Weathering the storm at Palmetto Health Baptist

 

Pat Hollis Christiansen entered Palmetto Health Baptist on Tuesday afternoon with “liver enzymes off the charts.”

Like many Midlands residents at the time, the weather was the least of her worries. Everyone had heard that a hurricane was coming but after all, Columbia is two hours from the coast. Maybe we'd get a thunderstorm.

It turned out Pat would be in the hospital for six days during the most disastrous flood in the state’s history.

After several tests identified the source of the problem, on Friday she underwent an emergency gallbladder surgery. At the time the weather still wasn’t much of a concern.

“Everything was fine until Saturday when all this started. Of course on Sunday it was really bad; my husband couldn’t even get to the hospital that day.”

By Monday morning there was no running water.

Pat had been watching the news and communicating with her husband David via a laptop from her hospital bed but she couldn’t actually see what was happening outside. By Saturday night the sound of hurricane force winds whipping around the building frightened her a bit, but when she ventured down the hall and peered out a window facing downtown it just looked like it was raining hard.

“I had heard that we were supposed to get some really bad rain,” said Lisa Parker, RN, a nurse who cared for Pat. “But how many times have you heard that and then it doesn’t rain at all. Who would have thought?“

Lisa was working her Sunday shift when she received an alarming text from her son – police had come to their home near the Old Mill in Lexington and told him to gather only what was most important and evacuate immediately. And he should expect the house would be underwater within two hours.

That night, secure that her son was safe at a friend’s house and having no desire to drive around and scout out a place to stay, Lisa slept on an empty cot upstairs at the hospital. The next morning she volunteered to work an extra shift. (While staff were going above and beyond to get to work, numerous barricades and collapsing bridges around Richland County made it impossible for some.) The night before she had taken off her scrubs and neatly folded them, just in case. "No shower, but I didn't need to be walking around in wrinkled scrubs. Thank God I had my toothbrush," she laughed.

Nurse Lisa Parker worked two shifts thinking her home was underwater.Monday was a challenge for the hospital employees with a leaking roof and the lack of water making routine tasks difficult. "But we made the day as normal as we could," said Lisa. "We helped each other. We tried to be as flexible as possible.”

When asked how she was able to compartmentalize what was happening at work and the reality that her home may be submerged in flood waters, she said she was so focused on the patients and doing what needed to be done she didn’t really have time to think about her own situation.

”You know...there’s an emergency happening out there in the world, but there are patients right here, and they have their own emergencies. I know it sounds cliché but at this point in my life I realize what's truly important - our health and well-being - not material things. Every moment is a treasure. Making sure everyone was okay was my first priority.”

Lisa also said she gets a lot back through giving. “It makes me feel whole.”

From Pat's perspective, the caregivers didn't miss a beat and there was continuity of care throughout the flood.

“The staff was perfectly normal," she said. "You wouldn’t have known anything was going on (other than the bottled water). I actually had the same nurses at every turn during my stay.”

Lisa said co-workers helped ease each other's stress. “During any type of traumatic event like this, it’s good to see everyone pulling together. We have a lot of hardworking people here.”

On Monday Pat was getting ready to check out. Her husband was worried about getting to the hospital but was determined to be there to pick her up. Lisa inquired about the status of the couple's home, which luckily was on high ground.

That's when they asked where Lisa lived. "She said she had just moved a couple of months ago; her house was in a mandatory evacuation zone and she thought it was underwater. She worked two shifts while I was there through that and never said a word! My heart just broke for her but she told us 'I'm going to be fine'."

When Pat made her way across the Taylor Street walkway and saw the firetrucks pumping water into the building and all the air conditioning units oLisa points out a water-damaged room under repairn the other side, she broke down.

“It was the first time I had seen what was happening outside and I had just found out about Lisa - it made me cry. It was kind of emotional leaving. I just can’t say enough about how the hospital staff handled the water situation.”

“You see disasters like this on the news and it’s always another state. You feel sorry for the people. But when it’s in your own backyard you realize the real effects.”

Lisa was shocked when she was finally able to get to her home and found it had sustained virtually no damage, other than a waterlogged yard. Fearing what she might find, she wanted to make sure she got there before her son did. “I was so shocked I could not believe it. I expected the absolute worst - we were very lucky.”

Pat and David had reached out to Lisa wanting to help her somehow and were also relieved to hear she was okay.

Now back at home, Pat is focused on flood assistance, companion animal rescue and rooting for Clemson. Her recovery has gone extremely well and she has had no problems. “The care I got during the storm and the days following is the same as I would have had under any circumstances.”

“I truly thank God for the dedicated staff at Palmetto Health Baptist.”

 

Have a story to share with SCHA? Email Rosemary at rthompson@scha.org.

Released:
10-15-2015 10:51 (EDT)