TOMS RIVER, N.J. — The first thing Marsha Hedgepeth did when she moved into her home three years ago was count the steps from the front door to her second-floor apartment, a preparatory measure for future grocery-lugging.
Then Sandy hit, and the superstorm provided her with another reference guide.
She now knows that it takes about a half hour to swim from her doorstep, in the riverside neighborhood of Gilford Park, to about two blocks from the eastbound side of Route 37, roughly the length of two football fields. She also knows that it’s a 5-minute drive from the highway to the hospital where she works, if taken by utility truck.
“You know you just have to be there,” stated Hedgepeth, 43. “You’re never going to have enough staff in a say of emergency.”
Hedgepeth’s bosses at Community Medical Center stated they would have understood had she not shown up for her 3 p.m. shift as an emergency room technician Oct. 30, the day after Sandy struck, given the circumstances.
A tributary of the town’s namesake river flows alongside her neighborhood, rising during the storm and flooded the area. Police Chief Michael Mastronardy stated the waterline reached more than 4 feet in some areas of town, including Gilford Park.
Having lost power to her home, Hedgepeth saw no reason to sit in the dark and the cold while several miles west her colleagues in the emergency department were hooking up patients to oxygen tanks and suturing lacerations, “lots of lacerations,” caused by Sandy’s punch.
“We are the first responders. The tougher the circumstances is when you do come to work,” she said.
Also, her cell phone wasn’t getting any reception.
“How could I have called out when I didn’t have a phone?”
So Hedgepeth threw her phone and blue work scrubs into a plastic A&P grocery bag, then outfitted herself for what she expected would be a cold, dirty swim in the water waiting outside: jeans, old sneakers, a scarf, a hat and gloves, she said.
In the precious calm after the storm, she freestyle-stroked her way past the flotsam of Sandy’s rage: decks, a lifeguard box used for ropes, a bench with the Stewart’s Root Beer logo.
“I don’t know if it’s from Seaside or Fischer Boulevard,” she said.
A regular surfer, Hedgepeth cut her way inland through the sludgy water for what she calculated was just less than a half hour, until the water level was low enough for her to bring her 5-foot-4 frame upright, she said.
Plastic bag in hand, she walked about two blocks to the highway and crossed over to the westbound side, she said.
“I’m soaking wet, I’m in denim, and all of a sudden I stick out my thumb,” Hedgepeth said.
Not many vehicles were on the road, she said, but it didn’t take long for her unlikely chariot to arrive. Rumbling up slowly, a power company truck with Michigan plates pulled over.
“They asked me where I was going, and I said, ‘the emergency room,’ ” Hedegpath said.
For care? the workers asked. No, she said. For work.
When she walked through the emergency room door, still sopping, she was greeted by a co-worker who wrapped her arms around her and asked if she was OK. She was. Her supervisors spoke with her to ensure she was fit for work and cleared her for her shift, which would run over by four hours.
“I knew once I was there I could clean up and get to work. If my area was that bad, I knew over the bridge” — in Seaside Heights, N.J. — “it was 10 times worse. I knew they’d be coming there to the hospital.”
They did. Community Medical Center has the busiest emergency room in the say and sees, on average, 260 patients a day, stated Teri Kubiel, administrative director of patient care services. That average spiked to 300 in the days after Sandy.
Hedgepeth, now staying with a co-worker, was not the only employee aware that that would be the case.
Jean Flaherty, director of marketing, stated 122 hospital employees’ homes were either destroyed or uninhabitable, and 75 lost their vehicles, “yet they continued to work.”
On the night of the storm, about 700 employees and patients stayed in the hospital; more than 250 were employees who caught rest on a cot or an unused gurney, Flaherty said.
With lives freshly torn by Sandy, Kubiel stated the employees displayed “profound resilience.”
Hedgepeth, who left the bar business several years ago to pursue a career with more stability and is enrolled in New York University’s nursing program, stated she had no other option.
“I like caring for others,” she said. “Even in bartending, you’re caring for others.”
She grabbed a cup of coffee to warm up, “sat down for a second,” she said, and went to work.
Copyright © 2012 USA TODAY, a division of Gannett Co. Inc.
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Submited at Monday, November 19th, 2012 at 7:00 pm on Uncategorized by madison
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