Monday, March 28, 2011

The speed bump that became a high spot

Friday was one of those days that will linger in my mind for quite awhile.

It was the end of a long week. Sick children, life stressors, work demands—all the typical things that pile up in the face of an approaching weeklong vacation. I thought I had the week pretty well planned in advance—a few days of “sick call” and a wide-open Friday afternoon to ensure a few quiet, patient-free hours to tie up loose ends before leaving the nurse in charge. (I hate leaving too much for my covering physician to deal with. He has his own daily demands and, as we all know, covering for another provider can destroy your week.)

Then, as only the military can do, a huge speed bump was put in the middle of my well-planned road! In response to the events occurring in Japan—the earthquake, the tsunami and, now, a nuclear threat—the military was offering voluntary evacuations to family members located in that country. The evacuees—mainly women and children—were being routed through various cities, and our location was chosen to support this mission. The request was for a provider to be on site at all times to provide acute care and address any medical concerns that might arise as the families were routed to final destinations elsewhere in the United States.

I scrambled to find someone to come to the house in the early morning hours and get the kids off to school. A few good friends have made the offer to “call anytime,” so I took one up on it, and he was quick to say yes. (Proof that the week wasn’t all that bad is that it reminded me of the wonderful friends I have made here in a short six months!)

When I arrived at the site, I was pleasantly surprised to see how organized the event was. The USO and Red Cross were there with food, hygiene items and a bank of computers and phones for the evacuees to utilize. The support staff had established play areas for the various aged children (everything from playpens to a bounce house to Wii) and staff to supervise them. They even had military members in place to walk the animals that were accompanying the families.

As the evacuees arrived, it was awesome to watch young soldiers, sailors and airmen assist the travel-weary women by carrying their baggage, pushing strollers and cleaning up after pets. The women were free to complete all the necessary paperwork and arrange their follow-on travel, knowing that everything else was covered, and the kids—and pets—were able to spend all their stored-up energy in a safe environment.

Except for treating some nausea and hypertension and handing out lots of Band-Aids, I provided very little patient care. In the course of the day, eight to 10 new moms and their babies came through—one just 6 days old—and I touched base with most of them to ensure they were doing OK and didn't need additional support. In general, I just watched and was so proud to be a part of this organization that sometimes can frustrate me to no end but, at the end of the day, can put together an operation to support our own that is second to none.

Although the evacuation initially added stress to an already stressful week, I am so glad I had the opportunity to assist in this massive undertaking, talk to these people, hear their stories and provide what little relief I could. It may have started as a road bump in my busy life, but it ended up being one of those experiences that will stick with me as a highlight of my time in the military.

For Reflections on Nursing Leadership (RNL), published by the Honor Society of Nursing, Sigma Theta Tau International.

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