“She said, ‘great.’ Then I told her I was coming with three other nurses. She said, ‘great,’ again.” For the next five days, the women worked 14- to 16-hour shifts at the medical complex set up at the Astrodome, then crashed at Kelly’s sister’s home for a few hours’ sleep. They didn’t wait for clearance through official channels to get started because there were no real official channels, only chaos. “One guy said we should sign up to help and he’d call us when they needed us,” Kelly said. “We hadn’t come all this way to wait for some bureaucrat to call when they needed us.” Kelly thanked the guy, turned to her friends and said, “Let’s go find the sick people.” And that’s what they did. Holly and Melanie began taking care of the kids coming into the pediatric clinic inside the Astrodome, while Kelly and Teresa worked with some of the nurses from Texas Children’s Hospital in a tent set up outside. “We branched out into our strengths, taking care of trauma patients, helping lost children locate their parents and getting the more seriously injured and sick to hospitals,” Melanie said. “Kelly was running around like Radar O’Reilly on ‘M*A*S*H,’ getting things taken care of and making sure things were running smoothly. There was no brass around.” Which was good because they probably couldn’t have done all they did to help those families if FEMA and local officials had arrived on scene as quickly as the emergency-room nurses from California. “By the time we were leaving, the red tape was starting to come in to take control,” Melanie says. “It was like watching a librarian with all the books who didn’t want you to read any.” When you’re a nurse at one of the busiest trauma center/emergency rooms in Los Angeles County – more than 48,000 emergency cases last year – you don’t wait around. “They needed more doers, and that’s what we were,” Kelly says. Leaving Houston and coming home was tough, they say. Even experienced emergency-room nurses can’t see that much heartbreak and misery without taking it home with them. It just didn’t seem right to be back in their comfortable homes, sitting around the dinner table with their families when there were still so many people in Houston who had lost everything. “We did the best we could,” Holly says. “We saw the need, filled it, and moved on. It’s something we do every day here.” The phone call from Houston came a few days after they got home. It was from someone in the rescue operations office at the Astrodome. “OK, we can use you now,” he said. The emergency-room nurses at Providence Holy Cross Medical Center just laughed. Dennis McCarthy’s column appears Tuesday, Thursday, Friday and Sunday. Dennis McCarthy, (818) 713-3749 [email protected] 160Want local news?Sign up for the Localist and stay informed Something went wrong. Please try again.subscribeCongratulations! You’re all set! There was no way they were staying home, the women say. No way they were just going to sit in front of the TV and watch all the misery that Hurricane Katrina was causing and not do something about it. They were emergency-room nurses, and this was an emergency – an epic emergency. Every fiber in their bodies told them they had to fly to Houston, where people were being evacuated from New Orleans to the Astrodome a few days after Katrina hit. Holly Nagatoshi picked up a phone and called Melanie Ridgley. “So when are we leaving?” she asked her co-worker. Her kids had soccer practice, Melanie said, but she thought her husband could cover for her. AD Quality Auto 360p 720p 1080p Top articles1/5READ MOREWalnut’s Malik Khouzam voted Southern California Boys Athlete of the Week “I called and asked him if he could take care of the kids for a few days without me, I had to go to Houston,” Melanie said. “He knew I had to do this. He said ‘go.”‘ Kelly Kurcz was making the same call to her husband, while Teresa LaCroix, who is single, was calling her dog sitter. Within a day, the four ER nurses at Providence Holy Cross Medical Center had enlisted co-workers to cover their shifts at the Mission Hills hospital, taken a week’s worth of vacation time, and were on a jet headed for Houston. They’re emergency-room nurses. That’s what they do. Kelly called her sister in Houston, and told her she was coming to visit for a week.