geriatrics, home care nurse, Nurse Practitioner

Freak October Snow Storm

From my journal

Home Care Nurse Practitioner – November 1, 2011

Over the weekend twenty inches of heavy wet snow fell in a matter of hours taking down many leaf-covered trees. Nearly a million people lost power including my home and the Veteran’s clinic where I worked. Monday morning I put on my down coat, winter boots, and warmest mittens. As I drove to work, I listened to the radio for road closures. I was glad for a full tank of gas since none of the pumps worked without a generator.

I entered the dark hallway with my flashlight and unlocked my cold windowless office. I pulled out my paper master copy of all my patients with their phone numbers and addresses. My assistant and team nurse came in and we divided the list among us. “Our director said that if a patient doesn’t answer their phone, we need to visit them and do a safety check and give them a list of shelters with power and heat,” said my assistant. Most cell phones were not working, but the clinic landlines still functioned.

The heavy wet snow took down the trees and power lines. It took 11 days to restore power to the state.

Only two of my patients answered their phone. One of them was unable to leave the second floor of his home except by electric stair glide. Mark said he was all bundled up and would be fine. I said, “No, it’s not safe for you to stay there without heat and not be able to get any food from the kitchen on the first floor. I’m calling 911 to take you to a nursing home with power.” Reluctantly he agreed.

I called 911 but there was no connection. I told my team nurse, “We have no ambulance service in the city.” I called Mark back and told him. He said, “Don’t worry Pam. I know my niece and her husband will check on me soon. They can carry me down the stairs.” “Okay, Mark. I’m praying for you.” “Thanks, Pam. God is in control.” Mark, one of my favorite patients and a stoic World War 2 veteran, often talked about the Lord’s goodness.

Bundled up for winter nursing.

After grabbing my car keys and nursing bag, I walked through the snow to my government car buried in snow. I scraped off the icy white mounds, climbed in, and slowly drove a mile to my first patient. Allen, a Korean war veteran, was a retired engineer with dementia. His legally blind wife, Lydia, administered his insulin daily but struggled with anxiety. Their only child lived over an hour away and would not be able to reach them to help because the roads were blocked with downed trees.

I parked in front of their elegant red brick condo. The sidewalk had been shoveled likely by a neighbor since neither of them could do it. I knocked hard on the door. White-haired Lydia opened it, dressed in her winter coat and mittens. She started crying. “Oh, Pam, I don’t know what to do. Thank you for coming to see us. It’s so cold in here. I can’t cook on the stove and the refrigerator is getting warm.”

“Don’t worry, Lydia. The high school shelter is open with heat and food and I’m going to take you and Allen there now. I’ll help you pack a bag. Be sure and bring all your medicines, insulin syringes, a flashlight, pillows, a couple changes of clothes, and toiletries. Don’t tell anyone that I brought you because technically we’re not supposed to transport patients in our cars, but this is an emergency. I’m not going to let you freeze to death.” Fifteen minutes later we put everything in their small suitcase and piled into my car.

We arrived at the school and walked inside. Lydia greeted an old friend, Carol, who was manning the registration desk and gave her a big hug. I asked Carol if they could have two cots close to the bathroom since they both had trouble walking. She readily agreed as she escorted us into the gymnasium. We stared at the hundreds of blue cots arranged in neat long rows. Lydia said, “This might even be fun because we’ll get to see all our old friends. Thank you for helping us, Pam.” I gave her a hug and got back in my car. I later learned everyone in the shelter sang Happy Birthday to Allen that evening. He said it was his “best birthday ever!”

After the second night without heat, I could no longer stay in my home. My friend who was a retired VA nurse with a small condo had heat and invited me to sleep on her living room floor on my air bed. She graciously cooked our meals and packed my lunch. We prayed together and had such sweet fellowship in the evening after I wearily trudged up three flights of stairs to her place. My power came back on after six days. Some had to wait eleven days. Everyone in the state pulled together and helped their neighbors during the crisis. I thank the Lord for carrying us all through that difficult experience.

God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in need. Psalm 46:1 (KJV)

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