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Blogtober at Montefiore
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Remembering Hurricane Sandy – One Year Later

For most of us, Hurricane Sandy is just a memory. But for the families that remain in shelters and the many others still displaced, the storm is an ever-present fact of life. Any reflection on Sandy must start by acknowledging that some of our colleagues are still living through the devastation left in its wake. In our neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) alone, two nurses are still putting their homes back together and a third hasn't returned to work after getting hurt cleaning up her home. Most of us, though, have recovered from the storm. 

October 29 is meaningful for me because it's also my birthday, though it's hard to celebrate when we're left shaking our heads in anguish because of what happened. The trauma of Hurricane Sandy tempers my day with sadness, but also gratitude. 

Disastrous as it was, Hurricane Sandy also provided our Weiler NICU staff an opportunity to show the world something I already knew – their strength and heart. The challenges of that Monday night were beyond any we expected. A year later, I still marvel at the staff's ability to care for those patients and families – no matter the obstacles.

Due to the storm, we were low on staff that night. When NYU Langone Medical Center called urgently requesting our assistance, Dr. Orna Rosen kept us on track with her absolute belief in the team and our ability to manage what seemed like an impossible task. She leaned on her army experience to help us mobilize forces. 

The phone call came around 1 a.m. from the NICU clinical director at NYU. Our medical team immediately accepted the babies over the phone and executed an admission plan. We were prepared for four babies, however six arrived. While providing care, our team worked to locate the families of the two additional babies so they knew to come to Montefiore – another transfer wasn't a good idea.

Eileen Cunnigham's leadership as the nurse in charge was indispensable. Her repeated reassurances – "We got this," "Ok, this is what we will do," and "It's gonna be ok" – were a balm to the team working that night.

I salute the three E's – Emily, Emily and Eileen – who came in early and stayed forever, as well as the nurses who slept over so they could be there in the morning. Awakened at 3 a.m. to help, they leapt into action - especially one nurse (who will remain nameless) who was so eager that she ran to support the team and had to be reminded to get dressed first!

I was touched by the sentiment of the mother-daughter team, labor and delivery nurse Ilana Bennet and NICU nurse Sharone Halperin, who could have gone home but chose to stay. When awakened, Ilana simply said, "I knew there was a reason we didn't go home last night. We needed to be here to help."

From the moment we got the call that patients from NYU were coming, every nurse, respiratory therapist, nurse practitioner, neonatologist, physician assistant and nurse's aide gave everything they had.

The families also arrived exhausted, worried and confused. Our NICU team provided food, drink and comfort while arranging for the safe care of six babies. In those hectic hours, we took care of the babies, their parents and the doctors and nurses who brought them.

So on my birthday this year, I reflect more than celebrate. Our NICU staff is often described as angels on earth, but for me it's so much more than that. They are caretakers of the highest caliber – they care for the infants, their parents and each other, unconditionally.

It was hard to live through the storm, but an honor to watch this team in action. I thank the nurses and doctors, NPs, PAs and nurse's aides who show their courage and commitment every day, and especially on October 29, 2012.

Zahava Cohen, RN, MSN, RNC-NIC is Administrative Nurse Manager in the NICU at Montefiore's Weiler Campus.



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