More than a week after Hurricane Harvey ravaged Houston, nearly half the nurses at the MD/Anderson Cancer Center had not reported for work and could not be reached. Bryan Platt, a Federation of Nurses/UFT member who works as an operating room nurse at Staten Island University Hospital South, was among those who stepped up to assist.
“If I can help somebody, what’s a week of my time?” said Platt, who is also a city firefighter.
Whether the MD/Anderson Cancer Center nurses were displaced or just couldn’t get to the facility, “we were there to take their positions,” said Platt. “And those who did get in had been working so long and so hard that they needed to go home and take care of their lives and their families.”
Studying the events of 9/11, healthcare professionals learned that specialized care for diseases such as cancer often suffers following a disaster. Platt was one of about 30 Federation of Nurses/UFT members who went to Texas and Florida in the aftermath of the hurricanes to provide this care.
Harvey, a Category 4 hurricane, hit Houston on Aug. 25. Platt arrived in the flooded city on Labor Day, Sept. 4. “Schools were still closed,” he said. “A lot of people were still in shelters. Often their houses were still under water and uninhabitable.”
Just minutes from MD/Anderson, he witnessed widespread devastation. “Outside every house, from mansions to bungalows, garbage was piled two stories high,” he said. “Beds, mattresses, chairs, couches. People’s lives were out on the street.”
Patients from around the world come to the renowned facility, and their surgeries and treatments would not have stayed on schedule without the volunteers, who put in 12-hour days without complaint, said Platt, who has been working two full-time jobs since joining the fire department 27 years ago. “We just buckled down,” he said. “The whole hospital had somebody from somewhere else working.”
As a firefighter, Platt is no stranger to disaster. On 9/11, he was working at a firehouse across the street from the World Trade Center. He recalled how two Texas firefighters — who had jumped in their cars and driven all night to help — joined the “shovel-and-bucket brigades” to try to find survivors.
“We set them up in a firehouse and they stayed for a month,” Platt said. “So when this happened, how do I not go? It was the right thing to do.”
Platt also spent a day at the George R. Brown Convention Center, which gave shelter to 10,000 Houston residents. He found as much chaos inside as out. “The shelter was a shambles,” he said. “There was no direction, no leader; you just jumped in and did what you could.” He said people were covered in hives, rashes and bites from spending so much time in the floodwaters, but there were no supplies or medications.
“The only thing we could do was shower them down, try to soothe them, take vitals,” Platt said.
Staten Island University Hospital Chapter Leader Nancy Barth-Miller said Platt’s expertise as an operating room nurse combined with his first responder skills “made him the perfect choice to go.”
Everyone Platt encountered — patients’ families, hospital staff, flood victims — “was so grateful,” he said. “They couldn’t believe the response. They were shocked we would drop our lives and come so far to help them.”
A staff nurse he worked with and her husband, a nurse practitioner, treated Platt to Texas barbecue to show their appreciation and “Southern hospitality.” Their home was lost, “but as devastated as they were, they took me to dinner,” said Platt, adding that he’s made “two friends for life.”
“You know what this taught me? You have to get out of your comfort zone once in a while because great things happen,” Platt said. “I would do it again in a heartbeat.”