Guest writer: Chris Armstrong

If you’ve visited Discovery Park of America, you’ve likely encountered the docents working throughout the museum and park. They are dedicated to ensuring the safety and comfort of guests, greeting and informing visitors of what the park has to offer, working as educators and interpreters and ensuring everything on display is well-maintained. While most came to the park seeking work they could enjoy, it’s unlikely that the docents anticipated how attached they would become to each other. The result of their camaraderie is a dependable force of workers who can rely on one another to enhance their strengths, greatly benefiting DPA’s visitors from around the world.

The docents boast an enormous range of skills and education; many once held positions as school teachers, pastors, former military and a variety of managerial positions from all spectrums of the workforce. Several of the docents are semi-retired, leaving behind their former careers for the opportunity to bring their unique skills and knowledge to a place where it is used as one of the many ways DPA executes its mission to inspire children and adults to see beyond.

There is no clearer illustration of the docents’ connection to one another than the story of a beloved nurse for the park, Jeanne McMillen. Discovery Park’s goal to offer hands-on exhibits and the inclusion of attractions like the human body slide motivated the park to have staff who are trained for medical emergencies, and as a result, some docents have medical licensing. Jeanne McMillen, also referred to by children as “the slide lady” for her energetic personality with patrons when found at the slide, has worked for the park for six years, since before the doors were open to the public. She advocated for many of the medical systems that are in place today, such as a rotating schedule of nurses and first aid classes, resulting in an environment where workers and patrons alike feel confident they will have support during medical emergencies.

Unfortunately, Jeanne is not immune to having to deal with her own emergencies. Disaster struck on February 20, 2018, only two days after her daughter’s wedding, as her family celebrated the occasion in Costa Rica. A communication error resulted in Jeanne being suspended on a zip-line as a man over twice her size barreled into her at 36 miles per hour.

“I don’t remember any of it. I don’t even remember that morning,” she recounted, saying much of her memory surrounding the trip has become hazy because of the accident. Doctors informed her family that the situation was dire. “It’s crazy, I almost died twice,” Jeanne still managed to laugh as she explained her condition, “I had five abdominal surgeries, four broken ribs, and five fractures of my pelvis. The doctors told me that I might never walk again.”

Jeanne’s coworkers and family at the park could only sit idly by as she lay in a hospital bed thousands of miles away, her condition ambiguous. Her DPA family hung on every word of her husband’s periodic updates. Many of her fellow docents sent their condolences and offered help to her family in any way they could manage. Her fiery personality and endless energy were often considered equal parts inspiring and exhausting to her coworkers, depending on how well they could keep up with her liveliness, but certainly gave everyone at the park hope that she would exceed all expectations of recovery.

“The people here, I love them,
you get to know them well and start to really care after working on them as a nurse.”

After spending two weeks in an intensive care unit, and a couple weeks undergoing recovery with an additional surgery to repair her pelvis in Costa Rica, Jeanne was finally able to return to the states for rehabilitation in Memphis. Nearly seven months after her injuries she was welcomed back to DPA while still undergoing physical rehabilitation on her days off.
Jeanne took the situation as a personal challenge, determined to persevere for the sake of her health and livelihood. “I needed to get past using a cane,” she said.“When people think of a nurse they expect them to be healthy and strong.”

Despite her time away from home and deflating diagnosis from medical professionals, Jeanne now stands on her own two feet when working at the park. She dances, just as she used to in years prior, and the sounds of her booming laughter and dramatic singing can be heard bouncing from the walls once again.

Jeanne claims that her motivation to recover was only enhanced by her desire to see her DPA family once again, “I started missing the camaraderie of the people there. It was the patrons too, they’re wonderful, but I really missed the workers. The people here, I love them, you get to know them well and start to really care after working on them as a nurse.”

She hopes to soon take back some of her former responsibilities and has even scheduled the first CPR class since her return. Recovery has been gradual and excruciating; some aspects of the damage done to her body are beyond what can ever be repaired, but Jeanne continues to work hard for both her personal health and so that she can feel dependable to her family at the park.