I’ve got a long and emotional one today, folks.
On the day of my assault, September 4th, 2017, I woke up like any other day. I had just come back from my week long vacation across the state of New York with Patrick and was finally feeling refreshed and ready to get back at it. Over halfway through the day, I saw a patient was going to be coming in by EMS. The complaint “Found Running Naked in Traffic” was my first idea of what was coming. Security had gone somewhere else to assist, but I didn’t think much about needing them.
When the patient arrived, it was clear that the EMS report had understated how bad off the patient was. He had initially been combative, bitten their thermometer probe in half, and was very unstable mentally and physically. He was a known methamphetamine and heroin user and had done something that day that was thought to be much worse based on his presentation. When I got him onto the stretcher he was talking to me and answering my questions. He was breathing 50 times a minute and his heart rate was 180. It was clear that he wasn’t going to be able to keep this up much longer on his own, so I rushed to grab the doctor and the stuff we would need for intubation, grabbing one of my favorite ER medics on the way back to the room to help me out. We were busy that day and there wasn’t anyone else around really to help out, so the three of us just went in and got to it.
I was instructed to grab a med to help the patient calm down some before we began the process of intubation. I turned around halfway to grab the medicine I had drawn up and when I turned back, the patient looked completely different. His eyes were huge and he was sitting up staring at me with a terrifying look on his face – blank, but calculating. In the two seconds I connected his eyes with mine, I realized he was about to hurt me and went to step back, but I didn’t react fast enough and he punched me in the head as hard as he could. I couldn’t see anything and was stunned. I remember saying “he hit me” and then the doctor pulling me away as he went to hit me again. There was a lot of noise and I remember walking out and going to the nurses station. The patient ended up going crazy. He kicked the medic and almost got him in the jaw, and there was a blood exposure. It took 5 men to hold him down while they gave him the medicine he needed to calm down.
Meanwhile, in shock, I got the triage information from the EMS crew who brought him in and answered the phone – his sister was on the line. The patient did not have a pulse shortly after and, still stunned, I went back in and we ran the code, getting his pulse back after two rounds of CPR. After giving report off to another nurse once he was stabilized, I was told to go wash my face, not realizing he had cut me under my eye and I had a mix of his and my blood on my face and in my eye. I looked back at myself in the mirror and didn’t know who I was looking at. What happened to me? Why did he do that? I suddenly felt flashed back to the last time I was physically assaulted by my ex. Those feelings flooded back and I had to calm myself to go speak with the police.
The police officers who came to take our reports brushed mine and my co-worker’s experiences off like no big deal. They tried to make me feel embarrassed by skeptically saying, “so you’re saying he battered you?” One tried to convince me to put a fake address citing, “he’ll know where you live, it’s all public record” while the other informed me the case would be dropped if the attorney couldn’t get ahold of me immediately. I was kindly informed that “these types of cases usually aren’t prosecuted”. After 4 hours of medical care, a blood draw, and waiting to find out if I had been exposed to HIV, I went home and felt absolutely broken. I was scheduled for the next 2 days after so I decided, stubbornly, that I was not taking any time off because of this.
I came in to work with a positive attitude. I was NOT going to let that guy ruin my day. We all laughed and joked about it. I went home and at about 9pm on day #2 it all hit me. I began to have the worst headache I’d ever had. I was so dizzy I wanted to throw up when I moved or stood up and every time I closed my eyes I felt like I was falling. I went to work the next day and was told to leave and get checked out at one of our hospital run clinics. “You have a concussion,” the provider told me. I didn’t understand how I could be going through this. She told me she had no idea when I would be better and to come back in a week if it was still going on.
I worked and had to leave early pretty much every day – barely making it through each day. I was angry, frustrated, irritable, and mostly, felt like total shit. My head never stopped hurting and the dizziness, nausea, and lightheaded feeling wouldn’t go away no matter what I tried or took. My ears were constantly ringing so loud that I felt like I couldn’t hear anything else. The medications just made me sleepy and I had a toddler to care for and full-time graduate school to keep up with. I returned to the clinic 2 more times before I was finally referred to a neurologist. Almost a month after the assault, I got the CT scan I needed and X-rays of my neck. The neurologist diagnosed me with Post-Concussion Syndrome and a whiplash injury and prescribed more medications to try to help. “Come back in a month.”
Over the next month things only got worse. The neurologist recommended physical therapy but it took 3 weeks to get the referral from Worker’s Compensation, who always made me feel like a faker. I probably would’ve thought that about myself if I wasn’t in my own body. My friends and family were kind to me and understanding, but after awhile I just shut down. Who wants to hear negative Nellie talk about her messed up brain all the time? I just hid how awful I felt and suffered alone. Physical therapy was brutal, leaving my neck sore and making me so exhausted that I’d have to go home and sleep after. I felt like all I did anymore was work, sleep, and cry.
At my 2nd month appointment with the neurologist, things were worse than ever. I sobbed through the whole appointment. The poor doctor was very awkward and I could tell he didn’t know how to comfort me, really. “Give it more time, one day it’ll be better,” he said. Meanwhile, I felt like life was falling apart. Patrick and I were fighting and I felt like I was barely scraping by in school. I couldn’t take care of my house and was barely able to do anything with my son. My paid time off hours were dwindling away and I saw no end in sight. I was told by worker’s compensation that “nobody told me I needed to leave early everyday”, so they would not be compensated. I wanted to give up on my job. Every patient was suspect and couldn’t be trusted. I was jumpy and scared constantly of the next hit. People seemed more irritable than ever and every time I had to call security on a patient who was aggressive or threatening, I would have to go get myself together again somewhere private. For anyone who has worked ER, there are a lot of those kinds of patients.
By the third month, I was the worst I had been. My head was hurting so badly by the end of the day that I would cry with pain. I had a baby with no pain medicine, so you could say that wasn’t characteristic for me. Nobody knew how to help me and it made me want to lash out. I felt angry and helpless all the time. I woke up dizzy and in pain and went to bed dizzy and in pain. I began to see an employee assistance program therapist and it helped me somewhat with coming to terms with my anger for the man who had done this to me, and realize there was nothing I could’ve done. I worked hard on letting myself forgive him so I could try to move on, and began to try and rebuild my trust for patients, which had been totally lost. In this experience, I lost my love for nursing. I had to learn how to love my job again that I had waited so long to have and worked so hard for.
Turning the Corner
On the morning of December 6th, 2017, I woke up and opened my eyes, something I dreaded everyday due to the way I had felt all those mornings, and it was different. The room was still and my head was pain free. There was no sound – just the quiet of the room. I sat up carefully, waiting for everything to kick in, and realized I wasn’t dizzy. I began to cry because of how happy I felt. I went cautiously through the next few days, waiting for everything to come back, but the only thing I felt was the occasional slight headache. The worst was over. Just over three months after my assault, I was back to myself. I continued doing the things I needed to do to heal. I followed with the neurologist, wrote the chief of police with the department that I felt had dismissed my assault as no big deal, and tried to get my voice back. I started living my life again and finished the session in school strong. I had put on 15 pounds and began to exercise again and take care of myself. I was still having to have blood testing to ensure I hadn’t contracted his Hepatitis B and Hepatitis C, but everything was good.
I found out that the police had in fact put the wrong address on my report and I almost didn’t get to tell the state attorney’s office that I wanted to move forward with charges because of it. I got in touch with them just before Christmas and they expressed to me that they would absolutely be pursuing the case. They validated that what happened to us was wrong and would not be accepted. It was not “just part of the job”. It was said by the prosecutor I spoke with that this was a problem within the specific police department who handled my case. I was so disappointed.
Finding a Voice
About six months after the assault, I learned from the state attorney’s office that the man had died after a months long hospital stay and obviously, the case would be dropped. I felt sad. Sad for him as a person, because something had made him the way he was and it didn’t happen overnight, and sad for victims of assault in healthcare, because we all deserve justice and too often it never comes. We aren’t fully supported when these assaults occur and this has to change. The night of my assault, I messaged the viral doctor-rapper, ZDoggMD, and told him my story. He had been bringing to light the very important conversation about violence in healthcare. I didn’t expect him to ever message me back, but he did. He included a quote from me and my picture in a very touching video aimed at garnering support for victims of assault and the safety of healthcare workers as a whole. You can find it below:
I have learned so much about myself in the last year. I am so much stronger and resilient than I ever thought. I have the best team at work of supportive, loving, amazing people who have had my back and made me feel safe anytime I wasn’t. I know now how real this problem is, and that I want to do whatever I can do to bring violence against healthcare workers to the attention of everyone. It is a culture problem and it is all of our responsibility to fix. Nothing gets better if we ignore it. Please don’t stay silent if this has ever happened to you. Our voices matter and will be the tide of change.
Just Ask the Nurse