GCU Nursing Graduate Meets Needs of Joplin

June 20, 2011 / by / 0 Comment

By Doug Carroll
Communications Staff

Crystal Ericksen’s first year out in the “real world” has been one she’ll never forget.

Crystal, a 2010 graduate of GCU’s College of Nursing, works in the cardiology unit at Freeman Hospital in Joplin, Mo. Her husband, Matthew, is a first-year resident at the same medical facility.

A February blizzard that dumped two feet of snow on Joplin was bad enough.

“It was the worst snowstorm they’d ever had,” Crystal says. “We all slept at the hospital because we couldn’t go home.”

Mother Nature had much more in store for Joplin. The savage tornado that swept through the southwestern Missouri city on May 22 destroyed St. John’s Hospital but left Freeman — less than a mile from St. John’s — relatively unscathed.

The early-evening twister hit only two blocks from where the Ericksens live, and workers at Freeman were told to report to the hospital immediately. A seven-minute drive for Crystal took 45 minutes because of the storm’s massive rubble and debris.

“Driving through town, I saw it all,” she says. “Road after road was blocked because of trees that were down.”

Hospital staffers were greeted by what she describes as “a madhouse,” with some patients being carried in on doors and others strewn about the lobby of the emergency room.

“I don’t think anything can prepare you for something like this,” Crystal says. “Your adrenaline kicks in, and you go to your ABCs: airway, breathing and circulation.”

More than 100 were admitted to the hospital in the first hour, many of them “John Does” because they carried no identification. Orders were written on patients’ foreheads in some cases, Crystal says, and it became a struggle for medical personnel to keep tools sterile.

“Just seeing those patients brought tears to your eyes,” she says. “But I did what I needed to do to take care of them.”

While Crystal worked her normal hours that evening, Matthew worked nearly 36 hours straight. He had come on at 5:30 a.m. Sunday and didn’t leave until 5 p.m. Monday, when he went home and collapsed from fatigue.

A co-worker of Crystal’s in the cardiology unit, Brianna Bushnell, a new mother, lost her home and cars but has continued to come to work. GCU’s College of Nursing has been assisting her with various needs, Crystal says.

With St. John’s operating out of a tent, resources have been stretched precariously thin at Freeman, which is now hiring in an effort to meet the demand as Joplin’s only fully functioning care facility. In the tornado’s aftermath, a number of patients are being treated for a mysterious fungus normally found in diabetics.

However, one thing is thriving amid what figures to be a long and slow recovery: Joplin’s spirit.

“It was amazing, and it still is,” says Crystal, who was back in the Phoenix area last week to visit family before returning to Joplin. “People have lost everything, but you’d never know it unless you asked.

“People have spray-painted things on houses like ‘We will survive’ and ‘God’s in Joplin.’”

Although there were other places where Matthew could have done his residency, he chose Joplin. Crystal thinks it might have been a divine appointment for the couple, who were youth pastors at Christ’s Church of the Valley when they lived in Phoenix.

“He settled on Freeman,” Crystal says of Matthew’s decision. “Maybe it was God saying that He needed us in Joplin.”

Reach Doug Carroll at 639.8011 or [email protected].

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