to tell your story; and as a nurse, I am proud to call you my colleagues.

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