But even when they realized they wouldn’t get home until morning because of snow, ice and traffic, they probably weren’t expecting to watch a movie projected on sheets on the wall or witness a conga line at midnight.
In total, 53 people spent Tuesday night at the practice, 24 of them patients and 29 employees, office manager Garrett Doss said. They couldn’t get home as snow and ice made U.S. 31 impassable, especially up Shades Mountain.
“When we saw everything shutting down, we pretty much started telling the staff, telling the patients, ‘we’re here, so make yourself at home, make yourself comfortable,'” Doss said.
Anita Jackson went in for her annual appointment with Dr. William McKenzie at 9:30 a.m. When the doctor came in, he told her the weather was getting bad and parts of the roads were closing.
“He said, ‘you might get to stay longer than you think,'” she said.
Jackson would end up spending the night on an exam room bed pushed against the wall. Her minivan was still in the parking deck Thursday night.
Nicole Varden tried to make it through the traffic.
“I was there for a doctor’s appointment earlier that morning and left the doctor’s office not knowing how bad it was outside,” she said.
Her phone was dying, so she went back to the office to see if she could borrow a charger. She wouldn’t make it home to Chelsea until Wednesday.
Once everyone realized they’d be in for the long haul, patients and staff started to walk down to the nearby Target to pick up supplies, including blankets, pillows, toothbrushes and superhero pajamas.
“It looked like a looting as the shelves were getting really sparse but everyone was so sweet,” Jackson said. “Everyone was extra nice and extra helpful.”
Once they were stocked up on what they needed, everyone settled in and found ways to pass the time. Some played cards and used breath mints to bet. Doss set up a projector. They searched for Disney’s “Frozen” but it isn’t on Netflix, so they watched a DVD of “Here Comes the Boom,” starring Kevin James, which someone had in her purse.
“It was a great movie,” Doss said. The families loved it. The staff loved it.”
At some point in the night, a five-foot-tall inflatable leprechaun even made an appearance.
“Dr. [Nate] Ross being a Notre Dame fan, he ordered a blow-up leprechaun during the Alabama-Notre Dame game last year,” Doss said. “Somehow it found its way out last night.”
Patients bonded over the experience.
“I got to know a lot of the other women who’ve had doctor’s appointments there so we were sharing stories about kids,” Varden said.
As people got tired, they found places for everyone to sleep. Jackson and many others slept on exam rooms in the clinic’s 16 exam rooms. Varden slept on a bed the doctors have for when they’re on call.
Tracy Ashley found a spot on the floor.
“I was on the floor. I could’ve been in an exam room but I just opted for the floor to stretch out,” she said. “I remember at 2 in the morning I woke up because I was in a room that was cold and Garrett moved me to a warmer spot.
“It was as cozy as you can get in a doctor’s office.”
Ashley said Doss didn’t sleep much because he was busy making sure everyone else was comfortable.
While many of them went to sleep early, a lot of the staff members were still up at midnight. To keep the mood light, they formed a conga line and danced around the office, Doss said.
In the morning, everyone worked to find a way home, though many were preparing themselves for another night on the floor or the exam room table.
Ashley and Varden both got rides home with friends who were in the area. Jackson got home when someone offered her a ride from a friend whose vehicle could handle the roads.
“If it had not been for Laura asking me if I wanted to catch a ride with Hal in his Hummer, I’m pretty sure I would have been spending the night there again,” she said.
That ride got her to U.S. 280 and Highway 119, and some friends from her church took her the rest of the way to Chelsea.
Doss said they were just doing what they plan to do every day: Make people comfortable and happy.
“We had a blast with them,” he said. “Our mission as a practice is serving other people, serving our patients like you would want your grandmother served.”
Ashley was glad they took such good care of everyone.
“I’m very thankful for OB GYN South,” she said. “They are a wonderful group of doctors, nurses and staff. And if you’re snowed in at a hospital, this is the place to be.”