When a U.S. Coast Guard helicopter brought a patient from a cruise ship to New Hanover Regional Medical Center in the immediate aftermath of Hurricane Florence, her nurse from the ship flew in with her.
Soon, the patient was transferred into the care of the NHRMC team. The cruise ship nurse, Luz Torres, was stranded at NHRMC, far from any ports of call and even farther from her home country of Colombia. The Wilmington airport was still closed and every hotel room was booked by emergency workers, evacuees or rescue teams.
Melissa King, an RN at NHRMC, accepted the responsibility of caring for Luz’s patient while the hospital was still operating under shelter-in-place.
“As I was caring for the patient,” Melissa said, “I was told the cruise ship RN was still in the hospital and in the waiting room.”
With some Spanish-speaking skills, Melissa found out that Luz couldn’t get into a hotel and that she had nowhere to go. Luz also needed a WiFi connection to stay connected to her company so she could receive the information she would need to return to the ship.
“We looked for alternatives, but the best situation to meet her needs and give her needed rest appeared to be for her to go home with me when shelter in place was lifted,” Melissa said. “My family had regained power and Internet only a few hours before lockdown ended.”
“This offer surprised me,” Luz said, “because Melissa had met me only two hours before and she was offering me a place in her home.”
Melissa was prepared to help Luz with food, supplies and anything else she might need to be comfortable until she found a way back to the ship.
“The hospital was just as interested in her needs, so the relief team helped with some money to make sure Luz could get what she needed,” Melissa said.
Melissa’s husband prepared a dinner for the nurses, and they shared stories of what it was like to be a nurse in Colombia and on a cruise ship, and what it was like to be a nurse here in the States.
“We became fast friends, and Luz emotionally expressed her gratitude for our hospitality.”
After a night of rest, Melissa took Luz to Waffle House for a taste of Americana in the aftermath of the storm.
“The workers there told us that they had come from another city to help, and that definitely showed me what big hearts Americans have for offering a helping hand and helping during times of crisis,” Luz said.
While the nurses ate breakfast, they learned that the Wilmington airport had reopened. Luz received her flight information from her cruise company. That afternoon, Melissa took her to the airport, where they exchanged hugs and a few tears.
“It was a once-in-a-lifetime experience to host an international fellow nurse in the wake of a disaster,” Melissa said. “ I’m so grateful for that experience and my new friend.
“I want to express my gratitude to my organization for caring so much not just for our patients but for our staff through the storm and for our international guest and fellow nurse. I am so proud to be a part of this storm team and a part of NHRMC.
Luz said she will remember her time in Wilmington fondly, even though she arrived in an emergency situation when the region was still reeling from the effects of Hurricane Florence.
“I don’t have enough words to thank the people of Wilmington and especially my friend, Melissa, for all the help I received from that moment,” Luz said. “This beautiful city is in my heart and I will always be grateful for so much hospitality and love.”