Ashburn for Newsweek
Gentle Spirit: Back home,
Jones cares for her ailing father
BEYOND THE CALL
As Katrina raged, this nurse whispered
comfort to her dying patients.
Ruby Jones's kids were aghast at their mother's decision. As Hurricane Katrina churned
menacingly toward New Orleans last August, they
had begged her to forsake her Sunday nursing shift at Lindy Boggs
and evacuate the city. "Don't try to be Superwoman," they told her.
But Jones, 67, chose to ride out the storm with her eight frail and dying
patients in the hospice unit. "I didn't want to shirk my responsibility
knowing there was a hurricane coming," she says. On Monday, as raging
winds shattered the hospital's windows and burst open doors, she gently whispered
in her patients' ears, "We are here with you, and we aren't going to
leave." By Tuesday, the situation had turned dire; the power was out, the
water supply was choked off and the hospital was flooding. Still, amid the
mounting mayhem, Jones continued to tend to her flock—bathing them, feeding
them, dressing their wounds. When aid arrived on Wednesday, she helped evacuate
them, though three died before they could be rescued. She finally left on
Thursday, hungry and parched, but having kept her promise to stay at her patients'
side until the very end.
At once steely and soothing, with a tight bun of silvery hair and
impeccably pressed scrubs, Jones was a tireless source of succor for the storm's
most vulnerable victims. She doesn't consider her work especially commendable;
quite simply, she says, it was her job—one she has carried out with boundless
compassion for 45 years. Yet Jones was a model of caregiving
at a time when some health-care workers abandoned their posts and others
cracked under pressure. To those who observed Jones during Katrina's cha-otic aftermath, she seemed to exude only calm
purposefulness. "No matter how austere the conditions became, she was
still on the situation to make sure things were done right," recalls
orderly Don Cilurso. "If something wasn't up to
her standards, she would point it out even though it was getting harder and
harder to maintain that standard of care."
arrived with other evacuees at the New
Orleans airport, she picked up where she'd left off.
Rather than join the throngs desperate to catch flights out of the city, she
went looking for her patients. The scene was anarchic—a dark, stifling cavern
packed with an agitated crowd and reverberating with shouts and moans. Jones
eventually found two of her patients lying listlessly among the luggage
carousels and began caring for them with what little food and cleaning supplies
she could scrounge up. She also ran into her aunt and uncle—both of whom were
ill—and tended to them as well. With the military's triage operation
overwhelmed, she soon took on even more of the infirm. Though she'd asked
authorities to be evacuated with her hospice patients, she eventually became
separated from them. So at the end of the week, she departed with her aunt and
uncle for Atlanta,
where she continued to care for her uncle until he died several weeks later.
her devotion to nursing back to her upbringing in rural Louisiana. A sickly child, she often ended
up in the hospital. Because of the care she received there, she found it a
comforting place. After high school, she attended Dillard
University in New Orleans. Upon graduating, she got married
and slowly pursued her nursing license while also starting a family. When she
was in nursing school, she practiced her clinical procedures on her beloved
grandfather, who was diabetic. No matter how painfully she poked and prodded
him, "he would compliment me to the highest," says Jones. "He
called me 'nurse' from the first day." His confidence made her believe in
Jones has also
been nourished by faith. During the most harrowing moments of Katrina's
aftermath, she often recited Scripture in her head for guidance and strength.
Among the historical figures she most admires: Mother Teresa, whose care for
the wretched inspired her profoundly. These days, Jones is tending to her
ailing 93-year-old father. She's staying next to him in the other half of the
home where she lived as a girl (her own house was severely flooded after the
hurricane). Though Lindy
Center hasn't reopened,
she's still working on Sundays for the same hospice-care company. Given the
city's heartbreaking state, Jones wonders how long she can endure living there
and is considering moving at some point to Atlanta. But she would undoubtedly have a
hard time leaving her patients behind. "We are like a family at the
end," she says. "You don't just abandon them." Those Katrina
survivors on whom she laid her healing hands are surely grateful that she
upheld that credo.
—Catharine Skipp and Arian Campo-Flores