Rose Tiabbi was 10 when she decided she wanted to be a nurse. At 13, she started volunteering at Mercy Medical Center in Rockville Centre, where her love of working with other nurses and patients grew. “I couldn’t think of anything else that I really loved to do,” Tiabbi said. “Working as a volunteer confirmed that that was the direction I was supposed to go in.”
Tiabbi, who now lives in Huntington, studied nursing at Adelphi University. During her studies, a friend of her mother’s was diagnosed with an advanced case of cancer, and she accompanied the two of them to many doctors’ appointments at North Shore University Hospital in Manhasset, including the treatments the doctors prescribed. “I thought the care that she received was so superior and so outstanding that I decided that that was what I was going to be someday,” she said.
Tiabbi began her nursing career at North Shore in 1988, training under an oncology physician. In 2003 she moved to Glen Cove Hospital, a branch of Northwell Health, where she has been ever since.
After Hurricane Harvey, she heard about an opportunity to help a Texas hospital by way of an email sent around to the hospital staff. The MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston was looking for oncology nurses to help for a week or two. Because the request was so specific, she took it as a sign that she should volunteer.
“There aren’t a whole lot of people who are trained in chemotherapy administration,” Tiabbi said. “You need nurses with experience, and certified nurses to be able to administer chemotherapy.”
She met the criteria, got the call, and made herself available Sept. 4-11. She was the only nurse from Glen Cove Hospital on the trip. Two of her coworkers covered her shifts while she was away.
Northwell Health made all the arrangements for the volunteer nurses. They stayed at a hotel in the medical complex that includes MD Anderson.
The cancer center had been flooded during the storm, and about a third of its workforce had been forced to evacuate. There was no visible damage to the hospital, however, Tiabbi said. “When we got there,” she said, “they were back in full operation.”
She saw plenty of flood damage while flying into the city, and just like after Hurricane Sandy, residents had piled their ruined furniture and other possessions out on the sidewalks.
Tiabbi specializes in outpatient oncology, in which patients come to the hospital, receive their chemotherapy treatment and go home the same day. While treating patients in Houston, she asked whether their families were safe, but tried not to pry. If they wanted to talk, she listened.
What surprised her was the mood there — one of gratefulness. “It was very rewarding, in the sense that there were people in such a devastating situation and everyone was just grateful,” she said. “Grateful to be safe, grateful to be alive, grateful to have the help. People are dealing with tragedy and a life-threatening illness, so if you can go and help, it just seemed like that was what I should do.”
In an average week, MD Anderson has more than 13,000 outpatient appointments. “We had an obligation to our patients to quickly and safely resume our outpatient services to continue offering each and every patient excellent care,” said the center’s senior vice president and chief medical officer, Dr. Karen Lu. “It was a team effort, and we proved that while the storm significantly impacted our people, we’re committed to coming together to serve those who entrust us with their lives.”