During the month of May we celebrate National Nurse’s week. Having been a nurse for 32-years, I have mixed feelings about this recognition.
As biased as I sound, nurses need to be recognized every day. Nurses work in the trenches of society and see people at their worst - physically, emotionally and spiritually.
Nurses make a difference. Our patients don’t always have the chance to let us know. Yet, sometimes, out of the blue...someone like *Estelle happens along…
This is dedicated to a wonderful nurse, Carol, who is my inspiration for teaching my nursing students the importance of intuition, safety and self-awareness in the workplace.
"Tell Skinny I Said Hi!"
When I signed DC's termination of employment letter in April 1999, I didn’t know firing this drug impaired nurse, who refused to get treatment for his addiction, would almost cost me my life. I only knew that, as Director of Nurses at our area’s largest state psychiatric facility, it was my responsibility to keep patients and staff safe from this dangerous practitioner.
Out of the blue, on June 16, 1999, DC burst into my office brandishing a gun.
Carol, one of my nurse managers, was seated across my desk; and when I saw the expression of shock and horror on her face, I knew our lives would never be the same….
DC took us hostage, shooting me multiple times at the start of the siege. He handcuffed Carol and me together, and refused to allow any medical treatment of my wounds.
Forty-six hours later, a SWAT team broke into my office to rescue Carol and me, but before they could restrain DC, he shot Carol in the head, and also shot me for the 6th time.
I was in critical condition and evacuated by PennStar. I wouldn’t learn, until later, that Carol had died instantly from her wounds. She was a beloved colleague, compassionate nurse, loving wife and mother, and her loss grievously wounded my soul.
My own recovery was a long, slow process. My husband, who is a social worker, helped care for me as I recuperated. Our lives, and the joy filled, loving marriage we’d previously shared, were shattered by the trauma and physical injuries I’d endured.
Shortly after the incident, my husband told me he would not let this man destroy our marriage. His stubbornness and faith in us have sustained us to this day. Our marriage has survived and today we are living what grief counselors would call, the new normal.
Inner strength, determination and time, aided my personal healing process. Although I never returned to my former position at this psychiatric hospital, I did return to nursing, and have held a variety of clinical and educational roles, including teaching nurses about work place violence and teaching students about holistic and behavioral health.
No matter what position I’ve held, my clients have always come first. I currently work at a local university as a clinical adjunct professor, where I assist future nurses with their experiential rotation in behavioral health.
Student nurses have compassionate hearts---their smiles light up a room filled with sadness, loneliness and desperation. Yet, there are universal fears and anxieties about knowing exactly what to say to someone who is troubled.
I stress instead the respectful manner in which we can listen to, and support, the client. I let my students know that words are easily forgotten but the kindness behind the words is much more powerful.
In the fall of 2014 I was assigned to teach at a local hospital on the same grounds as the facility where I’d been held hostage, but I felt I was mentally prepared to accept this assignment, despite the close proximity to this tragic event of my past.
Even still, I felt it was likely that I would encounter some clients that I had worked with as a younger nurse. I also believed the likelihood of them remembering me was slim to nil, having developed a few wrinkles and gray hairs along life’s journey.
The first day on the unit, an elderly psychotic woman stared me down, as if she were peering into my soul. I felt nervous and calm at the same time.
She walked directly up to my face and began sobbing…telling me there were knives sticking out of her back. Some of the students and staff were standing around in the hall, getting ready for a Bingo program.
I intuitively felt safe and responded: “You must feel so scared.”
We don’t wear name badges, just a temporary lanyard that identifies our school and position.
She immediately blurted out my name: “Maria?” She then gave me a bear hug, sobbing: “I’m so sorry you got shot.”
I then realized this elderly woman was *Estelle. I was her nurse for many years and we had never forgotten each other.
“Estelle, I’m just fine now and I want you to be good too. Now, let’s go play some Bingo.”
One of my students immediately bonded with Estelle. I couldn’t hear what the two of them were saying during Bingo. The smiles, laughter and positive energy told me everything about the compassion that was being shared.
As we said goodbye for the day, Estelle blurted out: “Tell Skinny I said Hi!”
Skinny was her nickname for my husband. In twenty-seven years of marriage, my husband maintained a thin physique and has always been most kind to the clients.
Estelle was a great teacher for my students this day.
Recently, Estelle asked me to tell her daughter she loved her. I know she was remembering the kindness of my former student. And my heart smiled that the cycle continues in this glorious profession of nursing.
“Kindly words do not enter so deeply into men as a reputation for kindness.” ~ Mencius
*Name has been changed to respect confidentiality.
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