Sharell Questelle-Eddy

Before the Joplin tornado, Sharell Questelle-Eddy had always considered herself to be a caring nurse, far from hardened to others’ suffering. Five years afterward, she knows she had feelings left to give.

“I think as a nurse, it made me more compassionate, no question,” Questelle-Eddy, 48, said of that night. “Until this happened, I didn’t think I could be more compassionate, or more empathetic, but you can.”

When she rushed to the overwhelmed emergency room at St. John’s Regional Medical Center, the entire hospital was in chaos. No lights, hallways black. Every window shattered. Electricity gone. Water pipes gushing.

Hospital workers struggled to evacuate the sick and injured. Residents, bleeding from flying debris, flooded the halls, along with wandering dogs that had taken refuge.

“As far as that night,” Questelle-Eddy said, “I still remember what I had on. I remember what other people had on. I remember the looks on people’s faces: the look of shock, they couldn’t get their mind around it. Me included. I couldn’t wrap my mind around what I was looking at.”

A flight nurse for 13 years, a nurse for more than 20, she had never seen such carnage. All her life, St. John’s had been like a second home. She’d grown up, raised by grandparents, just blocks away. Her grandfather, a Methodist minister, had been a St. John’s chaplain. As a child, she’d run down the hospital’s halls.

“Never for a second,” she said, did she think St. John’s would no longer exist.

But then it was gone. Remnants of the old hospital were bulldozed into a hill and covered in earth, then grass. A gazebo, peaked with a cross and near a statue of St. John, sits at the crest of the hill on the site where the hospital’s chapel once stood. Joplin is creating a park with a walking path to surround it.

“Still very emotional to be here,” Questelle-Eddy said.

For four years, the St. John’s emergency room operated much as a mobile unit, moving first from tents and then to one temporary site and then another. On March 22, 2015, much of the emergency staff that worked the night of the tornado moved into the emergency room of the new $465 million Mercy Hospital Joplin, three miles south.

“There were a lot of tears that morning,” Questelle-Eddy said. She cried. Staff and patients often share their stories.

“I felt like for four years, we were in survival mode,” she said. “We were just moving from one place to the next, to the next, to the next, and we were just trying to keep the doors open.

“Once we got here, it was like everyone could finally exhale and then let it show. We’re home. We’re here. This is where we’re gong to be. And we can get back to what we were before.”

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