The Call of Duty
Brittany Durrer is an RN at Cox’s OB unit. She was at home the night the boat sank and watched horrified as the news covered updates of the accident. When she showed up at the hospital the next day, she came armed with beads and string. “In my head these kids needed something to do,” she says. Durrer was assigned to one child who had survived and was about to be discharged. “I remember them taking a gasp of air and saying they didn’t have any shoes to wear home.” The child’s shoes were heavy in the water, and they had kicked them off in order to swim until being rescued. Without hesitating, Durrer headed to her locker and pulled out a pair of black Nike tennis shoes for the child. After that, she called up her friend and dad to help bring shoes and other supplies to the hospital. They even had car dealerships make duplicate car keys to replace ones lost in the water. “It’s one less thing that family has to think about,” Durrer says.
Mahoney was also doing his part. Without clinical training, there wasn’t much he could do medically, but he could fetch blankets and food. One child put their head on Mahoney’s shoulder. “They were pretty physically taxed from having to swim in the water,” Mahoney says. “It made it real when my shoulder became wet and cold. I just thought their whole body must be like that.” Other stories about hospital staff going above the call of duty floated around the following days. Even the cafeteria made a special order of pancakes for one patient. “In our field, people are giving their all, all the time,” Mahoney says.
While most survivors were discharged after a few days, the emotional wounds from the boat incident lingered around the hospital for several weeks afterward. Mahoney says he was drained for about a month following the tragedy. “It’s not easy watching someone suffer,” he says. “I’ve never met a patient before who has lost nine of their family members. You go through so many emotions.” For this reason, the hospital has a critical incident team that works with staff after a serious tragedy like the one on July 19.
Even though the hospital trains for disasters and deals with death and loss on a daily basis, the emotional injuries sustained out on the water made an impact. Durrer remembers walking into the hospital the next day and realizing how somber the mood was. “Every person who walked in the door was trained to have a smile on their face,” she says. “But you knew they were fighting back something.” As nurses and physicians tended to the survivors, Durrer watched as they would leave a patient’s room and fight back tears. “I prayed the entire way to work,” she says. “Please use my hands to help these kiddos and show them love and support.”
As Yaggy describes it, hospital staff tend to compartmentalize their emotional struggles. “You move forward,” she says. “We do that on a daily basis. I could have a patient code and die in one room but still have patients to take care of. You have to have a balance, but there’s also a grief process.” A year after the duck boat tragedy, that grief process is still underway. Some scars might never fade, but the team is thankful they were able to help. “When you saw how our team met their emotional and mental needs, it’s impressive,” Mahoney says. “This is what we do every day. This is what we prepare for.”