Surviving Violence in Healthcare: One Year After My Assault

I’ve got a long and emotional one today, folks.


Day One

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.

The Aftermath


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.



With love,

Just Ask the Nurse


How to Be Successful with Your Preceptor

Starting something new is not always easy. This is especially true when you embark on a new nursing adventure whether it be with a new specialty or new setting or an educational endeavor. Often times, this includes mentorship from a preceptor who is basically there to make sure you don’t kill someone. With healthcare internship programs becoming more and more popular, it is important that you know how to make these relationships work. The key is to find a way to get along with that person and get as much as you can out of the experience in terms of learning. Super easy right? Not always! With most preceptors being someone you have never met and also often randomly assigned to you, there is no guarantee that you’re going to automatically jive. So how do you find a way to forge a successful relationship?

Ensure all expectations and needs are communicated up front.

The first step in any mentoring or preceptorship should be to first figure out what both of you need from the relationship. The preceptor and preceptee should be fully aware of each other’s backgrounds and knowledge base. Make sure your preceptor knows what you are coming into the preceptorship already understanding or what you already have knowledge of. There should be an up front discussion in the beginning about what you both are hoping to get from the experiences you’ll have together. The preceptor should also be sure you know what they expect of you. This can be anything from how you’ll go into a room and assess patients together to how many patients you’ll be taking on your own and when. Going into the mentorship without knowing these expectations on either side is setting yourselves up for failure.

Figure out how you’ll communicate and what your style of communication is.

This is incredibly important for any professional relationship! Don’t wait until you’re in a bind and trying to contact your preceptor emergently on Facebook, not sure when they’ll see it. Establish up front how they expect you to communicate with them whether it be via cell phone, email, etc., and get that information! You’ll thank yourself later and it’ll save you a lot of problems.

Don’t hesitate to address a problem when it comes up and encourage them to do the same.

In any learning environment, nobody is going to be 100% perfect 100% of the time. Expect there to be some wrinkles that need to be ironed out and times when something happens and needs to be discussed. That’s just learning and doesn’t mean you’re doing it wrong! However, these times need to be handled in a healthy way that is conducive not only to your professional relationship, but your overall learning and growth. When something happens that you don’t understand or that makes you uneasy or upset, DO NOT hold it in and ignore it happened! Discuss it openly with your preceptor or mentor in a way that best suits both of your styles of communication. Having an open communication and clearing the air helps to keep things moving and will only assist in giving you a smooth experience that works well for everyone.

DO NOT go into it with arrogance and/or expecting to take nothing away from the experience.

This is a big one. One of the biggest peeves for any experienced nurse is getting some A-hole who has some experience somewhere else, who thinks they know everything and makes that clear to everyone around them. We have all met a person like that (and probably come off that way unintentionally!). It’s common for people to want to overcompensate and impress whoever is mentoring or precepting them. However, try the best you can not to do this. Have confidence that you got into whatever position you are training for because you have earned it and let that be enough. People will be much happier helping with your learning experiences if you go into it openly and not throwing in their face whatever experiences or knowledge you have. Not to mention, you’re training for a reason, and anyone in nursing should be able to tell you that you learn something new every day. No matter how experienced you think you are, try and keep a level head and the ego at bay.

Check in with your preceptor and education team regularly.

This one helps if you have a long mentorship program like the one I went through. I went through a 12 week transition program for experienced nurses wishing to go to the ED from an inpatient unit. We also had 4 weeks of education included before starting the clinical training. That long period meant lots of checking in with the education team and figuring out what how things are going. Make sure everyone is on the same page and that you’re working hard on your weaknesses or areas needing improvement. You should also be told what your strengths are and what you’re doing well! Let the education team and/or your preceptor know what you need more help with. You should also tell them if you feel you need more time when your time is coming to a close. Safety is key, even if it means we aren’t all ready to be on our own in the cookie cutter amount of time allotted.

Realize when it’s just not working out and let someone know!

Unfortunately, we may have all had some professional relationships that just aren’t going to blossom and flourish. The same may happen at some point with a preceptor. Honesty is always the best policy. Nobody is going to benefit from a nasty, sour relationship filled with tension or animosity. We all know that nursing is full of women and sometimes, women don’t get along with each other. (Shocker, right?!) So if you’ve both done your best and it’s just NOT working out, let someone know. Don’t wait until time is up and it’s too late, and you’re on your own without knowing everything you should’ve learned in your training time. Some people just don’t jive, and that’s totally okay.

What suggestions do you have for a successful preceptor/preceptee relationship?

Much love,

Just Ask the Nurse

Loving the Unloved in the Emergency Department

Something we pride ourselves on in the ED is the ability to make light of anything. We can turn literally anything into a laugh and find it easier to get through the day that way. One particular highlight of the day is hilarious triage chief complaints. A few shifts ago, I was in a low acuity part of the ED working with one of my favorite PAs and saw the complaint “I’ve got a corn in my ear” waiting for us. Obviously, we were already laughing. How does one even get a single piece of corn in one’s own ear?! I went to retrieve the patient and decided to look for who it might be first. I scanned the lobby and saw a slightly disheveled patient talking to himself. He looked like he was in a heated conversation with himself. Clearly, it was highly possible it was going to be him. So we pulled him to the room to see him and this is a little bit of how the conversation went:

Me: So what brings you in today?

Patient: I’ve got a corn in my ear!

Me: How did that happen?

Patient: I got mad so I put a corn in my ear!

The PA checked both ears and pulled the lone corn out of his ear, as well as noted he had an infection in the other ear. The patient divulged that he sometimes puts stuff in the other ear when he gets mad, also. He was counseled about NOT putting foreign bodies in his ear at any time and was given prescriptions for his bilateral ear infection. He hadn’t had breakfast so I loaded him up with cereal and milk, per his request, and sent him on his way with a bus pass to get wherever he was going. We went back to the room we were charting in and had a laugh about it. We talked about how you literally can’t make this shit up. Then a quiet sadness settled on both of us. We talked about how it was sad because he clearly has mental health issues and there isn’t much we can do to help him. I started thinking about what might’ve brought him to this point in his life. I thought about the day my son was born and how perfect he was, and how this man might’ve been born the exact same way; perfect and innocent. What has happened to him to bring him to me this way?


Photo by Matt Collamer on Unsplash

Often times, we know some of our special frequent visitors, like the one described above, better than anyone else in the world does. They come to us for comfort, safety, hygiene, temporary shelter, nourishment, or just company, even if one or all of those things are only for a few moments. We do our best to send them off with resources to make their life even a little bit better or help them with whatever problem they have that to them, requires immediate attention. These patients are experiencing financial or emotional hardship, homelessness, addiction, depression, loss, hunger, mental illness, or a handicap of some kind, among other things. We have to put in a little extra elbow grease for them because of these special layers to their life. The rest of the hospital sometimes gets to meet them on rare occasion, and we help them get to know them the best we can, but they don’t see them how we do.

One of the most unrecognized jobs of ED nurses, providers, and other staff is that we have to provide love to those whom the rest of the world has deemed unlovable. The people the world has forgotten and knowingly or unknowingly chosen to ignore. The humans that have been given up on, even if it was unintentional. At times, these people are hard for even us to love. In these moments, they might lash out at us with violent or mean words or behaviors. No matte what, we care for them just the same as we would anyone else. We love the unloved. Take today to give a little love to someone, even if it’s just a small thing. Do a kindness for someone. Hold the door, give a stranger a smile in passing, or just say hello. Believe me, it will make a difference.


Much love to you,

Just Ask the Nurse

Reflections from Two Years in the Emergency Department


I recently had my two-year anniversary of working in the ED. Crazy! When I transferred from Med/Surg to the Emergency Department, I was terrified to say the least. I had zero critical care experience and was coming from previous jobs at two pretty small hospitals to a huge one. For a month I had to do education and get ready for the task ahead – learning how to be a safe and competent ED nurse. It wasn’t going to be easy!

June 12th, 2016

The morning of my first day precepting in the ED I woke up, of course late, and hurried to get ready. I was so nervous! I got on the road and remember thinking how empty an early Sunday morning on I-4 is. Suddenly, when I was almost to work, a police officer came flying up behind me. I thought, “Oh shit. This is it. I’m going to get a ticket for speeding and have to tell my preceptor what a loser I am on my first day.” Ha. Turns out, he was speeding toward what was at the time, the worst mass shooting in American History – the Pulse Nightclub Shooting, that would end the lives of 49 beautiful people and directly injure 53. I walked in through the EMS bay with my new badge access, still oblivious, and gave a big friendly smile to security and police officers guarding the door. I had no idea what happened yet. I remember thinking, “Boy the people here are grumpy in the morning!” When I walked in for pre-shift huddle, I got the news. We were all devastated and didn’t know what the day was going to look like.


My first patient in the ED was a young person who had been shot twice. I remember we were getting ready to move to surgery and as I was assisting them out of some of their personal items, I noticed there was still a lot of blood around the back of their head in their hair. I asked if they knew if they hit their head also or had been hurt there and they replied blankly, “I think that’s my friend’s blood.” The trauma of everything they had been through in those early morning hours had shocked them to their core and they didn’t know if their loved ones were dead or alive. It shook me. I went through the day meeting new people and putting on a nice face. We took calls all day from people looking for their loved ones. Some that we would later hear the names of on the news as passed away from this horrific act of violence. I got in my car that night and sobbed the whole way home, thinking what a huge mistake I had made and how I should just quit while I was ahead.

One Foot in Front of the Other

In the days after my first day, I decided to come back every day and put the work in to see if I really did make a mistake or not. With lots of encouragement from my mom, another ER nurse, and my now fiancé, I put one foot in front of the other and continued to learn and change my floor nurse ways into those of an ED nurse. It was a big source of humor with some of my colleagues and I think I even helped them learn a thing or two. I ended up changing preceptors after 4 weeks (if you and your preceptor aren’t jiving, DON’T IGNORE IT!! You aren’t helping them or yourself! Some people just don’t do well together, and that’s okay.). I got some really critical patients and learned so much about what it takes to take care of these super sick people. I laughed, cried, and was worn the heck out some days.

I am thankful I precepted in the summer with its lighter patient flow and acuity. In Florida, the Summer is a lot like a Game of Thrones’ Summer (“Ohhhh, my Sweet Summer Child!”). Things are quieter for the most part (yeah, I said the “Q” word”) and the acuity of patients is somewhat lower. I felt like I had more time to ask questions and really learn. In the Florida Winter, some phenomenon happens and things get crazy, to say the least. I survived the following Winter on my own – even if I had to go cry in my car at the end of the day a few more times than I care to admit.


Onward Bound

In the last 2 years and some change, I have grown, learned a lot about myself and my chosen area of nursing, and have really realized that ER is the best damn place to work in nursing (okay, maybe I’m biased…but still). So here are some lessons I’ll share for you:

  • You will take $h!t for missing IVs. Doesn’t matter how many amazing IVs you get that nobody else could get. Doesn’t matter if it’s 1 missed attempt a month. Someone, somewhere, will give you hell about it. And you will laugh.
  • You will find some crazy and ridiculous coping mechanisms.
  • Your sense of humor will twist into something unrecognizable and completely wonderful.
  • You’ll learn how to adapt to your circumstances and think on the fly, even when you may not have everything or all the people around that you need. You’ll do whatever you have to for your patients.
  • Every other nurse in the hospital hates you and a lot of the doctors will think you’re stupid/the worst. Okay maybe not that dramatic, but nurses will act like they hate you when you give report and some doctors will get so irritated when you’re holding their patients and can’t do everything for them there that the floor nurse can (and they do a heck of a lot we just can’t!).
  • You might get assaulted. You will encounter physically and verbally abusive situations and need to know how to handle them. Another post on this for another time.
  • You will find the most amazing, closely knit family in your ER co-workers and you will need them and lean on them more than you think.
  • You will sometimes hate your job, but you will always love it.



Much love and luck,

Just Ask the Nurse