In the days leading up to Hurricane Harvey, many residents began stocking up on water, groceries and other essentials so they could ride out the storm at home. But Morgan McCullough and Casey Aslan, both nurses in the medical oncology unit at Memorial Hermann-Texas Medical Center, were making plans to get to work.
“Growing up in South Alabama, I didn’t think much of the hurricane,” McCullough said. “But I had never dealt with catastrophic flooding before, so that was all new to me and made me nervous.”
Both nurses worked Aug.25 and Aug.26—the Friday and Saturday before the deluge came. But in anticipation of flooding on Sunday morning, McCullough and Aslan on Saturday left their homes in the Heights and Katy, respectively, loaded up with air mattresses, pillows, blankets and clothing.
“We had planned to spend the night at our co-worker’s apartment on Saturday, because we knew the roads would probably be bad the next morning,” Aslan said. Their co-worker lived close to the Texas Medical Center.
When the nurses awoke in the early hours of Sunday, water from Brays Bayou was flooding the first floor apartment at Kirby Place Apartments—near the intersection of Holcombe Blvd. and Kirby Dr.— where they had spent the night. Greeted by shin-deep water outside, they quickly realized they would not be able to drive the three miles to work.
“Water was rising super fast, cars were already submerged in water and we felt like we were stuck,” Aslan said. “We knew we would need to get to the hospital to relieve the night shift and because of the proximity, we probably had the best chance of getting there.”
A friend and co-worker, Bert Zumaya, offered an interesting solution.
“We tried to get in a Jeep Wrangler and the water was way too high,” Aslan said. “Our friend, Bert, mentioned he had a kayak and we kind of all laughed at it, but as things progressed, we realized that might be our only option.”
As the apartment complex began evacuating residents, McCullough and Aslan threw their scrubs, shoes and a water bottle in a garbage bag and jumped onto the kayak with Zumaya and another friend, to make their way to the medical center. Although the inflatable kayak was designed for one and had a maximum weight limit of 330 lbs., the group floated slowly along.
“We were definitely over the weight limit,” McCullough said. “We took on a good bit of water, but we took a side street and once we got to Main St., there was an area with about shin-deep water that we were able to walk in, and flip the kayak over to dump out the water.”
It took them about two hours to get from Kirby Place Apartments to work at Memorial Hermann.
“It was one of those things—we had to really talk ourselves up to do it,” McCullough said. “I’m still trying to wrap my head around the fact that we really did it. The whole five days we were at work doesn’t feel like it really happened to me. We do love our jobs greatly and obviously wanted to be there, but we also knew that we were probably the closest to the hospital with a means of getting there and I think we thought it would be kind of selfish for us to not try to get there.”
When McCullough and Aslan made it up to their unit on Sunday, co-workers were shocked and relieved to see them.
“No one at work believed that we actually did it; they were as shocked as we were,” Aslan said. “We got there Sunday around noon.”
For the rest of the week, the team went back to working 12-hour shifts to take care of the patients on the 17-bed unit.
“Our unit is pretty small so we both get to form a lot of relationships with our patients because they come and see us every 21 days,” McCullough said. “A lot of our patients were very anxious when we got there because they weren’t really sure what was going on and were wondering if their homes were okay.”
Both nurses agree that kayaking to work that day strengthened their connections to co-workers and patients.
“If we wouldn’t have been able to come in, our unit would have been short-staffed, overworked and our patients wouldn’t have been able to get the care they needed,” Aslan said. “The whole hospital came together. We never had to ration food, we were well supported—even people from physical therapy were coming up to see if they could help checking vital signs. We bonded a lot through this and we are even more of a family now.”
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