A Travel Nurse Story: Surviving Hurricane Matthew

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By Andrew Ferguson

August 11, 2019

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The Nomadic Nurse V/S The Hurricane

Surviving Hurricane Matthew

They say adventures are never fun when you’re having one. Like most of the stuff they say, this little nugget contains some truth, but it’s not the whole truth.

There’s a certain yin and yang to adventure. A place were courage and fear intersect. It’s finding comfort in the uncomfortable, and knowing you’re in the middle of what’s going to make a dynamite story, if you survive it. This is one of those stories.

On the Path of Hurricane Matthew

My wife had taken an assignment on the southern east coast. We were staying right on the beach. Most of our time had been spent in Tennessee and parts of Southern Indiana, so a little beach time was a welcome change. We had everything figured out, housing, transportation, even her schedule was predictable because of the way the hospital rotated its travelers. Best laid plans of mice and nurses. Who would have thought a hurricane would hit the coast?

Evacuation

South Carolina Governor Niki Haley gave us adequate time to evacuate. She told us to get a hundred miles from the coast and batten down the hatches.

It was our first hurricane, so we listened like good citizens, and began battening. Everyone must have been thinking the same thing, because it was hard to find a hotel anywhere within a hundred miles. We even looked as far as Ashville, NC. It was leaf changing season though, and a weekend to boot, so no luck there. We decided, in true adventurer fashion, to head out with no scheduled destination. We headed northwest, and ended up in the North Carolina town of Lumberton, home of the LHS Raiders.

Seeking Refuge in Lumberton

On our first night we drank Hurricanes and got down to late 70’s soft rock classics. But then Lumberton got slammed by Matthew. He had reached a strong, and destructive category 3 by the time he reached us. The Lumberton river had flooded I-95 northbound, and another body of water had the southbound side flooded out.

The whole town lost power, and a few hours after that the hotel we were staying at lost water. There was no way to get gas, and only one grocery store was opened. Our 4G went blank, there was no wi-fi, and our cell service was in and out. We had time lapsed back to the 20th century.

Even in a Hurricane – Travel Nurses must work!

My wife had to be at work the next day, and the hospital was already running short staffed due to the storm. As all travel nurses know, come heck or high water (in this case, literally), you must be at work.

We tried leaving Lumberton that morning via a route figured out by the North Carolina State Police. Six hours later, we had made it five blocks when we were turned back and told there was no way out. I had some beef jerky, a pillow, and four beers. I was going to be fine. But my wife was having none of it. She had patients and staff depending on her, and she wasn’t going to let them down.

Finding a Way

We pulled into a parking lot where several people had gathered. My wife jumped out and started asking people if they knew of a route out of town. I kept telling her it was hopeless, but she was relentless. Eventually, she found a local who was telling another local how to get around the flood waters. The guy getting directions said we could follow him to highway 17, but he wasn’t sure if we could get south on it once we got there.

We drove through flood waters, mud, and down gravel roads. At one point, we even drove down a four-wheeler trail to avoid a washout. It took us two hours to go nine miles, and we were rerouted more times than I can count. Finally, we made it to highway 17. And yes, we could go south towards our destination.

I was in awe. Almost two thousand people were trapped in Lumberton, either because they had sought refuge there, or because they couldn’t make it any further down 95, but my wife, super nurse, had found a way out. She made it to work, and I celebrated her victory with beef jerky and warm beer. We were both at our best.

ETA TGN STAFF:

Please consult with your assignment hospital and/or travel nurse agency if you are in the path of a hurricane. Most facilities have some sort of plan for these occurrences and many will provide overnight accommodations for scheduled staff.

NEVER put yourself in a situation where you are disobeying local emergency personnel. You could put both yourself and others in danger.


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