January 26, 1978, Central Ohio, USA – 10 a.m.
My ears perked up as I watched the TV weatherman predict a record-breaking snowstorm with high winds. We usually only get 10-15 inches of snow all winter, so this was unusual. Currently, it’s a balmy 50 degree Fahrenheit day. The wind began to pick up, the snow began to fall, and the temperature plunged.
When I answered the ringing phone, my nursing supervisor said, “Pam, pack a bag to prepare to stay overnight at the hospital. The National Guard will be at your house in 30 minutes to bring you in for the evening shift.” I threw a couple of extra uniforms, toiletries, and my Bible in my bag and watched out my front window. When I saw a four-wheel-drive Jeep pull up, I put on my warmest hooded coat and ventured out. I leaned into the howling wind as I struggled to walk to the SUV. I climbed into the back seat and greeted the driver and three other nurses.
We crept through the deepening snow on the deserted streets and arrived safely at the hospital five miles away. The day shift nurse gave me a report and I began my evening rounds. My head nurse, Mrs. H., and I were the only staff that made it in for the shift. Thankfully, they had canceled all routine surgeries, but all 30 beds on our unit were occupied. A friendly air of comradery with all the patients developed. Those there for their week of diabetes classes helped us pass dinner trays to the bedbound patients. I went down to the cafeteria for dinner, amazed to have the hospital administrator greet me. He smiled and thanked me for working through the blizzard as he served me my free dinner.
The Guard brought in the night shift nurse and aide, so I clocked out at 11:30. The supervisor told us to sleep in any empty patient room on the 9th floor. I found one and turned on the TV. In almost disbelief, I viewed pictures of 15-foot snowdrifts from the high winds of 69 miles per hour making the roads nearly impassable. The temperature had dropped to -30 degrees Fahrenheit. I could hear the howling wind as I looked through the window and watched the snow blow sideways in the dim street light, nearly a whiteout.
I put on my pajamas and climbed into bed. I had never been a patient in a hospital, so this felt very strange. Sleep escaped me. Then I heard a patient in the next room start to scream. I lay awake and prayed.
The alarm went off at 6 a.m. I guess I dozed off at some point. I put on my uniform, read my Bible, and committed the day to the Lord. I went out to the nurses’ station and asked my friends about the patient next to me. They said he was an alcoholic going through withdrawal. They had to lock his arms and legs in leather restraints, but he broke out of them and nearly destroyed the room. Finally, the medications took effect and he slept.
Exhausted from little sleep, I asked the Lord to give me strength for the day and to bring in the evening shift. Mrs. H and I were the only staff again so we each took half the patients. After we passed their medications and trays, we began to give them bed baths. Because of a linen shortage, we only changed the patient’s gown and sheets if they looked soiled. Elated, I hugged the evening shift nurse when she arrived courtesy of the National Guard. I gave the report, and then found a coworker who volunteered to give me a ride home.
I could barely get in my front door from the drifts. My roommate and I stared at our buried cars and decided to wait until the next day to shovel them out since neither of us had to work.
I fell into bed after a quick supper, thanked the Lord for carrying me safely through the blizzard, and fell into a deep sleep.
God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble.
This was the only time the National Guard brought me to work during my nursing career. Sadly, 51 people died in Ohio during the blizzard of 1978. Twenty-two died after they left their trapped car and froze to death while trying to get to cover. But I still remember the comradery of the staff and patients as we all helped each other through that terrible storm.
I survived several more blizzards during the years I lived in New England. Later I will share some of my harrowing tales of reaching my patients in the community as a visiting nurse.