In October 2012, Rebecca Lee, RN, was working at Bellevue Hospital in New York City. Hurricane Sandy hit, and it hit hard. Lee recalls that all the subways, highways, tunnels, and bridges were closed. Streetlights were out. Robberies and looting was rampant throughout the city. “We had to walk in the middle of the street to stay safe in the meager moonlight,” says Lee.

But she wasn’t outside much. She stayed at the hospital for five days and four nights, working, as she says, “24/7.”

To remember this stressful time, Lee, who runs natural health remedies resource RemediesForMe.com, wrote a memo to herself on October 31 of that year so that she would never forget. The following is what she wrote:

“While the storm worsened, staff secretly stole peeks out the darkened windows, trying hard not to let our fear show to the patients. Most of my patients were bedridden and kept asking how the conditions look outside. All I could say was, ‘it looks okay,’ as their concern wrinkles on their faces momentarily smoothed out.

They must’ve known the storm was getting bad because the rain was beating the windows hard, and their televisions now showed nothing but static. I tried to keep them as comfortable as possible as I saw the batteries on their machines running low, lights suddenly shutting off, and phone lines being disconnected.

After a few short hours, the FDR had completely disappeared under the east river, and the water was quickly reaching Bellevue doors. The scariest thing I saw that night was cars that had been parked next to the FDR were being swept away by the waves. We also lost contact with the outside world. We worked while wondering about the status of our families, friends, cars, and homes. The staff began to wonder how long they would be trapped for.

The next day, it became clear that we had lost all power, food, water, and each minute became more precious than the next. The coast guard, along with hospital staff, formed human assembly lines on the dark stairway, all the way up to the 21st floor. They helped transfer patients by hand, and gave out food and water. Manual machines were utilized, and critical patients were transferred to other hospitals that still had working power.

During the storm, some units pulled together and worked odd shifts to relieve one another from exhaustion and hunger, while other units fell apart and became fierce and chaotic. We had no food, no running water, and no running toilets. After a few days, we were running low on options. Thankfully we had an endless supply of gloves and masks.

Thank you for anyone who volunteered during this time to do all the heavy lifting and dirty work, to make sure everyone was fed, hydrated, and less stressed. I am re-thankful for family, friends, health, food, water, showers, music, clean beds, working toilets, and electricity. On Halloween 2012, I celebrated Thanksgiving.

What I’ve learned through all this: You give and take away.”

Thanks to Lee for sharing her experience.

Have you ever had to work during a natural disaster? Share your experience in the comments.

Michele Wojciechowski

Michele Wojciechowski is an award-winning writer and author of the humor book Next Time I Move, They’ll Carry Me Out in a Box.

Latest posts by Michele Wojciechowski (see all)

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