Some enterprising reporters will get their names and tell their stories and then we’ll know how they did it. Until then, all we need to know is that they did it. They picked up old people and babies on their mothers’ breasts. They picked them up because there was no other way to save their lives. There was no electricity, no elevators, and they put the sick and dying and newborns on gurneys and they slid those gurneys, pushed them, carried them down stairs in the dark -- some reports said 15 flights with nurses, doctors, orderlies, staffers carrying flashlights against the dark -- and on the wet, windy street outside, they raised those people into ambulances, ambulances with their lights shimmering in the rain, ambulances waiting to move the people to other hospitals.
They did it for 15 hours. The basement was flooded 10 feet deep. Backup generators had failed. Someone said, “Things went downhill very, very rapidly, and very unexpectedly. The flooding was just unprecedented.” They moved nearly 300 patients. Down those stairwells, back up for more. Carrying 20 babies from a neonatal intensive care unit, some on battery-powered respirators, some breathing only because nurses manually squeezed oxygen bags. They did it at New York University’s Langone Medical Center. They did it in a hurricane.
We watched, most of us, from home. We were out of the storm. We were safe and we were dry and we knew that when we woke up the next morning, we’d have lights and we’d have heat and we knew how lucky we are and how strong those people in the storm had to be. All those people who have chosen to do the work the rest of us can’t imagine doing -- run toward the trouble, not from it, run into the fire, into the dark -- all those people, the firefighters, police, the EMTs (I saw an EMT with “Nor Cal” on his uniform, the logo embossed above the outline of California, and I imagine him having flown from San Francisco to Detroit with the Giants, then skipping Game 4 to come help his buddies in New York): To see those people at work is to think, is this a great country or what?
Look at this picture of neonatal nurses at Mount Sinai Hospital. They took in Langone’s babies, one named Emma Martinez. She was three weeks old. She weighed two pounds. These nurses stayed through the night. They stayed because they couldn’t not stay. Look at those smiles.
We saw it coming. The night the World Series began in San Francisco, the hurricane crossed the mountains of northeast Cuba on its leisurely, deadly path north. On the Series travel day, a Friday, the hurricane moved up the east coast, its center 400 miles south-southeast of Charleston, S.C. When the Series resumed in Detroit, the hurricane was 470 miles southeast of New York. We knew it would be terrible. It would strike Delaware, New Jersey, New York. Its fury would stretch a thousand miles. It had killed 67 people in Haiti and Cuba. It was on its way to us.
The Loma Prieta earthquake killed 42 people during the 1989 World Series in Oakland. Baseball’s commissioner, Fay Vincent, interrupted the Series for 10 days. He later explained why he ordered baseball played again. "We can look to the British during the Second World War," Vincent said. "Diversion was part of the healing process there. They continued to go to their movies even though London was being bombed. They affirmed life, and perhaps baseball can do the same."
This time we sat at home, warm and safe, most of us out of the hurricane’s path, and we watched the Giants defeat the Tigers, and we saw the hurricane’s path on CNN, and those of us who think this way thought its path looked a lot like a right-hander’s knee-buckling curve ball. I thought, too, of a time in New York, another World Series, the Yankees and Diamondbacks. It was a month after the World Trade Center towers came down in fire and smoke. I wrote then about a taxi driver named Mario Luna. As a boy he had come from Peru to New York. He was a Yankees fan.
I wrote, “He was in his taxi when the first tower fell, and a sheet of aluminum clattered against his car’s hood, and he turned on the windshield wipers to scrap away ash falling from the sky. A month and more later, after Game 5, Mario Luna said, ‘This little island, something happens on the East Side, it changes something on the West Side. It is like a body, where everything is connected. Now the Yankees, they win again. So everybody, this morning, we feel better some.'"
Perfect. We feel better some.
Then, on this Monday night, as the killing hurricane came to New York City, we discovered the sign-language interpreter. Her name is Lydia Callis.
Anytime the city’s mayor, Michael Bloomberg, spoke on television, she was at his side. He was there Monday night as the face of his city. He would advise and warn, caution and assure. As terrible as the night was, and in the strangest of ways, he achieved all that and no one saw him say a word. Even the hearing paid attention not to the mayor but to the woman signing.
Look at this video and GIFs. Most signing interpreters let their hands do the work. Not Callis. She was an actress, expressive, expansive, maybe even chewing on the scenery a bit. But, good heavens, was she wonderful. The mayor told folks to shut the doors and close the drapes. Even as Callis signed the words, with both hands she slammed shut the city’s doors and pulled tight the city’s drapes. Bloomberg suggested it would be wrong to go outside. So Callis not only signed the words, she also did the shame-on-you gesture of rubbing one index finger the length of the other.
Lydia Callis. I know her name and nothing else. I neither need nor want to know anything else. This much is enough: She made us feel better some. I love her.