When a Bloomfield (N.J.) College associate professor left New Jersey last summer to give a presentation and visit family, he never expected Middle East turmoil would hamper his plans to return.
But when Ismat Mikky, RN, PhD, found himself stuck in Gaza, concern from the staff and students kept his spirits buoyed and galvanized his resolve to return.
I was in tears over the notes I was receiving from faculty and students, Mikky said. You never know how important you are to people, how much they love and respect you, until you are in that type of situation.
Neddie Serra, RN, MSN, EdD, CNE, chairwoman of the Frances M. McLaughlin Division of Nursing at Bloomfield, called the situation frightening, but said she was proud of how students and staff responded.
The situation over there was very chaotic, Serra said.
Stuck in Gaza
Mikky, his wife and five children ranging in age from 11 to 22 set off last summer on a trip around the world.
The first stop was Singapore, where Mikky presented at the first Worldwide Nursing Conference. After a post-conference flight to Egypt, the family traveled to Saudi Arabia and Gaza for an extended stay with his parents. While the family was in Gaza, Egypt, which provides the most direct access to commercial air travel from Gaza, tightened border security after unrest in the region, limiting passenger traffic.
We underestimated the conditions, Mikky said. It became worse. They closed the borders completely.
One week before their scheduled airplane departure, the family packed up their luggage and headed to the border, hoping to cross. They found 5,000 people milling around, shouting and creating disorganized turmoil. Officials denied access to Egypt. The family tried again each day for three weeks, traveling 40 miles by taxi (at a daily cost of $90) across the Sinai desert, an area plagued by terrorist attacks on tourists.
It was a nightmare, going to the border every day, and not knowing what was next, Mikky said.
Approximately 50 other U.S. families were in a similar situation. Mikky tried contacting the American Embassy, which began to arrange for access to Israel and Jordan, at a different border. Egypt finally let the family pass on Sept. 8, 12 days after classes began at Bloomfield.
Staying in touch
Without Mikky at the front of a classroom, colleagues made sure his classes continued.
His whole situation made us feel helpless, because there wasnt anything we could do besides reassure him we were trying to keep his classes in order, Serra said.
Throughout the ordeal, Mikky used the schools online Blackboard to prepare courses and give assignments for coursework the students could study on their own. He teaches pharmacology, pathophysiology and adult health, including high-acuity med/surg and critical care.
Serra brought in a couple of guest speakers from Saint Barnabas Medical Center in Livingston, N.J., covering wounds and burns. Serra filled in to administer a math test and taught an EKG course with case studies. The students spent time in the schools skills lab and used interactive software rather than going to clinicals, since the hospital would not allow a substitute instructor.
I filled in as much as I could, Serra said. The students were very tolerant, patient and very concerned.
Mikky kept in touch with school officials and several students through email when he returned each night to his familys home from the border.
Email was the only vehicle for explaining what was going on, Mikky said.
Stephanie Steines, program manager at the nursing school, became the main point of contact.
I wanted to provide some level of comfort, so that he would feel he was still connected, Steines said.
During Mikkys four-year tenure at Bloomfield, the associate professor has become a favorite among students, Steines said. One student wrote to him to tell him how much he meant to the entire class. Some students wrote that they were praying for his safe return.
A warm welcome home
Mikky arrived back at campus on the day of the annual student convocation, a traditional ceremony to recognize their work and honors earned.
When I entered the stage, the whole group clapped, Mikky said. They were delighted to see me.
They also gave him a standing ovation, and many students sported fake mustaches as a show of support for him.
We were all very relieved, Serra said.
While Mikky would like to present in Singapore again this year if he receives grant funding, he said the itinerary will not include a stop in Gaza.
Debra Anscombe Wood, RN, is a freelance writer.