“I was a ‘candy striper’ when I was a Girl Scout. I quit after a few weeks. I was traumatized by sick people. Who would ever imagine I’d end up an Emergency Room Nurse,” said Joyce Powell, an R.N. of 20 years at Providence St. Joseph’s Medical Center in Burbank. “But after working five years as a California Highway Patrol Officer and raising three kids, it ends up that this is the perfect job for me.”
Joyce has a sort of tender-but-tough quality that’s the hallmark of her nursing style. She’s definitely not that squeamish Girl Scout anymore.
A few years ago, a mom brought in her little boy who suffered from a congenital disease. Doctors said he wouldn’t live past one. But on this day in Joyce’s E.R., he was seven…and dying. He passed in the E.R. in his mother’s arms.
“She wanted to bring her other children to say goodbye,” said Joyce. “She didn’t want them to see their brother in a bed covered in a sheet. She asked if I would hold him while she went home to get her kids. I sat there in that chair and held that baby for 30 minutes. I remember thinking ‘I can’t put this child down because she’s counting on me.’ I was so touched by her. I did it for her.”
Those years as a CHP Officer and as a mom made Joyce a great E.R. nurse, and really good at triage. She has a quick eye for determining in an instant who’s in distress. Like the time she was assessing a patient in triage when a man in the arrival line in the ER lobby caught her eye.
“‘That guy doesn’t look right,’ I thought to myself. Then he leaned against the window. I called out to the E.R. tech ‘go get that guy inside and let’s get him an EKG,'” said Joyce. “He was having a heart attack. I knew it from a distance. We saved his life. Not just saved it, but added years back. Every second counts in situations like that. The sooner you catch it, the more heart muscle is saved. What if we’d let him wait in line? How long would it have taken to check him in, instead of catching it right away?”
Joyce loves the pace of E.R. She loves that every day is different; that she can be a part of patients’ and their families’ lives during their most vulnerable moments.
She loves that she can be of help.
It’s getting more difficult to give the care she wants to give. When the Affordable Care Act gave more people access to healthcare, the E.R. population at St. Joe’s more than doubled. With flu season added on to that, it’s become chaotic. The E.R. used to see 80 to 100 patients per day. During 2017’s flu season over the holidays, they had one day with a record 276 patients. The hospital put 12 extra beds in the hallways, but failed to add any additional staff or equipment.
“It was crazy. And it really hasn’t gotten any better,” said Joyce. “When we ask for more staff during flu season, management says things like ‘well, we’re not going to pay for nurses to just be standing around.’ But that’s not the point. Is having firemen at the fire station just ‘standing around?’ We need to be ready for patients in the E.R.”