Throughout my nursing career, I've witnessed the heroic actions of nurses and been filled with a sense of intense pride to be part of the same profession as them. On September 10, 2017, we initiated our disaster plan as Hurricane Irma's eye was on a direct path for our hospital in Florida. Our administrative team members (CNO, COO, CEO, and directors) were the first to arrive on the day of impact, truly modeling the all-hands-on-deck motto that we followed.
As we prepared for potential mass casualties, our nursing staff was divided into Team A and Team B. Team A would work 12-hour shifts, remaining with the patients currently admitted and stabilizing any injured patients arriving during the storm. Team B would arrive to relieve Team A once law enforcement announced that roadways were safe for first responder travel. Our Team A nurses arrived with overnight supplies and sleeping bags in tow. As our nurses closed the doors to their homes, they weren't sure if their houses would be there when they returned.
Each nurse brought a sense of calm to the storm. As the hurricane neared, we prechecked every room to ensure that vital equipment was attached to red electrical outlets to be powered by generator if needed. When the winds came, we systematically checked every patient and medical device each time we shifted on and off generator power. When patients were anxious, our nursing team gave a quick smile and a gentle touch, reminding them that they were in good hands.
At one point during the busy night, I overheard our APRN's voice. She was softly reassuring a distraught and confused older patient who believed that during the storm she'd misplaced her infant daughter named Lovey. Entering the room, I noticed our APRN's hands working with bandage scissors and permanent markers. As her hands stilled, I saw that she had fashioned a makeshift doll out of two yellow hospital slippers and rolls of gauze with a smiling face and the name “Lovey” written on the doll's chest. When our APRN gave the doll to the patient, the anxiety fell from her face and was replaced with joy.
As the hurricane passed, law enforcement conducted an initial road survey and announced at 1 p.m. that our Team B nurses were authorized to be on the roadways. We were surprised to see many of them arrive as soon as 30 minutes later, even though handoff was planned for 7 p.m. By 2 p.m., the Team B nurses who were present requested to start their shift early to relieve their colleagues. By 5 p.m., all of our Team B nurses were present and ready to relieve Team A.
When I left work that day, I saw the conditions through which our Team B nurses drove: large trees had fallen; debris was scattered throughout the roadway; and power lines were down, blocking many secondary roads completely. Fifty-percent of our nurses didn't have power at their homes for up to 12 days.
Three days after the hurricane passed, the airport reopened. Hours later, our hospital received critical care and medical-surgical nurses who volunteered to help with post hurricane relief.
So, what did Hurricane Irma show me? It showed me what true heroism looks like. The face of the nurse who intently monitored every subtle change in a critically ill patient while he worried whether his family's home kept his wife safe. The faces of the administrative team members who arranged child care and updated staff members on how their children were doing throughout the storm to ease their worry. The faces of leadership team members who arranged for employees' animals to be sheltered on site. The face of the trauma surgeon who volunteered to provide additional surgical care for injured patients arriving during and after the storm. The face of the APRN who took the time to make a doll to calm a scared patient. The faces of the nurses who arrived from other states, volunteering their time and skills to help their fellow nurses.
I'm very proud to call myself a nurse. I want to say thank you to every healthcare worker caring for patients every day. There's a little bit of hero in each of you.