Nurses train to do the impossible to keep babies from harm's way during emergencies.
Hurricane Sandy paid no attention to whether her destruction would interrupt anything important that might be going on in New York City. She wasn’t concerned about ruining the New York Marathon. Sandy wasn’t concerned about the election. And Sandy certainly wasn’t worried about little things like babies — not babies being born, babies in harm’s way or even babies in the NICU. Sandy left those little ones and their mothers to the nurses.
You’ve probably seen the news stories by now about the New York University Langone Hospital nurses who evacuated an NICU full of fragile babies ranging from just under 2 pounds to right around 4 pounds. Some were fresh from surgery. Others were on ventilators, unable to breathe on their own. All were in the NICU because they needed as much special care as medically possible to stay alive.
When Sandy flooded the hospital, shot out the power and totaled the back-up generators, the NICU nurses had no choice but to evacuate their babies to other hospitals. This is the stuff the nurses’ train for (well, not exactly this scenario, but worst-case scenarios like this) and hope they never have to experience. But even with the training that every nurse receives (usually on dolls and mannequins, never on real babies), the way nurses really get through this thing is by kicking in to high-grade autopilot. They activate the highest level of their thought processes, strap on a big dose of practical sense and they do what has to be done.
Do nurses freak out? Nope. They get calm, centered and down to business. Are they scared? Oh yeah, but usually about weird little things, like, “What if my hair gets in my eyes.” When you’re walking down the stairs with a 2-pound baby in your arms, hand-bagging air into their lungs and holding on to their ventilator and IV tubing for dear life, you’re mind is totally occupied. So instead of worrying about things can’t afford to go wrong like, forgetting to squeeze the ventilator bag or the IV coming out, you think about stuff like, “God, I hope I don’t trip on the stairs.”
There are countless other critical-care issues that have to be taken care of too, like keeping babies warm, keeping their blood sugar stable, making sure they get their medications and making sure they’re not jostled around. It requires laser focus and expert multitasking skills, but nurses are awesome that way.
None of these nurses worked alone. Each one worked in a team of half a dozen nurses, technicians and support staff providing wraparound care for each individual baby. They coordinated their movements and worked in sync and guess what? Every single one of those babies survived their evacuation to other N.Y. hospitals. What would have happened if they weren’t evacuated? Without electricity to power their ventilators, many might have flat out died. Without nurses to eagle eye their color, heart rate, breathing and temperature, many would probably have gone into shock.
Miracles, tragedies and heroes were all over New York, New Jersey and other affected states during this storm. Babies were born, old people died, children were injured and mothers had toddlers swept from their arms. You’d think that Mother Nature would have a heart when it came to other mothers, but no…Mother Nature can be a real bi***.
Jeanne Faulkner, R.N., lives in Portland, Ore., with her husband and five children. Got a question for Jeanne? Email it to firstname.lastname@example.org and it may be answered in a future blog post.
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