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Nurses Helping in Florida

BID-Plymouth Nurses Assist in Hurricane Irma Disaster Relief
BID-Plymouth Nurses share personal accounts from their deployment to Florida to help residents after Hurricane Irma

The following are personal accounts of two Beth Israel Deaconess Hospital-Plymouth nurses who flew to Florida to provide medical care to the residents that endured Hurricane Irma. They were there on a 14-day assignment as part of a Beth Israel Deaconess Health System Medical Response team.

Here are their stories.

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NEVER-ENDING ADRENALIN

By Lisa Devlin, RN, Emergency Department

When your Chief Nursing Officer sends you a text message stating that she needs you in her office immediately, you panic a little bit. When she asks you if you are able to deploy to Florida for a fourteen day assignment as part of a Medical Response Team from Beth Israel, and need to be ready to leave within 24 hours, you panic a little bit more. This was the beginning of the endless stream of adrenalin that fueled my Florida deployment.

Initially, there was excitement. The training that I completed last spring at the Center for Domestic Preparedness in Alabama had prepared me for this possibility. It was the opportunity I have waited for my entire career--to be a member of a disaster relief team with the ability and capability to impact the lives of so many affected by Hurricane Irma. This excitement was balanced with fear and uncertainty.

Medical Response Team

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The Beth Israel Medical Response Team was comprised of employees from all four Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center’s family of hospitals and had various skill sets. There were three Emergency Department Managers, a Critical Care Nurse Manager, a Patient Care Technician, an Endoscopy Nurse Manager, two Emergency Department Nurses, and the Senior Director of Emergency Management.

The hurricane had moved out of Florida, and now all the evacuees were returning simultaneously with our team. The highways were bumper to bumper, gas was scarce, and the travel time was around 18 hours. Long caravans of utility workers, tree removal services, and residential vehicles, with extra gas tanks secured to their trunks, littered the highway. Power was still out at the majority of the roadside stops and restaurants making meals a challenge.

First Assignment

We arrived at our first assignment. It was a Special Needs Evacuation Shelter in Miami. It was in a high school gym and had approximately 70 residents when we arrived. The nine of us grabbed cots and were shown to our accommodations; a corridor behind the gym with no ability to shut off the lights. We were provided access to the men’s locker room, but immediately cautioned to avoid the women’s locker room. There was a family in there with Behavioral Health needs. The lights remained on as we tried to sleep, and the presence of EMS in and out of the hallway between 2-4 am for a medical emergency made sleep impossible.

After our initial night in the hallway, we were able to move our sleeping quarters into a weight room. This provided us with darkness, and more privacy.

At 7:00 am we hit the floor running. I quickly scanned the room and saw the many displaced residents of Miami. I saw residents in wheelchairs, a Hoyer lift, a patient with an LVAD, and large oxygen canisters with multiple residents hooked up to them. I saw caregivers, many that were family, assisting one another. We were immediately addressed by a resident wanting her insulin.

I had no idea where to start; what was my role? We quickly divided into teams, and started rounding on the residents. These evacuees had already been here for 5-6 days when we arrived. The medical needs were not immense, many had caregivers, but what we were able to provide to these residents was invaluable. Many just needed someone to talk to.

We befriended the shelter residents, they all had a story. Truly being able to listen to, and spend time with them was incredible. We recognized immediately, how beneficial it was for them to have a friend to talk to, and how important socialization was in the setting of shelter life. We took several residents outside for a walk, made a community table for them to dine together, and even attempted to facilitate a game of cards. There were no time constraints; they were just waiting for the word that they could return home.

The Miami Shelter was able to close by the end of the week, with only a hand full of residents left. The few remaining would be moved to a larger shelter at Florida International University until it was safe for them to return home. This would end the first chapter of our deployment, and move us into the Keys for the remainder of our time.

From Miami to the Florida Keys

First responders and Emergency Responders were the only vehicles allowed into the Florida Keys at this point. Islamorada would be our next stop. We made a Red Cross shelter our home for the next two nights. Sleep continued to be a challenge--a generator outage in the middle of the night caused the many dogs in the shelter to all start barking.

The first assignment in the Keys consisted of separating the team. There were six “pods” between Islamorada and Key West that we were sent to. As we drove into the Keys further, the devastation and true impact of Hurricane Irma was now evident: snow banks of debris, leafless vegetation, and homes ruined. The smell of rotten vegetation and sewer was overpowering. Clean up crews, and electrical workers everywhere. It was extraordinary and heartbreaking.

The pods were the locations for residents to get water, food and supplies. Our role here was to provide basic first aid, conduct public health screenings for gastrointestinal and respiratory illness, and assess what the medical needs were for the residents that did not evacuate. Many residents needed their medications, especially insulin due to the lack of refrigeration. We were able to provide them with resources, and information to obtain medications.

Many residents had expressed concern about the well being of the homeless. We went to check on them to assess their needs. We were able to provide them with bandages, wound care, food, and water. We also went to the elderly housing projects. We went door to door to assess medical needs, and to make certain that everyone had enough food and water. The community was so appreciative of “The Boston Group”.

After our third day in the pods, we received word that we were being released because the Keys could now manage through their local Emergency Department, and Urgent Care Centers. Our assignment was ending. It was exciting to know that we would be returning home to our family and friends, but it was also disappointing. We were a part of the relief effort, and knowing that the needs of the residents will extend for months, left me with a feeling of incompleteness. I felt as if we were abandoning the Florida residents, even though I knew we were a medical team and no longer needed.

What I’ll Remember of this Journey

I think about the heat, it was so incredibly hot and humid, the constant smell of sewer and rotten vegetation, the sleepless nights on shelter cots, the constant convoys of Emergency Vehicles, and most importantly and most memorable: the residents.

I will always remember the homeless of Key West, the young man from Boston that had been beaten by a baseball bat for sleeping in someone’s front yard, and watching grown men coming to the pods with tears falling down their faces as they return home for the first time. I will never forget the sixty year old man that told me he had four members in his household, then quickly rescinding, and stating that he now only had three because he lost his wife in the storm, or the couple in Islamorada who had put everything they had into retiring to the Keys, and had lost everything. I will remember the signs that were spray painted on plywood on the sides of the road stating “You Loot We Shoot”. We witnessed so many trying to find their way through such a life altering disaster.

I am an Emergency Department Nurse; I am accustomed to adrenalin. This deployment was ten days of constant adrenalin, but not because we were caring for huge traumas, or multiple critically ill patients—it was the adrenalin from the unknown. The adrenalin that comes from talking to residents and not knowing what they are going to say. The adrenalin of not knowing what the next day will bring. The adrenalin from the fear that you are going to pass out from the heat and become a liability. The adrenalin that comes when you drive through the devastation and see how many residents lost so much.

I think about the eight coworkers I traveled with, and I think how lucky I was to be a part of such an amazing group. We were able to give support and care to the residents of Florida, and make a difference for so many. I have no doubt that our presence was appreciated; everyone commented on how incredible it was for us to travel so far to help. These ten days were the highlight of my nursing career. Thank you Beth Israel Deaconess Hospital-Plymouth for giving me this opportunity and supporting our team, I can’t wait to do it again!

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A LOOK BACK

By Lisa Bergendahl, RN, Director of Critical Care

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It is very difficult to put into words the humbling and exciting experience that I had down in Florida. I am so proud to have been chosen and supported by Beth Israel Deaconess Hospital-Plymouth to be part of such a talented and dedicated team.

From the minute I got the call to go, I never felt nervous or scared for my safety. Senior Director of Emergency Management, Meg Femino, and I had worked together for years in the past, and I had full confidence in her ability to lead the team and keep us safe. I knew others on the team from FEMA training earlier in the year, along with my BID-Plymouth colleague, Lisa Devlin, RN. That isn’t to say I wasn’t apprehensive about flying into a hurricane and leaving my kids for two weeks!

Although we endured many hours of traveling and less than perfect sleeping conditions, long and extremely hot days…it never felt like work. Our varied skill sets and talents, senses of humor, and common purpose carried us through.

Since coming home, I have reflected on what this deployment meant to me. In my 25 years of nursing, from bedside nursing to the position that I have now, it has always been the emotional connections I make with patients and their families that are most rewarding to me. This experience allowed me to connect with people in crisis, many who had lost their homes, boats, jobs…all they had worked for. Giving them comfort, even if for a fleeting moment at one of the points of distribution sites, or spending time sitting and listening to stories at the shelter; that made the 18-hour trek and sleepless nights all worth it.

Sometimes it’s the little things that mean so much to people. In our world today, there is so much suffering and need, I was just thankful to be able to provide comfort and help in my own little way.

BID-Plymouth
275 Sandwich Street
Plymouth, MA 02360
(508) 746-2000

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