So I’ve been MIA for a little bit. I’ve been dealing with a lot personally and professionally. Professionally it’s brought up a lot of memories from when I worked in the emergency department as a staff nurse. Warning- this blog post has nothing to do with me being a lesbian mom- it’s a memory and commentary on violence toward women and the state of our health care system. Seeing our current administration downplay and ignore the #Metoo movement pisses me off. Feeling scared and vulnerable also pisses me off. So I’m going to tell a story as to why we need to have discussions around violence.
I had been working at the ED for over six years, almost seven. It was a crazy night, I was in triage. We had a lot of psychiatric patients in the ED, which is NOT the place for them, but there is no place for them, so there you go.
We had a lot of medical emergencies, and then they panic alarm went off. We use that to alert security and staff that we need bodies with the psychiatric patients because some one is escalating. There always has to be a nurse in triage. So my partner went to the back to check it out, security guards ran by, the rest of the nurses were in a medical emergency. I was in the middle of a triage assessment when I heard screaming. Not patient’s, but staff. Lots of screaming.
I followed the screams and rounded the corner and saw a pretty gruesome scene. Two nurses had been physically and violently assaulted by a patient. There was blood, clumps of hair, and what would turn out to be permanent injuries. There were about six security guards holding the patient who was still fighting. There was blood running down the faces of at least three of guards. The nurses who were attacked were screaming and crying, and in shock and I dragged them into a closet because all the patients in the ED could see them. It’s all very open. There was a doctor with them who also went into the closet. It was a big closet. I remember I grabbed gauze and held it over the blood on the guard’s faces because it was pouring into their eyes.
This was as bad as it sounds. No charges were pressed against the patient even though both nurses tried, because of a variety of reasons the police would not do it. It was quite possibly the worst part about the whole experience. They had permanent injuries and they would never obtain justice. It’s also sad because who wants to press charges against a psychiatric patient? No one. But in that moment, when I had known all of those staff members for over six years, and we were friends and we had each other’s back, to see them hurt was fucking awful. It was painful, and made us all feel pissed and vulnerable and scared.
I had to go back to work the next day. I don’t know how I did it, but I did. And when I got to the doors two nurses were standing there. They had been there the night before too. They couldn’t go in. None of us wanted to. We all wanted to walk away, erase that memory. Erase the fear. We all didn’t even say anything, at some point though one of us badged open the doors and we all silently filed in for our shift. We didn’t need to speak.
The part about going back after seeing something horrific is that today it could be us.
The week of my wedding, a couple years earlier, I got kicked in the ribs by a patient. I was bending over to pick up something on the floor and they just kicked me. I had a bruise on my ribs about 4 inches in diameter while my family tied me into my corseted dress.
I was no stranger to the violence of working in the ED, and it’s something that when you are there you have to kind of put out of your head otherwise it would just break you.
I don’t know what the solution to this problem is. But I know it’s a problem. I also know hospitals don’t like to talk about it, and they don’t like to take responsibility for it, and management likes to minimize it and it falls to the RNs on the front lines walking in every day not knowing if they are going to leave with a black eye or worse.
If you know a nurse thank them. Because you cannot possibly imagine the shit they see and face on a daily basis.
If you are a nurse. Keep fighting. We need rights, we need protection, and we will get none of it if we let these things keep happening with no recourse.
Thank-you to the state of CT who passed legislation making it a felony to assault a healthcare worker in the line of duty. Don’t be scared to utilize it.