When Robin Callahan left for work last Friday she knew it wouldn’t be a typical day as a nurse on the Fourth Telemetry Unit at the West Houston Medical Center. With Hurricane Harvey bearing down on the Texas Gulf Coast, Callahan, who grew up in Branford, packed a bag, said goodbye to her husband and five children and headed off to work. She never imagined it would mean six straight days of 12 hours shifts and a stressful and emotional separation from her loved ones as the historic storm dropped more than four feet of rain on the Houston area.
“We’re always prepared for flooding here. This whole area floods so easily. But nothing ever like this,” she said just hours after being released from her marathon shift.
By Saturday, many roads in Houston were impassable and driving near the hospital was treacherous at best. The hospital called a “code yellow” which meant that staff members who were at work would have to stay at work because of the weather emergency. From Friday to Thursday evening, nurses on the unit worked 12 hour shifts, took 12 hours off and slept on recliners in a break room. The hospital never closed and actually began taking in patients from a smaller hospital nearby that had flooded over the weekend.
“Our hospital was amazing. I was so impressed. My director and manager stayed overnight with us. They didn’t leave us. Administrators came in to feed us. One staff member was able to go home and wash all of our clothes. It was an amazing effort,” says Callahan who worked at Saint Raphael’s and Griffin Hospital before relocating to Kansas and then eventually the Houston area.
While the conditions at work were as safe and comfortable as they could be given the circumstances, Callahan was fearful for her family’s safety. Their neighborhood—just 30 minutes from the hospital—was under a mandatory evacuation because of a levee that was threatening to breach.
“I was so anxious. I didn’t know what was going on with my family. My husband said he couldn’t get out [because the roads were closed at the time]. At one point, I just started crying,” she says.
After a good night’s sleep in her own bed, Callahan was off for the four hour drive to reunite with her family who is staying at a hotel in Dallas. Reflecting on the six days at the hospital during the storm, Callahan said she’s proud that patient care was never interrupted and is thankful for the efforts of her coworkers. She urges all healthcare workers to be prepared when dangerous storms are approaching
“Expect that you’re going to spend many days at the hospital and pack and plan accordingly. Most importantly, be patient [with the situation],” she says.
Callahan says Harvey has created an everlasting bond with her and her coworkers
“I really got to know my colleagues. We’ll always have this bond. We knew we were all in this together and we relied on each other,” she says.
She says Houston’s story is far from over as so many people have been or will be impacted by the storm.
“I prayed a lot [during the storm]. Faith was so important. There’s a song called “You Are Not Alone”; I played that a lot on my phone. I’m blessed. Others are not so lucky. My story is a good one.”