When the tornado touched down in Louisville last Monday, many of the nurses and other staff at OCH Regional Medical Center watched the coverage and looked on in fear for their friends, family and homes. Located 25 miles from Starkville, many OCH employees call Louisville “home.” ER registered nurse Dana Cumberland is one of those employees. As the ER charge nurse that day, Cumberland stood ready to respond to trauma victims whom she knew would be headed to OCH after the Louisville hospital took a direct hit. However, while she prepared for the worst-case scenario, she couldn’t help but worry about her own friends and family.
“I was trying to get in touch with my family to find out if they were okay, but the phones wouldn’t go through. I had no idea the extent of damage that had been done, and I was worried,” said Cumberland.
She soon found out she was one of the lucky ones. Her home was still standing, and her family was safe. Cumberland, along with dozens of other nurses, stayed at OCH after their shift was over to care for an influx of patients with abdominal, pelvic and thoracic trauma, lacerations, abrasions, head injuries and broken bones.
“This is why I decided to become a nurse, and working in the ER gives me a real sense of being able to help people when they need it the most,” said Cumberland.
Fellow ER registered nurse Megan Evans said Cumberland’s ability to stay calm in the midst of the literal storm helped everyone else stay on track and focus on the task at hand.
“My home was damaged in the 2010 tornado, so this storm had me on edge. I was a little anxious and worried about my family, but at the same time, I knew patients would be coming in who needed my full attention,” said Evans. “I knew the Lord was in control, and I just kept praying,” she added.
While OCH nurses administered care for patients within the building, other off-duty nurses put their medical expertise to work along the tornado’s path of destruction. OCH Surgery Manager Alan Krajewski, RN, and his family took cover at the nursing home in Louisville where his wife worked, thinking they would be safer there than at home. When he arrived, Krajewski helped transport the residents into the hallways and covered people with mattresses. Soon after, the nursing home that was connected to the hospital took a direct hit. “I walked out of the bathroom we were in and saw all of the windows busted out, trees piled up against the hospital and cars flipped over,” Krajewski described. None of the patients were hurt, but he knew the damage he was looking at meant the nursing home residents couldn’t stay in that building. “My role as a nurse kicked in, and I began prioritizing who needed to go where. We loaded patients into vehicles to be taken to a church for shelter, along with patient charts, medical supplies, oxygen tanks and mattresses,” said Krajewski.
While fellow nurses provided hands-on medical attention, OCH Infection Control Director and RN Kim Roberts was stationed in the incident command center at OCH during the tornado to help implement the disaster plan. “Infection control departments are often involved in emergency preparedness and response because open wounds place trauma victims at a high risk of infection. The risk is also high for first responders because of broken glass, metal and hazardous materials that people aren’t normally exposed to,” explained Roberts.
OCH RN Mandy Watson said she provided first-aid to storm victims as well as first responders. She was at her Louisville home located around the corner from the nursing home where Krajewski was stationed when the tornado hit. Her home was spared, and after the tornado passed through, Watson assembled a first aid bag and went to find people who needed medical assistance. “A caring touch meant the world to people after the storm. I used every band aid, piece of gauze and tape that I had, and so I started making band aids out of napkins and regular tape,” explained Watson. “Being a nurse is a 24/7 job. No matter where I am, I have a true desire to help people,” she added.
OCH nurses administered care at the Medical Center to more than 35 patients and dozens more outside of the building who sustained storm-related injuries. Glenda Childress, RN, on the surgical floor said one of her patients who suffered a spinal injury told her how he was trapped in his home after the tornado hit. “Everyone handles trauma differently, and it’s important to not only act as a caregiver but also as a listener,” said Childress.
“We were prepared to handle the worst-case scenario. We put our disaster plan into action and were able to meet the needs of our immediate and surrounding community,” said OCH Chief Nursing Officer Martha Fulcher DNP, MSN, RNC. “I’m so proud of our nurses and all of our staff for staying focused, coming together as a team and going the extra mile to provide excellent care to those who needed it,” said Fulcher.
Each year, National Nurses’ Week which runs from May 6 – 12 recognizes the quality work these skilled professionals provide seven days a week, 365 days a year rain, sleet, shine–or even severe weather. Roberts’ description of a career in nursing is one that’s sure to never change. “People will always need medical care. It’s a common denominator,” said Roberts. At some point in everyone’s life, he or she will need medical attention, and nurses have the honor of being a part of that.”