The first time Earl House Jr. came to Regional One Health, he wasn’t expected to leave alive. Eleven years later, he’s the one helping save lives at the downtown Memphis facility.
Earl is currently a registered nurse at Regional One Health, but on May 13, 2008, he was on his way to the hospital for a very different reason.
He’d had the afternoon off from his job as a labor & delivery nurse to take his 7-year-old son, Tyler, to the dentist. Leaving his home in Forrest City, Arkansas to get Tyler from school, Earl turned onto a one-lane gravel road.
It’s the last thing he remembers before “waking up in a nightmare.”
His neighbor had been driving fast from the other direction and hit him head-on. First responders later told him it looked like a high-speed interstate wreck. He’d been 200 yards from his home.
Earl’s injuries were horrific. “I broke both of my hips and both of my legs. My right leg was wrapped around the brake pedal. I broke my pelvis in half; what they call an unstable open-book pelvic fracture. Generally you bleed out in about 20 minutes.”
In Earl’s case, it took paramedics an hour to cut him from his vehicle and put him in a medivac to Regional One Health’s Elvis Presley Trauma Center. He arrived clinging to life – doctors told his wife Stephanie, “We don’t think he’s going to make it. We don’t know how he made it here.”
Trauma surgeons gave Earl eight units of blood – and an 8 percent chance of survival. He was on a vent for six days. Even when he woke up, the news was grim: he might never walk again.
But Earl had a couple things going for him: a team of doctors and nurses he regards as the best in the business, and the power of prayer.
“Literally, they put Humpty Dumpty back together again,” he said of his surgical team. “I’m glad that I live where I live so I was taken here. It’s a great place.”
Earl’s fellow nurses also rallied to his side, one even writing a poem to hang over his bed.
“My Name is Earl” described his work as a nurse, his love for his family, his passion for fishing and hunting. She wanted everyone to know who they were taking care of.
Meanwhile, prayer requests were being fulfilled by his church, friends’ churches, even a church in Florida with no ties to Earl whatsoever – someone had typed one letter of an email address wrong, and the prayer request went to a congregation that had never met Earl. Yet pray they did.
“Jesus was holding my hand,” Earl said. “He held my hand and told me I was going to be OK, and for all practical purposes, I am OK.”
He is more than OK when it comes to caring for his patients. Earl said his experience receiving lifesaving care deepened his compassion toward others and reaffirmed his career path, and he brings that unique perspective with him to every shift at Regional One Health.
“I’ve been there. I know what it’s like,” he said. “There are so many factors in why we care for people and why we have empathy and why we treat them with respect and dignity. It proved to me I was right about why I wanted to be a nurse. I don’t have to know you to love you and to care for you. It’s all about human kindness.”
Earl can even joke that his accident gave him an edge in the labor & delivery unit.
Having had his pelvis torn apart and sporting a scar that matches his wife’s C-section scar, “I guess I’ve come about as close as a man can to know what it’s like to have a baby,” he laughed.
“I used to tell patients, ‘I wish I knew what you’re going through, but I never will, so tell me how I can help.’ Be careful what you ask for; I guess Jesus has a sense of humor.”
And, perhaps it’s that same sense of humor that in 2017 prompted Earl to visit the hospital where he spent the most harrowing two weeks of his life with a job application in hand, ready to start a new phase of his career. Earl joined the Regional One Health family at the Rout Center for Women & Newborns; he also spent some time at the Extended Care Hospital before returning to his first love of labor & delivery nursing.
He’s been amazed by the transition Regional One Health has made since he was a patient. Then, it was mostly known for trauma; today, it continues its excellence in treating the most critical cases, but has expanded to meet numerous health needs in locations throughout the community.
Earl is grateful for the chance to give others exactly what he found at Regional One Health in his time of need: compassion, the power of prayer and expert medical treatment.
“We all come from a lot of different walks of life, but I don’t think that matters as much as some people think it does,” he said. “I’m thankful to be alive, and for the chance to care for people no matter who they are. It reaffirms that I’m supposed to still be here.”