On the afternoon of Sunday May 22, 2011, a multiple vortex tornado struck Joplin, Missouri, reaching a maximum width of 1 mile and producing winds in excess of 200 miles/hour. Tragically, the storm killed 160 people and damaged or destroyed thousands of homes and businesses.
When the tornado hit, Crystal Ericksen, a nurse on the cardiology unit at Freeman Hospital in Joplin, texted her husband Matthew, a first-year resident physician who was already on duty at the hospital, to let him know she was seeking safety in the crawl space beneath their home. Luckily, the tornado missed the house by 300 yards. After it was safe to do so, she left for the hospital to assist in the emergency room..
Crystal is a 2010 graduate of the College of Nursing at Grand Canyon University, a private, Christian university in Phoenix, Arizona. She had been a nurse less than a year when she was faced with tending to hundreds of injured victims in the ER that afternoon. Drawing on the inspiration she received from Scripture, her coursework on spirituality in nursing, and her Christian upbringing, she was able to overcome her fear and feelings of helplessness and focus on the needs of victims. Crystal and Matthew answer questions about their experience.
Q: What was your initial thought when you first saw victims filling the ER?
Crystal: I thought, “What a madhouse!” and “Did this really just happen?” I don't think anything can prepare you for something like this. But your adrenaline kicks in, and you go to your ABCs: airway, breathing and circulation. Then Mark 11:24 came to mind: “Therefore I tell you, whatever you ask for in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours.” My prayer was, “Lord, I ask you to help me focus. Allow me to remember all I was taught in order to help these people and comfort them.”
Matthew: The first patient I saw was in the operating room. He had been eviscerated, and we were attempting to clean the dirt and debris from his bowels. After that, I went to the ER—it was utter chaos. There were two or three patients per room as well as patients on cots in the halls and others being carried in on broken doors and tables. I walked around trying to find the most critical patients to help them first. I bypassed several people with open extremity fractures and severe lacerations so that I could run “code blues” on the crashing patients.
Q: Which Scripture passage propelled you forward to provide the needed care?
Crystal: I think everyone questions their abilities when faced with a new situation. I certainly questioned mine that day. I was a new nurse accustomed to helping cardiology patients, not trauma patients. Isaiah 41:10 came to mind: “Do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you. I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.” I also prayed, “Lord, I bow down and ask for your hand. You know my thoughts and desires. Please help me overcome my fear of not being able to care for these patients.”
Matthew: Jeremiah 29:11: “For I know the plans I have for you, declares the LORD, plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” When I left the hospital, I had been there for 36 straight hours. I went home to shower, shave, and immediately returned. I kept wondering where I would get the strength to continue working, but when I thought about this verse, I knew God wouldn't have put me in that situation if he didn't know I could handle it.
Q: Was it a blessing for you and your husband to be near each other as you treated the tornado victims?
Crystal: For my husband, the blessing was seeing me walk into the hospital since he had no idea if I was okay or not. I had continued to text him during the storm so he knew I was alive, but he didn't know if I was trapped under a pile of rubble. When I made it to the hospital and he saw I was okay, he said it was one of the happiest moments of his life.
We weren't working side-by-side since I was triaging the CT-scanned victims. But I gained three blessings from being near him. First, Matthew had worked in the ER on several rotations so I knew he was able to help more patients. Second, knowing he was safe was a blessing. And third, it was comforting to know God blessed me with a Christian man who works as hard as Matthew does.
Q: Since you are a recent graduate, which class did you derive the most inspiration from for your personal and professional life to this point?
Crystal: The course dealt with spirituality in nursing. I was taught it is okay to cry with patients and pray with them in times of need. No person can make it through tough times without a helping hand. I use this in my daily life too. We were taught that each nurse needs to understand his or her own spirituality because everyone is different. Mary Elizabeth O'Brien, author of a textbook I used at school, states the nurse healer must listen to the voice of God, desire to restore health, and assist the patient to achieve wholeness (O'Brien, 2008). Without this course, I would have been lost my first day of work.
Q: Is there a certain Christian viewpoint or Bible verse you call to mind or a brief prayer you say each day before you begin work?
Crystal: I wear a necklace with a Bible verse commonly quoted, but worth every word—Philippians 4:13: “I can do all this through him who gives me strength.” This Scripture is my strength to get through any difficult task. I have known it since I was little and have passed it on to others.
Q: In your opinion, what makes a good nurse?
Crystal: Several things. First, taking the time to sit and talk with patients about their problems or concerns. Second, coming into work happy and bubbly, even when you aren't happy inside or are frustrated that your patient has been given bad news about his or her health. Third, stop to think if patients would like prayer, and when appropriate and patients are open to it, ask if you can pray for them. So many nurses would love to ask but are afraid. Overcoming one's fear and offering a prayer could help more than we know.
Q: How do you pull from your strength and Christian values to help patients through adversity?
Crystal: Prayer is how I help patients through the difficulties they are facing. These prayers can be with the patient at the bedside if they request prayer or just me at the nurses' station asking God to guide my hand in their healing process or find the words that may comfort patients in time of need.
Q: How do you strive to be a better nurse?
Crystal: I try to have my actions speak louder than my words. That's hard from time to time, but I try to overcome the temptation to be impatient when my day is not going the way I had hoped. I rely a lot on my husband to keep me strong in my faith and my family. I love being a nurse.
Q: Have you ever influenced someone to go into nursing or become more spiritual by helping them through the healing process?
Crystal: I inspired one person to study nursing; she was the makeup artist for my wedding who told me she had a dream about becoming a nurse. I told her nursing school is difficult and one of the most grueling endeavors she might encounter, but if she was willing to fight for a passion or dream, she would be fantastic. I spoke with her recently and she is now attending Grand Canyon University, my alma mater, on the fast track program. I also helped a soon-to-be nurse through her struggle to pass licensure exams. She and I have shared our thoughts and fears as well as the Word of God. I gave her Scriptures to read while she studied. If she keeps to God's Word and if nursing is what he wants for her, she will be successful. Then she can help a fellow nurse in the years to come.
O'Brien, M. E. (2008). Spirituality in nursing: Standing on holy ground
(3rd ed.). Sudbury, MA: Jones & Bartlett.
Keywords:Copyright © 2012 InterVarsity Christian Fellowship
Joplin tornado; new graduate; nursing