It’s a Big Bad World Out There.

I have to admit that it’s scary out there sometimes. I wonder how I’ve been able to carve out my niche of tranquility. Cycles being what they are, I’ve sometimes felt more threatened than others and have actually been more threatened at one time than  another.

As a community mental health nurse, I’ve had to get permission from drug dealers to enter housing projects to care for my clients. Giving the apartment number was the only way to get in without a gun to my head. HIPPA violation? No. I didn’t provide a diagnosis or discuss a treatment plan. Besides, if we are going to be real about all this, that gang member knew more about my client’s activities of daily living than me.

I’ve taken different measures to deal with the various types of violence I’ve encountered. I’ve taken histories, rereading them only once. Vicarious traumatization is killing to the  soul. I’ve thrown myself to the ground during crisis calls allowing the cops with guns and clients with knives to duke it out on their own. I’ve sat on my couch watching late night TV news show exactly where the bullets that flew one centimeter lodged into a wall right above my head earlier that day.

Once I think that I’ve experienced it all another thing happens. This  week I was threatened physically and aggressively by a client. I am made of a sampling of human body parts smushed together with a dash of cognition. Sometimes the two are quite divergent. My intuition told me to scram. My thick head told I me that I wasn’t going to be harmed.  I left the area when I was directed to do so. Good thing!

But a funny thing happened on the way to this forum. Instead of being afraid at the moment of truth- I felt angry back. I had this overwhelming notion that I could punch the door just as well and that my kicks could be just as slammin’. My humanness, desire for survival and outright rage at being a target for someone else’s misplaced blame and unwarranted expectations ‘got to me.’

What was my remedy? First I allowed others to help me. A couple of co-workers stood between me and my would be assailant. Someone else wrote out incident reports. Another walked me to the train after work. Yet another spoke in almost ‘baby talk’ to me making me feel like I was wrapped in a fluffy pink blanket. Most importantly, a team decided the person wouldn’t be allowed on the premises- ever again.

After I wrote my objective professional recommendations, I took another couple of deep breaths. Since I didn’t have any sage to smudge myself, I took a white tissue and cleansed my energy field with it. I figured at the time that nothing could be more energy absorbent than a tissue. I shared my many levels of feeling with my loved ones. I, lastly, prayed for myself and for the other who so easily struck that nerve within me that I can usually forgets exists, hides and rarely surfaces.  I get through these scrapes believing love, compassion and empathy will prevail. I’m usually right.

My nurse self was sitting behind the desk again today.  Another day. Another evaluation. Another guy in dire need of detox.

I look forward to your comments or your shared experiences of violence in your work place. Tell us what happened and how you dealt with it.


Illness as a Second Language

Illness has a language all its own. Health care has a culture all its own. In the past, I spoke the language fluently and felt right at home in the hospital’s fishbowl atmosphere. I’ve shared a great deal about my transitions to writing and realize just how much I’ve changed. I’m not that gal in whites with rubber soled shoes, sporting a white cap anymore- for a really long time. This is where I insert a *big sigh*.

A dear friend of ours became ill about a week ago. Well, that’s not really true. We found out she was ill last week but she’d been feeling her symptoms for about a month. Finally, hauling her feverish body to the clinic, she saw her doc; he took one look at her and sent her by jet (really by bus) to the hospital. It was a few days later, in a bored febrile state, she called us. I ran across First Avenue and spent some time with her. We laughed, between awful coughing fits, about “hospitals” and “powerlessness over others,” conveniently forgetting about powerlessness over ourselves. We did lick our lips over the cannelloni and carrot cake muffins I brought- that she looked forward to munching on for a late night dessert.

A couple of days later, we returned to find her in the intensive care unit, intubated, intentionally paralyzed with medication so she wouldn’t fight the ventilator and really, just plain old, awfully sick. We met her son. He had spoken to the doctor and hadn’t really understood the medical jargon he was offered. I tried speaking with the nurse, who blushed, shook her head, and said she couldn’t explain anything to me. I was not a relative. She refused to talk to me. Forget the fact that her son was standing two inches away from me. He knows I’m a psychiatric nurse practitioner. Understood I hadn’t done bedside nursing for many years but that I had at one point. We both understood laws of confidentiality. My fellow nurse quickly drained some tubes attached to my friend, washed her hands and scooted far from our little group- whose coats filled the one chair at the bedside.

We were allowed to close the curtain and do a bit of energetic healing work for her. We were grateful for that. When the doctor came, he explained some things in Medicalese. I interpreted as well as I could. The sense of alarm, bewilderment and suspicion had already taken root.  Simple answers to regular people would have done a world of good. Too bad that hadn’t happened.  We rang our hands a bit. We whispered loving words in our friend’s ear, they say the hearing is usually turned on when the person is in a comatose state. We hugged and went our ways.

I went back the next day. This time I was without my friend’s son. She looked worse. I put on my required mask, went in and prayed really, really loudly and did some more energy healing. There was a load of medical and nursing staff there but I knew it would be useless to try to obtain any information.  One nurse asked me who I was; I told her I was a close friend. She zoomed by me to get onto her next task. I wished I could tell her that I am really “that patient’s” adopted spiritual daughter, that I have a PhD in Nursing, that we love our friend and that I promise to call her son and daughters and share everything they want because they don’t understand Medicalese…that… that…  Instead, I picked up my bag and coat, went to the bathroom and ran cool water over my face, hands and the back of my neck. I said another prayer and went home. There is no ending to this story. Yet.