Elmo was recovering Wednesday at the New York Presbyterian Children’s Hospital on 167th Street and Broadway.
On Halloween night the 3-year-old surgery patient had still been able to attend the hospital celebration as he healed from his third operation. It was his “first Halloween.” His young mother Annie knew the drill by now. She had been sleeping at the hospital for five nights, since Friday Oct. 26, awaiting her son’s discharge.
As her son recovered inside the hospital, watching DVDs and playing video games on the hospital’s Wii, destruction had ravaged the city outside. Hurricane Sandy, possibly the most devastating storm to ever hit New York barreled in from the Atlantic, displacing hundreds of thousands of people and leaving millions without power.
Throughout the storm and its aftermath, a number of city hospitals were flooded and lost power, and adult and pediatric patients were forced northward. Five hospitals in the city — Manhattan Veterans Affairs, Coney Island, New York University Langone, New York Downtown and most recently Bellevue — were evacuated. Hospitals like New York Presbyterian were then forced to receive the flux of over a thousand evacuated patients.
Sandy brought a citywide exodus to New York. With the bridges closed, tunnels flooded and much of downtown devastated and without power, millions were forced to flee or seek shelter elsewhere in the city. Many New Yorkers found refuge in the higher-ground of northern Manhattan.
Soon after the storm, bodegas, coffee shops and fast-food joints opened uptown, but most were understaffed or in short-supply due to lack of transportation. Businesses like the hospitals, however, were working overtime.
Annie, the mother who declined to give her full name for this article, had twice asked the staff at New York Presbyterian for a second helping of food for her healing son, but the answer was the same both times. Rations were limited, the staff had informed her, due to an influx of patients from downtown.
Uptown hospitals — including Columbia-Presbyterian, Mt. Sinai and Harlem Hospitals — have seen a flood of patients since the hurricane hit.
“This is a challenging time for patients and their families,” said Myrna Manners, vice president of public affairs at New York Presbyterian Hospital. Manners said that Presbyterian has received and is continuing to accept patients from the other city hospitals, including Bellevue.
New York Presbyterian is also currently offering walk-in counseling to its own staff during through its Workforce Health and Safety clinics. “#Sandy has affected all of us @nyphospital,” wrote Robert Kelly, New York-Presbyterian president, via Twitter.
Mt. Sinai Hospital, on the Upper East Side, received 64 emergency evacuees from NYU Hospital alone, and said Wednesday that it was prepared to admit at least 40 more from Bellevue Hospital.
On East 26th Street, Bellevue was the last to evacuate after running on backup generators for days. The National Guard assisted with the Bellevue evacuation of a reported 700 patients. The hospital issued a statement Thursday morning that the evacuation was almost complete.
“The organization aspect was phenomenal,” said Igor Kirshner, an anesthesiology resident who had just completed a 30-hour shift in Bellevue’s trauma I.C.U. “In a difficult situation people came together, worked hard, and just contributed what they could,” he said. “And that resulted in a good outcome.”
Annie and her son, meanwhile, spent another night uptown at New York Presbyterian Hospital as evacuees continued to arrive. Annie was not concerned with overcrowding, transportation, power outages or the incalculable damage brought by the storm to the city outside.
Her only concern, she said, was her son.