When Cheryl Johnson first became an emergency-room nurse in DeLand, things were quite different.
In 1980, DeLand was far less developed, its population half of today’s. Fish Memorial Hospital in DeLand, the only other hospital on the west side of Volusia County, was private-care only.
“When I was hired, it was West Volusia Memorial Hospital,” Johnson said.
The hospital, now an AdventHealth facility, was then owned and run by the West Volusia Hospital Authority. It was West Volusia’s only hospital for publicly funded care for the poor, and it served a huge swath of the community.
“We saw everything,” Johnson said. “Plane crashes from the airport … gunshot victims and knifings.”
When Johnson went to work there, the ER had one doctor, two nurses, a secretary and a technician. Today, there are 60 ER doctors, four nurse practitioners, 15 nurses, three technicians and two secretaries.
DeLand and the hospital have changed. So has Johnson’s viewpoint.
“Sometimes it’s tough. When my kids were young and children came in, you’d think ‘What if that were my child?’” Johnson said. “And now that I’m older, when a 70-year-old comes in with real health problems, that age doesn’t seem so far away. You can internalize it.”
Johnson knows that it’s often first-responders, not ER personnel, who see the most chaos.
“Usually patients have been stabilized by the time we see them. The ER is a much more controlled environment,” she said.
A nurse for 47 years total, Johnson is a converted Floridian. Originally from Minneapolis, she first visited DeLand to skydive.
“Even then, DeLand was a skydiving capital,” she said. “In Minnesota, we rode in a six-seater airplane with no doors in the winter. I wore a full snowmobile suit.”
Impressed by DeLand, Johnson moved here, and took a job with a parachute manufacturer at the DeLand airport.
After a year, however, nursing beckoned again.
“Most nurses would say what they like best is that you take care of the unexpected,” Johnson said.
Johnson is no stranger to challenges. During the 29-year break she took from skydiving to raise her three daughters, she took up competitive speed-skating. She took up skydiving again about a year ago, and is close to celebrating her 1,000th jump.
During her career, she said, the scope of a nurse’s duties has widened.
“Nurses carry a lot more responsibilities,” Johnson said. “Our duties have multiplied; we’re expected to know, perceive, and take on so much more.”
She added, “There’s not the pay raise to go along with that multiplication of duties.”
Johnson said workers are also no longer confident that pensions and Social Security will meet their needs in later life. So, they may keep working longer, and put in more hours.
“I’m 67 years old. With my goals, it makes sense,” Johnson said. “With my kids all grown, I had more time to work. So I work.”
The ER is a congenial place, she said.
“The nurses aren’t the doctors’ employees, they’re co-workers,” she said. “On Nurses Week. they buy gifts and really support us as co-workers. It’s been that way for 39 years. Everyone works well together and is kind and considerate.”
Johnson said AdventHealth (formerly Florida Hospital) has been good for DeLand’s hospital, doing a lot of repairs and updating, and paying for some training the nurses formerly had to pay for themselves. The ER doctors bought televisions for each treatment room, which helps calm patients, Johnson said.
The atmosphere of cooperation helps the team get through the worst times in the ER.
Johnson recalled a man who had accidentally amputated his hand with a radial saw. He came into the ER with his brother behind him carrying the hand cupped in his hands. It was a clean cut, she said, so they wrapped the severed hand in saline and transferred the man to another hospital where the hand was reattached.
Another time, she said, a mother shot her son during an argument after church. The mother drove her son to the hospital, but he died in the back seat on the way.
ER personnel noticed that the son was dressed in a full three-piece suit. His vest had a bullet hole in it, but the suit jacket didn’t. The mother had put her son’s jacket back on him after the shooting.
As Johnson chats with The Beacon, an ambulance pulls up.
“It’s always hopping here,” she said.