By Kevin McKeough
Only one vehicle was driving along Interstate 290 as the blizzard was coming to an end on Wednesday morning, Feb. 2. It was an ambulance bringing two nurses from Rush University Medical Center to Sherman Hospital in Elgin to transport a newborn infant with a head injury to Rush for observation.
The one-day-old boy had been injured in a fall, and he needed to be brought to a hospital with pediatric neurosurgery capabilities in case it became necessary to operate to relieve the swelling in his head. Rush is the referral center for Sherman Hospital for such cases.
Rush had received the request for the infant to be transported the night of Feb. 1, but the blizzard made it impossible to send a team for the child then. Lorenzo Munoz, MD, director of the Rush Neurointensive Care Unit, managed the child’s care by phone throughout the night. Meanwhile, 14 Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) nurses slept overnight in empty patient rooms to ensure that the NICU would be adequately staffed the next day.
When conditions improved in the morning, two of those nurses, Erin Hederman, RN, and Megan Jones, APN, and paramedics with Superior Ambulance, an ambulance service that works with Rush, prepared to make the trip to bring the infant back to Rush. (It is standard protocol for the receiving hospital to get the baby.)
They loaded the ambulance with a transport incubator and a sleeping bag, snow gear, food, blankets and extra portable bed warmers. “We made sure we had adequate supplies for both the team and the infant in case we got stuck in the snow,” Jones says. “There was no guarantee that we were going to make it there.”
“Everyone was a little nervous,” Hederman adds. “We had already heard about what happened on Lake Shore Drive (where motorists became stranded overnight). We’d heard about major expressways being closed and ambulances being stuck.” By the time the ambulance departed, the winds had picked up again, blowing snow so heavily that it caused whiteout conditions.
“There was very poor visibility. You only could see 30 to 50 feet in front of you,” Hederman recalls. “Megan and I are not people that scare easily, and when we got on the road and looked out at the windows, we looked at each other like, ‘this might not be a good idea.’”
The snow-covered highway was vacant most of the way, except for cars stranded along the road. Driving about 45 miles an hour, the ambulance reached Sherman Hospital safely. By early afternoon, when the team began the trip back to Rush with the baby, the wind had died down and visibility had improved.
The team arrived at Rush a little bit before 2 p.m. Fortunately, the baby did not need surgery and went home after three days of observation.
“How do you tell a baby’s parents that their child might not be taken care of the way he needs to be because there’s a snowstorm?” Hederman asks. “He needed to be in a place that was prepared to operate if he needed it.”