Jump to:Page Content
"As thousands were walking away from the city, we were walking in," she says. "We were rescue workers. There was no way we were going to flee."
Some joined makeshift triage centers ready to care for injured tower workers who never came. Others went to nearby Stuyvesant High School where firefighters and EMS workers were being treated for smoke inhalation and burns. A few went to the Brooklyn side of the Brooklyn Bridge to help civilians with bumps and bruises. (One woman even went into labor.)
However, the majority of Raphael's nurses, mental health counselors, and home health aides did what they do every day: they walked into apartment buildings and high rise complexes to visit the 24,000 patients they care for daily.
On this day, though, there was a twist.
During the crisis, phone lines were down and the power was out. The subway stopped and street traffic was paralyzed. Getting to patients wasn't easy. When they lived near Ground Zero, it was also life threatening for patients.
Raphael, who has served as president of the nonprofit healthcare agency since 1989, raced back to her office from a midtown Manhattan meeting after the second plane hit. Her first concern was for her staff members already working in the area around the World Trade Center. (Luckily, all were safe.) Then she focused on getting to the 1,600 patients who live in what she calls the "frozen zone" - the area without power or water. She knew that some were straddled with degenerative diseases that kept them inside. Many were bedridden and frail. A good many couldn't be left alone.
"For us, this crisis was serious," she says. Her staff carried surgical masks, water, radios, and flashlights into dark buildings. Some stayed with patients overnight until replacements arrived. Raphael also pushed through administrative matters - tasks that normally take weeks to creak past bureaucratic red tape. She contacted the police department, getting permission for staff to access restricted areas to reach patients. She secured cots for staff stranded in the city. She also visited the site several times, feeling the devastation most intensely when she saw a shoe or other personal objects.
In the end, she says, valuable lessons were learned.
"This experience rekindled my faith in government and the things that only government can do," she says. "For the country, it showed the value of having a fully deployed corps of nurses in a community. In that way, it was rewarding."