It was any NICU nurse’s nightmare. A hurricane, a flooded basement, a failed generator: then, terrifyingly, 19 critically ill infants in a hospital without power. In one humbling image of the evacuation at New York University’s Langone Medical Center—now ubiquitous—a team of medical professionals rushes a yellow stretcher with a nurse and small baby into an ambulance. Amid the unimaginable panic surrounding her, Margot Condon—holding him—is a picture of calm.
“Peaceful.” That is how Condon, a 36-year veteran of the neonatal intensive-care unit at NYU, remembers feeling.
As Hurricane Sandy barreled into New York City, sending gallons of water into the basement of Langone, the generators failed and with it, the power. When news of an impending evacuation spread, Condon and her team of nurses in the NICU banded together. “We just did what we always do—what nurses do—we took care of the babies. We kept them safe.”
"The positive intention, it was so strong...it just...carried us."
Medical students from across the city rushed in with flashlights to illuminate the darkness. Condon says that the feeling of purpose, that they were doing something bigger than themselves, was tangible. “Everyone was just focused on keeping the babies safe, on getting them out in a calm manner—the positive intention, it was so strong,” she says. “It just… carried us.”
All sense of time disappeared as the nurses readied the tiny infants for another premature arrival—this time into the wind and spitting rain of the outside world. A tap on the shoulder, “We’re ready to move, Margot… It’s time to go,” and there was no turning back. Save for volunteers’ flashlights, the stairwell was dark. Six doctors and nurses juggled the infant boy’s life-sustaining equipment (breathing tube, feeding tube, central line, IV, and heart monitor). “He couldn’t breathe for himself. We had to breathe for him,” Condon explains. “On one level I was probably scared, but I wasn’t feeling it,” she said. “It was a beautiful thing—everyone helping each other. I was calm.” “Stay calm, hold the baby close, watch the stats, make sure the breathing tube is in, watch IV line,” she whispered to herself during her descent down nine dark flights holding the two-pound baby boy—too new for a name—born only eight hours earlier. “It became a mantra that I repeated over and over,” she says. “One step at a time… One step at a time.”
After accompanying the baby boy to Mount Sinai Hospital, Condon went home to a powerless apartment, a proud husband, and a glass of Scotch. At 6 a.m. I ask? “Absolutely,” she replies.