Spalding Rehabilitation Hospital nurse manager Joann Eisel, along with her two daughters and her husband Robert – a nurse practitioner for Colorado Coalition for the Homeless – began working in 1980 at a school for homeless boys in Honduras.
"We left after seven months because our newborn son needed medical care that was not available in Honduras," Eisel said.
Though Eisel and her family have had to move around a bit, there aren't any other professional careers that she's ever seriously considered. "I entered nursing school straight out of high school and have never regretted it," she said.
Eisel graduated in 1966 from Pilgrim State Hospital School of Nursing in New York State. She then earned a bachelor of science in nursing from the State University of New York at Stony Brook in 1975, with a specialization in infection control.
She began her professional career at Pilgrim State Hospital, serving as a staff nurse, charge nurse and supervisor. Shortly after her graduation from SUNY-Stony Brook, she established Pilgrim State's first infection control program. She eventually ran the materials management department for an 8,000-bed hospital, as well.
Eisel said she came to Colorado in 1987 as a volunteer through the diocese of Pueblo, Colo., to work at Monte Vista Hospital as a "jack of all trades" in the San Luis Valley.
"The hospital closed in 1989 and we moved to Sarasota, Fla. I worked as a staff nurse on a post-op open-heart unit, then in infection control. After two years, we followed our girls back to Colorado where they both attended college," Eisel said.
Rocky Mountain Rehab hired her in January 1991. "They needed an infection control nurse and I needed a job. Gradually, I increased my 'other duties as assigned' to include wound care and employee health."
After several years, Eisel assumed the leadership of the brain injury unit. She received rehab certification (CRRN) in 1993, and is now the nurse manager for the Brain Injury Rehab Program at Spalding, including the inpatient and day rehab program.
Spalding is a 122-bed hospital with 320 employees in the Denver suburb of Aurora, Colo. It opened in 1914 as the Church Convalescent Home, and became licensed as a rehab hospital in 1968 and received its first JCAHO accreditation in 1970. Spalding is now CARF accredited, with its brain injury unit accredited as a specialty unit.
"When I came to Spalding back in 1991, I met Dr. Bill Locy, a neuropsychologist. He set up our BI unit and his interests and enthusiasm were contagious," Eisel said.
Eisel has made presentations the last two years at Colorado Brain Injury Association gatherings, as well as at National Brain Injury Association and University of the Commonwealth of Virginia Medical School Brain Injury conferences this year. She has discussed stim protocol for treatment of Rancho IV head injuries.
She is among a group currently working with Dr. David Arciniegas on research protocols or treatment of brain injury patients. "There is a vast area in the treatment of BI patients where there has been very little research done. It is very exciting to be involved with innovative approaches to a very difficult diagnosis," she said.
Spalding treats patients with all types of acquired brain injuries, Eisel said, including those suffered in traffic accidents, as well as brain tumors and aneurysms.
"We use a unique form of treatment utilizing controlled stimulation of the environment. This allows us to assist the patient through the stages of healing. We are also using cutting edge drugs that allow the brain to heal, while increasing cognition and decreasing distractibility," Eisel said.
Agitated, restless and distractible patients recovering from Rancho IV conditions can be difficult to care for, she said. "They are laying down, they have no memory and can rarely follow even one-step directions. It is always a challenge for both the staff and the family members. Keeping these patients safe as they heal is a major goal."
The most rewarding aspect of BI rehab is seeing patients recover from devastating injuries to get back their lives, according to Eisel. The recovery of one of her Rancho IV patients was particularly gratifying.
"I had a young man from Mexico as a patient," Eisel said. "He came in on a vent, with a trach and a PEG. As he moved into Rancho IV, he became very agitated and aggressive. We helped facilitate his mother coming to Colorado, as his recovery was uncertain."
The patient pulled through, however, and was discharged sometime later. "He was ambulatory and talking, in Spanish. They stayed with me for several weeks while he completed our day rehab program. The hospital assisted in getting both him and his mom back home to Mexico," she said.
Having been an RN for 36 years, Eisel has observed a lot of progress in the nursing profession. "When I graduated, we wore white uniforms with long sleeves and a school cap. Now I wear scrubs. We sterilized and cleaned glass syringes and reused needles and Foley catheters."
"The charting was minimal compared to today, and it was done with pen and paper," Eisel said. She expects that by next June, nearly all administrative tasks will be completed and tracked on computers at Spalding.
Eisel said that early on in her career, there were no specific infection control programs, but nurses were taught aseptic and sterilization techniques as well as how to "carbolize" a bed – a deep cleaning process that included the use of cotton swabs on the springs. "In the early 60s when I went to school, the theory was that nurses should be able to do everything, including cleaning the beds and buffing the floor."
"The people that enter nursing haven't changed - they are still the caretakers," she said.
In the future, Eisel would like to help the brain injury program expand to more sites in the community. "I would also like to publish our findings with the controlled stim protocol in the next year."
Colorado's old hotels are a favorite leisure-time destination of Eisel and her husband. The Colorado, located in Glenwood Springs, is her favorite. She also enjoys reading and going to the movies.