Saving after Sandy

Local cancer heroes


The blackout legacy of Sandy affected man, woman and child, plunging all into cold darkness, putting all in harms way.  However, for few was this trauma more acute then for cancer patients in the middle of their battle against disease. For hundreds of local patients scheduled to receive chemotherapy this week, suddenly finding themselves without access to critical care was frightening and dangerous. Into this crisis stepped local heroes. 

When the saga of the storm is written, there will be a long list of remarkable people who, instead of running away, ran forward to help. The list will include police, fireman, EMS, construction, linemen, National Guard, politicians, municipal workers and a mix of good people who simply reached out a hand.  I respect and thank them all. For me, this list includes our oncology staff, who, leaving cold houses, journeying on difficult roads, rushed to give care to vulnerable patients.  No one would have blamed them for staying with their families and waiting out the silence, but none of them did.

When two of our three offices lost power and heat, 210 patients due to receive vital treatments this week were left without access to ongoing chemotherapy.  Another 185 patients scheduled for vital lab testing were in jeopardy and over 400 office visits canceled.  As with sailors suddenly washed overboard, these cancer patients, many frail and vulnerable, had lives suddenly at risk. Our staff of front desk workers, LPNs, RNs, pharmacists, technicians and physicians did not hesitate.  They would all say that they were just doing their jobs.  If that is true, then how these people do their jobs is an inspiration.

Acting with calm, good humor (actually really awful humor) and intelligence, these professionals organized chaos.  Working around downed trees and phone systems, transporting drugs and equipment, jury rigging critical systems to augment struggling electronics, in real time they brought care to cancer patients in critical need.  They urged chilled, struggling lab equipment to life, alternative communication systems were rigged, patients contacted and schedules redesigned on the fly. Chemotherapy was given in exam rooms, at desks, in any available cranny.  Doctors wearing hiking boots and jeans, instead of white coats and ties, examined patients.   Rather then being left in isolation, frightened patients were given comfort and care, vital medicine, a warm touch and hot coffee (with donuts…OK not the best in nutrition, but we will let it slide). 

There is an inspiring lesson here, as we climb phoenix-like from the debris of Sandy. Too much we focus on the difficulties of life, too little we respect the wonder and possibility of us all, together.  Whatever conflict and confusion may mark the human condition, when challenged with the worst, people care.  They care to help, they care to rebuild, they care to hope, they care not only about the ones they love, they care about the family of man.  

One of the great honors of my life has been the opportunity to work closely with people who are expert at their jobs, focused in their goals and truly care.  Like the beauty of the sunrise, the power of the oceans, the grandeur of mountains, the beauty, power and grandeur that is my fellow man, leave me in awe.  The storm has left darkness, fear and suffering in its wake, but have not doubt, together we will rise above. 


As published in Sunrise Rounds.


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