Monday, February 02, 2015


Storm brings heavy snow — and heavy hearts

We live in stressful times.  Every time we open the newspaper or watch the news on TV, there are reports of natural disasters, catastrophic illnesses and crises. But I have always maintained that crises bring out the best in people.  Here’s an example: 
Last week, our region experienced “ Blizzard Juno.”  Two feet of snow was dumped on our region, and in some locations, even more, all in a short period of time.  Social media was extremely busy.  There were countless posts of people thanking kind neighbors for shoveling their driveway.   One woman posted that she ran out of firewood, her primary source of heat, and three people immediately offered to deliver some from their own reserve.  People checked in on sick and elderly neighbors, sharing food and information. 
Hospitals can’t close for snowstorms.  Our local hospitals made provisions for the hundreds of staff members who worked long shifts and slept on cots for two days and nights so they could provide continuous care for their patients.
There were photos of town public works personnel napping after plowing the streets for 20 hours straight to keep us all safe.  I know of one 911 call at 2 a.m., the height of the storm, for a medical emergency.  The ambulance followed closely behind as the town worker plowed a pathway to the house. 
Visiting nurses are used to being innovative — they found a way to deliver the nursing care to those patients who required it, even when it meant climbing over snowbanks and shoveling a path to the front door.  
There is apparently a health benefit from being kind and supportive to others, according to Maia Szalavitz and Bruce Perry, MD, PhD, co-authors of Born for Love: Why Empathy is Essential — and Endangered.  “Our brains are designed so that our stress systems can be soothed by social support: in response to the calming words or gentle touch of loved ones, for example, the bonding hormone oxytocin tends to lower levels of stress hormones.” 
During Superstorm Sandy, I volunteered with the Red Cross at the temporary shelter at Fitch High School.  Among the numerous stories that emerged from that experience, my favorite was seeing a very large young man with a shaved head, covered in tattoos, assigned to a cot next to a petite elderly Asian woman.  He escorted her to the dining area for meals, offering his arm in assistance.  Everyone made an effort to be sensitive and assist the mother of a young autistic boy who was having trouble adjusting to the chaos.  In those close quarters, people of all ages and races joined together in collaboration.  The prevailing attitude was, “We’re all in this together.” 
Nobody wants to face catastrophe, but when we do, it is heartwarming to witness how it brings out the best in people. 
Alice Facente is a community health nurse for the Backus Health System. This advice should not replace the advice of your personal health care provider. To comment on this column or others, visit the Healthy Living blog at or e-mail Ms. Facente or any of the Healthy Living columnists at

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