[Graphic Content/Trigger Warning]
I was working a 12-hour night shift, independently staffing the 3-bed Special Care Unit in a Critical Access Hospital. The patient had been admitted a few days earlier with chest pain and subsequently treated for alcohol withdrawal. This was my third shift caring for him. On the previous shifts, he made me uncomfortable but I dismissed it as part of his symptoms, as nurses do. He said things like “my beautiful nurse” and “you just want to touch my chest.” Each time I told him it was inappropriate and he needed to treat me professionally and he apologized. This night he was no longer in active withdrawal and had not received benzodiazepines in over 24 hours. We had an uneventful evening without inappropriate comments and he went to bed.
Night Shift - Easter 2018
His tele signal kept getting lost. I had to go in and check his leads - again. He was asleep, so I tried to complete the task without waking him. It almost worked, but then his eyes popped open and a smile crossed his face. “I just need to check your leads,” I said. “You just want to keep touching me,” he replied. “No I do not want to touch you, I just need to fix your lead.” Alarms are going off in my mind: his red lead is off so I have to reach his under his hospital gown to fix it.
I try to do it fast. I reach in while trying to keep my body as far from his as possible. His left hand goes up. “I just want to squeeze your tits. I know you want me to.” His hand is brushing against my left breast. I’m wiggling to avoid his hand as I struggle to fix the lead. He’s saying stuff, but I don’t know what.
I think of escaping the room and realize I’m on the far side of the bed. He’s between me and the door. I have to get out of there, now. I decided to give up on the lead.
I stand up and back away, “Don’t touch me! That is not okay!” He sits up in the bed and reaches for me. I quickly walk around the bed, out of the room, and around my desk at the nurses station. I have a view directly into the room and see his legs swing over the side of the bed. I sit down and avoid making eye contact while deciding what to do with what just happened. The monitor is alarming.
He sits up at the side of his bed, pulls his pants down, looks up at me and begins masturbating.
I can’t believe this is happening. I get up and leave my station. I go around the corner to find someone to help me. It’s the middle of the night so there aren’t many people around. A CNA sees me from down the hall and comes over. I give her a very quick version of what happened. “Stay out here, I’ll go get the CC.”
Soon there were a handful of people with me in the nurses station. Looking in his room he appears to be sleeping having laid back down and covered up. The CC (house supervisor) and a unit manager are there. We do some rehashing, call my husband, and decide to call the police.
An officer comes up, interviews me, then goes in to interview him. He tells the officer he didn’t know what he was doing because of the drugs we gave him. The officer said he would be back in the morning and gave me his card.
The CC sent me home. I went home, crawled into bed with my husband, and cried myself to sleep.
In the end, he suffered no consequences for his actions. He was not prosecuted for assault because, “it didn’t happen in a public place,” according to the DA’s office.
The effects on me were, and are, many. In the following months, I had a slow emotional breakdown. I failed ACLS so was not able staff in my unit. I ended up leaving that position and facility. I started looking for options away from the bedside and considered quitting nursing.
It’s been almost 2 years. Time and space have helped, as they usually do. Today I am frustrated that we have no protection. I am angry about the lack of consequences for those who harm us. I am motivated to make change. I am still a nurse. I didn't let him take that from me.