Palestinian oncology nurse at CHRISTUS St. Elizabeth weathers many Southeast Texas storms 

Editor’s note: I originally wrote this story in Fall 2018 while writing for the student newspaper at Lamar University. The story ended up not making it to print, as sometimes happens to every journalist’s favorite stories, so I am posting it here instead.

Hanan Hamvan has worked at CHRISTUS St. Elizabeth’s Hospital in Beaumont for the last 21 years. 

As Harvey’s floodwaters crested August 30, 2017, she knew she had to find a way to get out of her waterlogged neighborhood to help her patients.

Hamvan boarded a rescue boat manned by volunteers to the nearest road, North Major Drive. She asked someone driving by: “Can you give me a ride to work? There are people who need me.”

Her next door neighbor’s house in Griffing Place already had a few inches of water inside, she said. Her house was still dry when she got on the boat, but there was no guarantee it wouldn’t be flooded before she was able to get back home. 

Despite the flurry of volunteers in boats throughout her neighborhood, navigating around the rooftops of flooded cars, Hamvan said she was calm. 

“I think what happens is going to happen,” she said. “I’m always calm. I don’t get excited, even at work they told me I’m not one to get nervous real quick.”

This is a skill Hamvan needs daily at the hospital, working on the oncology floor with cancer patients. 

“My children and my husband were OK, my house was fine,” she said. “Work asked me to come help, it was my day off — I said I don’t care. That’s how it’s supposed to be, a teamwork, and they were glad I was there.

“But after a while, I was worried about my children and my husband, too. They gave me a room, and I stayed three days.”

READ MORE: Here’s my Hurricane Harvey rescue story

Hamvan also worked long hours straight through Hurricanes Rita and Ike, while many others across Southeast Texas evacuated or sheltered at home with their families.

“I spent like a week (at work) with Hurricane Rita,” she said. “I was in the hospital 24 hours for seven days. With Ike, too, I was there about four days.

“My husband had to leave, and I had to stay. That’s how it works.”

During natural disasters like tropical storms and unprecedented flooding, Hamvan said the hospital staff have to prepare for the unexpected, especially with patients who require complex medical care.

For example, dialysis was impossible after the city of Beaumont lost water after Harvey. Even when water was restored two days later, officials issued a boil water notice for over a week.

“We have to evacuate some patients to other places,” Hamvan said. “We have to help, get them ready, get their charts ready, get their medication list so if they go somewhere, they know what to do.”

Hamvan usually works the night shift, she said. The nurses on her shift could not leave until their replacements arrived, so they stayed until 2 o’clock that afternoon. 

“I was tired, (but) I said I had to go home,” she said. She could not drive her car home since it was too low to the ground. Plans to catch a ride in a friend’s big truck fell through.

“I said, I will walk no matter what, I have to walk.”

Hamvan is a Muslim. She said her faith helps her to remain calm when turmoil is all around her.

“I am a believer — I’m a good believer,” she said. “And I don’t get angry real fast. I don’t get anxious real fast.”

Sometimes her patients mistake her for a nun, she said. 

“I’m not, I’m Muslim,” she said, laughing. “I came here 33 years ago from Palestine, from Bethany, two miles away from Jerusalem. Lazarus’ tomb?”

“I’m Palestinian. My husband was here, he has been here more than 40 years. He came to Lamar, and then we got married and I moved here with him,” she said.

Hamvan completed her nursing program at Lamar University. Before immigrating to the United States, she was a teacher after studying chemistry at a university in Palestine. 

“When I came here, I went for nursing,” she said. “Now I’m old; we have children. They went to Lamar too.” 

The community in her neighborhood seems to be coming back from Harvey, a year and a half later, although some have not yet returned, she said.

“It was bad. I have a friend — his house was (flooded) up to the ceiling. That was sad,” she said. “Everything, he lost everything.”

Hamvan is grateful that her house was spared.

“We (are) blessed. My house was fine, thank God,” she said. “I feel sorry for the neighbor, though, they lost a lot.

Neighbors helping neighbors made the difference, Hamvan said.

“It was amazing when I saw everybody willing to help,” she said. “We are really back to normal life, almost everybody I know. There’s a few people did not yet, mostly they did. And that’s a blessing.”

The last time her neighborhood flooded anything similar to Harvey was around 2001, when she said she was five or six months pregnant with her twins.

The water on Griffing Road was up to her waist that time, but she said she did not call out from work even then.

“I just walked, slowly,” she said. “The water, snakes swimming, I said, I have to continue slowly. It was horrible. It was scary, but I had to.”

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