Heroism in Crisis: Nurses Step Up

by Howard Gerber on November 8, 2012

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Heroism in Crisis: Nurses Step Up

It should come as no surprise that nurses are among the most selfless, heroic people on the planet, but they are so often overlooked that news stories are rare. Last month, though, When Hurricane Sandy tore a wide swath of destruction through NYC, no one could ignore the contribution made by nurses who risked their personal safety to put patients first.

The stories bring the effects of the storm home, put a face on the faceless victims, and show human nature at its finest (for the most part – excluding the guy that locked his door against a frantic woman and her two young children during the storm surge. He represents the exact opposite.).

One of the biggest stories of the day was the solution NICU nurses at the New York University Medical Center came up with to evacuate critical-care babies. After the electricity went out, followed by the hospital’s emergency generators, the nurses wrapped the babies in their arms and carried them out on their chests….insulating the fragile victims with their own bodies, manually pumping air into their lungs as they were carefully lowered down bumpy flights of stairs on stretchers…in pitch blackness illuminated only by flashlights and cell phones.

Meanwhile, Julia Alemany went into labor during the full fury of the storm. Ensconced in the maternity ward on the 8th floor of the hospital, the lights went out…and things got worse from there. She had to be evacuated, but needed an epidural first. Doctors administered the anesthetic in the glow from her husband’s cell phone, and security guards carried her down 8 flights of stairs to ambulance driven by a FEMA volunteer. A nurse made the harrowing trip with her to Mt. Sinai, giving directions to the inexperienced driver, the police diverting the ambulance around hurricane damaged roads, and maintaining calm when a tree branch fell on the ambulance.

On East 22nd St, Russell Oberlin, an 84-year-old cancer patient worried when the lights went out. He was in need of daily medical attention, but he couldn’t get out…and how could anyone get in to help him? The Visiting Nurse Service of New York provided the life-saving solution. More than 5,000 nurses, aides, and others hit the dangerous streets in the face of a hurricane bearing down on the city to care for Mr. Oberlin and thousands of people like him. The NY Times tells the story.

You realize the full impact of the selflessness in these stories when you consider that these nurses are locals, with homes, families, friends, and pets in the path of the storm. They did not abandon their patients or shirk from danger. Like the firefighters and policemen always portrayed as heroes, they stayed at their posts and gave their all, regardless of fear, of concern for their own lives, of exhaustion, and of adverse working conditions. Like true heroes, they found a way to do what needed to be done. Whatever it takes. That’s a hero.

In the words of President Obama, “That kind of spirit of resilience and strength, but most importantly looking out for one another — that’s why we always bounce back from these kinds of disasters.” He referred to the NYU nurses and other selfless heroes during the storm as “the brightest in America.”

Have you ever gone above and beyond the call of duty as a nurse? We salute you.



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