Harsh winter weather tests fortitude of traveling nurses
January 2014 was one for the record books: Large sections of the country were plunged into deep freeze with wind chill factors reaching dangers lows, and cites throughout the Midwest have measured more snow in the first month of this year than most annual averages.
Not even the South was spared. When an icy snowstorm blew into Atlanta, Ga., on January 28, the city literally ground to a standstill. “I don’t think people expected to get as much snow as quickly as we did. As a native of Georgia, I remember it snowing a couple of times, but this came in fast,” observes Shannon NeSmith, RN, CLNC. An operating room nurse traveler with Supplemental Health Care, a staffing company based in Park City, Utah, NeSmith will wrap up her assignment at Atlanta Medical Center later this month.
By midday, Atlanta schools and businesses sent people home and shuttered their doors. The mass exodus plus the deteriorating conditions resulted in widespread gridlock. NeSmith was already on duty when the situation turned ugly. “The hospital management called a Code White at 3:45 p.m., which meant the weather was so bad that no one was allowed to leave,” she says. “I knew I was in for the duration. Management did everything they could to make it better for us, including opening up the kitchen and feeding us supper, snacks, and breakfast for free.”
For the most part, NeSmith went about the rest of her shift as any other day, but as the end of it neared, there was no sign of the weather letting up, so the staff was required to stay on through the night. “People were moved to call teams and I became the night charge nurse—I was the charge nurse from 3:00 p.m. Tuesday to 7:00 a.m. the next morning. I finally clocked out by 3:00 p.m. Wednesday,” she says. “I have to say, though, those 24 hours were one of the best experiences I’ve ever had because I have never seen people pull together like we all did.”
Mary Palmer, MS-CCCSLP, left her home state of Florida last year to venture around the country as a traveler with CompHealth, a staffing company located in Salt Lake City, Utah. “It’s been challenging, educational, and fun,” says the speech-language pathologist.
But even spending the winter in New England last year didn’t prepare this Southerner for winter in Michigan this year. She began her assignment at Mercy Health Center’s Hackley Hospital in Muskegon, Mich., last October and extended it until mid-February. “I’ve always heard the phrase ‘bitter cold,’ but never knew what it meant until now. You go outside and you immediately go numb and your eyes start watering,” she says. “I’m pretty sure the wind chill factor dropped into the negatives a few times. At that point I can’t even process it anymore.”
Although the city on the eastern shores of Lake Michigan has had its share of days topping out at single-digit temperatures, the big news this season is the snowfall. Every year it gets buried under lake-effect snow, but this year it has accumulated much more, even by local standards. “I’ve heard people say that they’ve had more snow between Christmas and January than they had the entire winter last year. The snow banks are 4 to 5 feet tall,” says Palmer.
Given the circumstances, she’s had no choice but to learn how to maneuver the slick roads. “My coworkers gave me a few tips, like leave enough room in front of me and steer into a skid,” says Palmer. “Now when I see a snowplow driver, I give them a wave because I appreciate what they do.”
Still, Palmer has managed to have fun with the white stuff, including a few skiing excursions. “My coworkers encourage me to get out with them and not hold up in my apartment wrapped in blankets away from the weather,” she says.
Winter a while longer
According to Punxsutawney Phil, winter will stick around a few more weeks, and the National Weather Service concurs. It is forecasting more extremely cold temperatures and snowstorms for much of the nation.
Winter Driving Know-How
The best advice for driving in bad weather is not to drive at all if you can avoid it. But if that’s not possible, follow these tips to make sure you arrive at your destination safely.
- Allow for extra time.
- Decrease speed and leave plenty of room to stop, approximately three times more space than usual.
- Brake gently to avoid skidding.
- Shift into low gears for better traction, especially on hills.
- Avoid cruise control or overdrive on icy roads.
- Watch for icy patches in shady areas as well as on bridges, overpasses, and infrequently traveled roads.
- If rear wheels slide left, steer left; if they slide right, steer right.
- During a slide, pump standard brakes gently. Do not pump anti-lock brakes (ABS). Instead, apply steady pressure.
- If front wheels skid, ease off gas and shift the car into neutral. As vehicle slows, traction should return. Steer in the correct direction, shift into drive or release the clutch, and accelerate gently.