Working an extra shift at a hospital during an ice storm on Valentine's Day.
|Living in Georgia, snow occasionally surprises us like a brand new adventure. We're excited but sadly, it usually doesn’t stick.Snowmen droop and sliding on hills doesn't work very well. There was Valentine's Day, in 1982, a frozen white giant walked through Atlanta, dropping snow and ice in his path. He certainly caused a lot of trouble. He didn't even leave candy or flowers. Instead we dealt with stalled cars, property damage, accidents and even a few deaths.
I was working at the hospital on the three to eleven shift. Our two boys were four and nine at the time. Their dad, Frank, usually picked them up after work from a neighbor's home. The weather started as snow flurries changing to sleet by early afternoon. At school, the kids had exchanged valentines and had cupcakes. When the snow started, I got an excited phone call from my boys filled with dreams of sliding down hills, snowball battles and making snowmen.
Looking at a dangerous situation for rush hour traffic in Atlanta, companies started encouraging workers to leave early. My husband was one of those. We had planned a little valentine’s fun after I got home with cheap champagne, strawberries, chocolate, music and time alone after kids were in bed. Delicious visions danced in my brain.
I was making rounds on my patients, giving medications, changing dressings and IV’s. It was busy since the physicians were also coming by after office hours seeing patients and leaving new orders. My husband, called from an office building off the Interstate. He had walked there through the storm. His new pickup truck was in a line of traffic that wasn’t moving. The sleets was now causing I-75 to become a skating rink and a lot of people in Georgia don’t drive on ice very well. Our state didn’t have the equipment to clear the roads and the salt wasn’t put down in time. Frank is trying to talk to me but at the same time was a rude physician that was in a hurry. I hear my husband “someone just t-boned the side of the truck. The kids are at Mom’s and I may be sleeping in this building. Know you're busy, talk later. Love you.”
Family okay, so back to work. Now we were beginning to get calls from our night shift about not being able to come in. We have people that will go pick up those that are close to the hospital but a couple of our RNs were out of the area. The weather was getting worse.
Those were the days when patients actually came to the hospital the night before surgery for lab work, permit signing and any preparation that was going to be needed. We would complete those things and put them to bed with a sedative. Two out of our five patients showed up so we had a couple extra beds. Of course, the ER was exploding with accident victims so the beds filled up quickly.
I spoke with the kids on the phone and they were happy at their grandparents, being spoiled and watching the snow. My husband was in a safe place with power which was becoming a problem in the area also. Pine trees are a stable in Georgia and they are notorious for broken limbs landing on above ground power lines.
I volunteered to stay on for a double shift if I could keep my patients since I already knew them and they knew me. Sixteen hours straight isn’t so bad when you are in your thirties.
Obviously, Valentine’s Day was now a romantic wash out but a couple other girls I always work with decided to stay also . We turned a rock station on, bedded down our patients with back rubs and sedatives or pain medications. It turned out to be a fairly quiet evening since our beds were all full. Cupid was so good to us, no one had an emergency that I remember. That is unusual since we had a couple patients that had just come from ICU and fresh postoperative patients that needed to be watched closely. It is always great when patients are stable and we have the time to get what they need on time.
There wasn’t a lot of time to sit around but enough to stay up on charting. I didn’t realize how tired I was until it was close to five in the morning. Then the calls started for day shift saying they couldn’t get out of their driveways.
The cops went out to pick up some of the day staff and when they arrived and we turned things over, two of us headed for a room that was being renovated after an electrical fire in the wall. There were 2 unmade beds. We grabbed some bedding and put a “Do Not Disturb” sign on the door.
Foolish caretakers that we were, our dream world lasted 10 minutes at most. There was pounding at the door. It wasn’t an emergency, it was asking an opinion. Okay. Then it was “Can you come look?” This is why you must leave work because it is like being a parent, it is never ending.
I gathered up my personal stuff and was pleasantly surprised by my weary looking husband carrying roses. He was waiting at the nursing station. Everyone was laughing.
The sun was shining and the ice was melting. Unlike many patients, I was going home. Happy belated Valentine’s Day!
By Kathie Stehr
Feb 13, 2021