It's been 5 years since Hurricane Katrina arrived on the Gulf Coast and began a series of events that would forever change the lives of thousands of people. For many of those individuals, it's taken that long to start to feel normal; some believe they'll never feel normal again. After reading Nursing in the Storm: Voices From Hurricane Katrina, I have a fuller understanding and appreciation for anyone touched by this tragic event.
Authors Denise Danna, DNS, RN, and Sandra Cordray, MA, MJ, have recreated the sights, sounds and smells of New Orleans through the voices and stories of nurses who endured the storm and its aftermath. It's the first time their stories have been told. Their experiences are filled with moments of fear, anger, despair and even hope.
"I am still amazed at the selfless dedication of the staff. It was 6 days of hell. It was unbelievable. For 6 days staff cared for patients on their knees," noted Olander Holloway, RN, who was a nurse at Charity Hospital during Katrina.
Staff at Charity also endured having to turn patients away when the hospital became a locked-down facility - patients walking to the hospital in chest-high water or being dropped off by boats. "We couldn't take anyone else," Olander stated. "There was a limit to what we could do, but there were people that I saw ... old people ... and I would think, 'Why can't we take this old lady?' It was really heartbreaking."
Other scenes described in the book are hard to forget. Deceased patients get moved to open stairwells. The water supply stops and toilets are unusable. Eight hundred people in one hospital must find other means to dispose of human waste. One woman is brought to one hospital soaking wet. "She was an invalid, wheelchair bound," noted Gail Gibson, MN, RN, working at University Hospital. "They found her in bed and the fireman said the water was up to her nose. If she had been there just a little longer, she would have drowned in her bed."
Maneuvering their way through the challenges, the nurses placed their emotions aside and did what they do best - care for patients. They carried stretchers with patients up endless flights of stairs to the rooftops where helicopters whisked the sickest away. They hand bagged patients on ventilators hour after hour after hour. They waded through 5 feet of water to secure medications from another hospital building. They didn't give up, and they haven't forgotten.
"I did not talk about Katrina until 4 years after the hurricane," said Mary Kelly, MHA, MSN, RN, a nurse at Charity Hospital during the storm. "I had friends from out of town who asked me, 'Did you cry?' I haven't cried yet. ... I am here. I've got life, and my family is safe. When you look at all of that, the rest of it is junk."
Click here to hear more remarkable stories from nurses who served on the front lines during Hurricane Katrina. Then, join the discussion on the unforgettable experiences you read about in the book.
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