“I’ve been working 12-hour shifts every night. I’m currently on my sixth, out of likely 12 or 13 shifts in a row. This is something I have never done before.”
Kathryn Gallant, who is earning her Master of Science-Clinical Nurse Specialist (CNS) degree at California State University, Dominguez Hills (CSUDH), made that statement just before starting a night shift at Clear Lake Regional Hospital in Webster, Tex., just outside of Houston. It was just 10 days after Harvey, a Category 4 hurricane had devastated portions of southeast Texas, and caused major flooding in the region.
A Los Angeles native, Gallant now lives in Denver, Colo., and is enrolled in CSUDH’s online nursing program while working full-time as an agency nurse for HCA Healthcare, a national agency that provides nursing for hospitals across the nation. The agency received “multiple calls” to send large groups of volunteer nurses to help care for patients after Harvey made landfall with wind-speeds as high as 120 miles per hour.
Gallant joined a group of 120 nurses who boarded a plane Aug. 28 for Dallas–since Houston was still flooded–before reaching Webster where she worked non-stop in the hospital for two weeks. One of the “lucky ones” to have hospital rooms to sleep in, the 11-year veteran of neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) nursing was taking care of premature babies in the crowded hospital.
On Sept. 7, Gallant was interviewed at the hospital over the phone for a CSUDH Campus News Center Q&A, featured below. She returned to Denver on Sept.15.
Q: Why did you volunteer to help while being so busy with your nursing courses?
A: I have always wanted to help when I can. That’s in my nature. But I’ve never done anything like this before. I had a number of commitments with school at the time–I was supposed to start my clinicals with my instructors this week. I reached out to all of them and was cleared by everyone. I emailed Terri Ares (lecturer and CNS program adviser) right away to let her know that this is something I wanted to do. She was completely on board, and I got some leeway on my assignments. Terry recommended that I take notes on how hospitals handle disasters preparedness, and bring back some ideas to pass on my experiences to the class. I had never really thought about how NICU nurses could help with relief, but we are more in demand than any other type of nurse here right now.
Q: What was it like getting the call to go?
A: It was exciting and anxiety provoking. It’s a minimum two week commitment, but you really don’t know the exact date you will return. You also find out the dates you’ll be leaving at the very last minute, and the flight you’ll be on that night, so they asked us to have a bag ready. I was called just a couple of hours after they first contacted me.
Q: What has your work consisted of since arriving at the hospital?
A: I’m taking care of premature babies, that’s what I do. Some of the babies are on life support, ventilators, or have IVs with medication for blood pressure. We can have little babies who are just too small and premature to hold their own temperatures. We also tube feed and make sure they’re breathing, or help them breathe again. There is not an influx of new premature babies in the unit due to the hurricane. We’re here to help free up the hospital’s NICU staff to assist doctors with victims, and so they can go home to take care of their own properties. Needless to say, I’m pretty tired, but it’s all good.
Q: How does the area look?
A: By the third day, when I got to Houston, it had dried up enough to travel by van. The first two days nurses were traveling by Black Hawk helicopter. There is still some flooding, but the most noticeable issue is the tons of furniture, drywall and everything that was damaged and dragged out to the curb. There are still random abandoned cars now, and I’ve seen a few still stuck in water above the windows. And of course, I can see all the mud and dirt from the receding water. The hospital got flooded outside, but they kept it out. Many of the staff working here during the hurricane have abandoned their cars because they got flooded in the parking structure.
Q: How are the mothers coping having given birth to premature babies, while dealing with the aftermath of a hurricane?
A: All the babies that I’ve been helping lately were born during the hurricane–they have birthdays on August 23 or 24. I was talking to one of the mothers who was in a hospital for about a week after birth. She was no longer a patient, but the area surrounding the area was flooded so she had nowhere to go. I wonder, with some of the pre-term babies, if any of their births were triggered by the stress of the hurricanes. But there’s no way to tell if a pre-term labor happened that way.
Q: How is the hospital nursing staff performing under duress?
A: I have met many nurse leaders here. I’ll always remember their professionalism and how they’ve been working under such pressure. The nursing leadership team and staffing officers have been working very hard to accommodate all their teams. Any time there is a code (blue), or a staffing need, they’re on it. They have shown such flexibility and openness and their approach to the situation is very solution oriented. So it’s been very supportive being here. It’s been a great learning experience just to see a very functional, albeit tired at this point, nursing leadership team.
Q: What will you take away from this experience?
A: The professionalism. I have also made some great friends–I’m Facebook friends with several of the nurses here. Living in the hospital has also given me insights into the patients’ experience. Hearing the code alarms throughout your sleep cycle, never having total quiet, living in a hospital bed–it is an eye-opening experience for me. Working in the NICU, I feel I’m in my element, and completely comfortable, which is awesome. It’s been a great experience.
Q: What will you do after you complete your master’s degree?
A: I really like Denver, and I may stay there, but I’m open. My degree is clinical nurse specialist, which is an expansion of my current role to be more of a clinical expert. Hopefully, someday I will be in a role where I can educate others, do research, and use my skills to have more of an impact on nursing, and patients.