The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO

Tornado: Mike Pound

August 24, 2011

Mike Pound: Saying nice things about St. John’s folks is easy

JOPLIN, Mo. — Francis Williams called me Wednesday morning and told me she reads my column “most every day.”

I then waited for her next sentence, which usually goes something like this: “And I think you are a moron.”

That’s typically what people say after they say they read my column. The only person who doesn’t say she thinks I’m moron after she says she reads my column is my wife. That’s because she doesn’t read my column. So she just says, “I think you’re a moron.”

But, surprisingly, Francis didn’t say that she thinks I am a moron. What she said was: “I see that you like to say nice things about people.” Francis is right. I do like to say nice things about people. Unless, of course, they are New York Yankees. Ha.

Francis called because she thought I would want to say some nice things about the folks at St. John’s Regional Medical Center. I know a lot of folks at St. John’s, so I don’t mind saying nice things about them. But even so, I asked Francis why, in particular, she wanted me to say nice things about them.

Francis told me that she recently spent six days in St. John’s temporary hospital. As you probably know, the building that formerly housed St. John’s was destroyed in the May 22 tornado. The shell of the building that used to be St. John’s has become one of the most compelling images associated with the tornado.

Like most folks in town, the folks at St. John’s didn’t spend much time sitting around feeling sorry for themselves after the storm. Like most folks in town, the folks at St. John’s brushed themselves off and continued doing what they do best: They took care of people.

One of the first things the folks at St. John’s did in the aftermath of the storm was set up a tent-like field hospital so they could continue tending to their patients. Let’s face it, a field hospital is a pretty poor substitute for a real hospital building. But when your real hospital building is in ruins, you do the best that you can. You move forward.

Francis told me that the staff members at St. John’s who cared for her during her stay in the field hospital were nothing short of amazing. They were cheerful, attentive and never once complained about the conditions in which they were working. It was, Francis said, as if the storm never happened.

“Nobody was looking to the past,” she said. “They were all looking ahead.”

I thought that was something.

Francis said patients were housed in cubicles in the hospital. There were no TVs, no telephones and no bathrooms.

“I teased the nurses and asked them if that was the way things were when they first opened the hospital over 100 years ago,” Francis said.

It won’t be long before the field hospital is replaced with a more permanent modular hospital. In fact, part of the field hospital already has been replaced, with the remainder to be replaced in six to eight weeks. In January 2014, St. John’s hopes to open a brand new hospital on Joplin’s south side.

After I spoke with Francis, I dialed up Miranda Lewis with the St. John’s marketing department. I told her what Francis said about her stay at the hospital. Miranda said she wasn’t surprised by what Francis said.

“Our employees are very proud to work at St. John’s, and their top priority is patient care, and it shows,” Miranda said.

She also pointed out that the whole patient-care deal is a two-way street. Miranda said St. John’s patients have shown a remarkable loyalty to the hospital during some very tough times.

“We are so thankful for that loyalty, and for working and growing with us,” she said.

Miranda makes a good point, and it’s one that can’t be stressed enough. Pretty much the whole town has done everything possible to move past the May 22 tornado. It hasn’t been easy, but just about all of us have gotten up every day and gone about our business in less than ideal situations. If that means, for example, working in or staying in a tent hospital, that’s what we do.

To quote Jimmy Buffett, we just “breathe in, breathe out, move on.”

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