The Blizzard of 1996 shut down schools, businesses and even thwarted the Postal Service. But it couldn't stop the home-health nurses at the Carroll County Health Department.
Braving unplowed streets in four-wheel-drive vehicles, the nurses managed to deliver critical care to their snowbound patients.
"They knew the patients could not go without the visits, and they made sure these people got the care they needed," said Tami Becker, a home-health supervisor at the county Health Department.
During the week of the blizzard, the nurses worked every day except Jan. 8. Patients needed them to dress surgical wounds, check blood pressure and set up intravenous medications.
Without the nurses' visits, their patients would have probably had to go to hospital emergency rooms for treatment.
Three of the home-health nurses who owned four-wheel-drive vehicles provided transportation to the team of four nurses who worked during the week of the blizzard: Mrs. Becker, Becky Brown, Rosemary Coleman and Debbie Smith.
"We prioritized the visits that needed to be made, and they were in the most outlying areas," Mrs. Becker said.
In some cases, the nurses were the first to "plow" the roads.
"It was very stressful," Mrs. Becker said. "At times, the snow was so thick you could barely see."
Mrs. Brown set out in her Chevy Blazer on the morning of Jan. 7 while the snow was still falling. She had to set up intravenous medication for a diabetic patient, and another patient had dangerously high blood pressure.
She described the driving conditions as "a total whiteout,"
"Of course there was no other traffic on the roads," Mrs. Brown said. "You felt you were out in your own little world by yourself."
The secondary roads she was driving on hadn't been touched by a plow, and her patients' homes were at the end of long, narrow driveways, she said.
In one instance, she determined that a young mother needed hospital emergency care. When the woman went to the hospital, Mrs. Brown stepped outside the boundaries of her job to help the county Department of Social Services arrange for foster care for the woman's children.
The nurses also got groceries and picked up prescriptions for patients.
"These nurses put in long hours trying to get the work done," Mrs. Becker said.
The arrival of nurses in the blizzard was a life-saving surprise for the homebound patients.
"With the road conditions, I don't see how they did it," said Fred Farver, 71. "I think they were pretty doggone brave, myself."
A home-health nurse visits Mr. Farver daily at his home in Taneytown to change the dressing on the stump of his amputated right leg. Mr. Farver didn't expect any visits during the blizzard, but the nurses only missed one day.
"I didn't think they could have gotten in there with a helicopter," Mr. Farver said.
Mrs. Brown recalled driving out to one area that was supposed to have been plowed.
"When I got there, the snow had blown back over the road," she said.
She enlisted the help of another person with a four-wheel-drive vehicle to help her clear a path to her patient's home.
"They do their work with such a positive attitude," said Mrs. Becker of the nurses she supervises. "Their hearts are genuinely in the care they provide.