Nurse knows hurricane survivors feel down but not out

Inpatient Pediatrics nurse Linda Swartz, RN, drove down to Texas for her grandson’s birthday in September. But her mind couldn’t help but focus elsewhere.

While finding time to enjoy with family, Swartz continually looked around. Her interest in the small town near Beaumont grew as she saw the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey in August. Between moments of celebration with family, she noticed piles of housewares in front of people’s homes. The piles were so large in some instances Swartz had to strain to see the house. In other areas, uprooted trees remained in yards. And water damage caused some to section off their houses.

The seriousness of the scene kicked in her instinct to help.

Hurricane Harvey relief effortsThis isn’t new to the nurse, though. Swartz began participating in relief work through her Mahomet church after Hurricane Katrina in 2005.

That’s why she wanted to know what she and her husband, Bruce, could do for her daughter before even beginning her trip to Beaumont.

“My daughter’s response was kind of funny, because she said, ‘Well, I hate to ask … .’ I told her that mamma wants to know,” Swartz said. “She gave in and asked for some items one of her neighbors needed. We brought cat food, dog food, new water bowls and a cat bed.

“When we got there, though, we saw that neighbor’s house, and I felt out of sorts.”

At that point, Swartz knew she would go back.

Three weeks later, she went with the Baptist Men Disaster Relief team to the same general area. The group included six people from her church’s region. They primarily helped with log removal due to the fallen trees. 

Uprooted tree damaged during Hurricane HarveyThe group stayed for one week at a local church. They slept on cots from the Red Cross and ate home-cooked meals from families connected to the church.

No matter how difficult the situation, Swartz said the thankful nature of the people there lifted spirits. And that mentality keeps her engaged with relief efforts when the situation dictates.

“What always impresses me most, and this trip was no exception, is how appreciative everyone is,” Swartz said. “I feel like we do get to know these people in a short amount of time. One family kept saying to us, ‘Come on in, and get out of the heat.’ They just appreciated us talking to them.

“I wish there weren’t reasons to do this type of work, but I volunteer to be there with people.”

At Carle for 32 years, she has used a similar approach to nursing.

Whether in the Medical/Surgical unit right out of school or in Pediatrics since 1985, Swartz believes excellent patient care begins with a relationship. Experiences like these, in relief of others, reinforce that lesson.

So she looks to make connections with those around her.

At the hospital that goes for patients, family members, physicians or cleaning staff. On relief trips that goes for anyone she ends up spending time with.

Swartz doesn’t know exactly how she found this capability within herself. It does run in the family a bit. Her brother volunteered with the Boys & Girls Club for years, and her daughter was always active with Girl Scouts.

Besides getting to know the people and fostering relationships, Swartz also has picked up new skills. This past trip she learned how to replace the chains on large saws the group used to cut apart the fallen trees.

And there are always lessons to learn.

The rings on one tree they cut open showed it to be 57 years old. One house they visited lost as many as 10 trees in the hurricane.

Despite all that was happening, people came together to help.

Swartz sees that regularly from the people she works with at Carle, too.

“There are moments where what we see can be devastating, but the appreciation people show helps overcome those moments," Swartz said. "My trips to Texas proved that to me once again.”