Doloris Henry remembers Superstorm Sandy. At her home in Far Rockaway, she remembers the cold and the damp. How water flooded her apartment building, leaving her clothes, shoes and bathroom covered in mold. She stayed for a couple of days, living by candlelight and sleeping on the couch. She stayed only as long as it took to convince her home care client to evacuate.
Doloris’ client is 86 years old and lives in an apartment complex on the water in Far Rockaway. A series of strokes have left her bedridden, and she requires around-the-clock care home care. Up on the 17th floor, she was scared to evacuate as she saw the clouds role in dark and scary—clouds shaped like a monster, she said.
Doloris contacted her client’s family in the area to see if they could take her in, but they weren’t able to. She reached out to her grandson, who helped her deliver food, water and other supplies up 17 flights of stairs to her client and three other seniors who didn’t evacuate and were trapped in their apartments. She bought them a battery-powered radio so they could listen to local news, and stayed with them.
She finally convinced them to leave and go to a shelter. “We had to leave,” she said. “A man froze to death in one of the buildings nearby.” Two men helped lift Dolores’ client in her wheelchair and carried her down the 17 flights of stairs and out of the building.
Doloris is grateful for the support that she received in caring for her client and the three other elderly neighbors, who all stuck together at the shelter. Accustomed to using a Hoya lift to move her client in and out of bed, Doloris now had to lift her manually—which proved extra challenging on the cots in the shelter. She had to clean and change diapers for several people, without access to adequate facilities and her usual supplies.
“I don’t know how I did it,” says Doloris. “I think you don’t get tired when you’re helping people.”
They stayed at the shelter for ten days, until the elevator was repaired at the seniors’ apartment building. With those first small steps to normalcy, Dolores was finally able to sleep. She says it felt like she slept for a week straight once she got home.
Doloris wants to be better prepared for the next storm. She now has an emergency go-bag packed for herself and her client, and she bought a different landline phone instead of the cordless phone she had for years. She always has canned food, bottled water, and flashlights at home now.
She would like to see the City better prepared, as well. “Communication wasn’t good,” she says. “I saw three buses drive away empty, when there were still people who were trying to evacuate.”
The storm impacted her in more profound ways, as well. “Volunteer counselors came to talk to us, and believe it or not, we needed it,” she explains. “When I first got home, I was scared to buy fresh food because I was afraid it would spoil. I thought it was just me, but others were going through the same thing. If you didn’t lose anything, it bothered you in different ways.”
Doloris feels like she doesn’t take anything for granted anymore. At 68 years old, she explains, “All my life I worked. At first, standing in line and accepting charity was painful. I cried. I just felt so appreciative.”
Against the monstrous forces of nature and the city’s devastation, Doloris found the strength to care for her client and her neighbors. Doloris’ commitment and heart held tragedy at bay and gave hope to those she was dedicated to caring for.