Nurses work through third day

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After Hurricane Katrina hit the Gulf Coast, registered nurse Eve Stephenson had a deep desire to go and help.

She grew up in New Orleans, and her family still lives in the surrounding area. As a recent graduate of nursing school who has started work at Yampa Valley Medical Center, she also had much-needed skills.

While eating lunch on Wednesday with Natalie Booker, registered nurse and director of Inpatient Service at YVMC, she mentioned her desire to go help. Booker agreed, and with the help of the hospital, Booker organized for her, Stephenson and five other nurses to assist in relief efforts along the Gulf Coast. The seven nurses are planning to come home to Steamboat Springs today.

As of Sunday afternoon, they were at a makeshift medical triage center inside the auditorium of Louisiana State University, helping patients dropped off from buses. Some patients had just been rescued, almost a week after the hurricane and the massive storm surge that followed.

On Friday, the nurses worked at a similar center in the LSU field house, and on Saturday, they worked at a hospital in the state capital.

Stephenson has seen a range of patients, some of whom were up to their necks in water for five days, waiting for help.

She's learned that no matter what a patient's injury or illness, sometimes what they need most is a gentle touch and a friendly face.

Stephenson's parents and her brother and his wife are OK -- they evacuated just before the storm hit, and amazingly, their homes outside of New Orleans were damaged but not destroyed.

Nurse Marie Timlin said her heart was breaking for the elderly patients who had no family and nowhere to go. There was fear in their eyes, and many had been stuck helpless for days, she said.

All of her patients have had a sense of desperation.

"They felt so abandoned," she said. "They kept saying, 'Why did you wait? Why didn't you come and get me?'"

The nurses have stayed focused on the work ahead, though the weekend has been emotional, Timlin said.

"We're very sad ... but you can't cry about one thing because there are so many things to cry about," she said.

-- To reach Susan Cunningham, call 871-4203 or e-mail scunningham@steamboatpilot.com

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