The day my life was threatened

Nurses are subjected to assault and battery every day by patients.

Hospitals cover it up.

Nurses are told they cannot press charges after being threatened, punched, kicked and sometimes straight beaten.

Today, a nurse was MURDERED in the ICU he worked at.  Shot dead along with two other people.

Every day I go to work, I expose myself to the most violent people imaginable.  I run the risk of contracting countless numbers of diseases that will kill me.  I am insulted, cussed at, screamed at, and all the while am expected to maintain my professionalism.  The following incident took away some of my mid-west innocence, even after working the street in some of the worst places in Los Angeles.


She called me down the hallway, wanting to talk to me in private.  Her nephew had been shot in a drive-by two nights before.  He was 17, and the single bullet which severed his spinal cord halfway down his back changed his life in an instant.  The irony of the situation?  The bullet was meant for the brother he borrowed the car he was driving from.

The entire family was strangely happy.  His girlfriends were doting on him.  “Ace” and his family were ignoring the truth.  He would never walk again.

I too doted on him.  He seemed to be a good kid, and I wanted to make sure he was comfortable, but it was very apparent that no one was facing the truth.

“You will be able to walk again man!  You just need to be right with god.”

I inwardly cringed, becoming more and more concerned.  If discharge began on admission, I was already behind.  He had no other injuries and was headed straight to rehab from the ICU.

During a break in visiting hours, after kicking everyone out of the room, I pulled a chair up to the head of his bed.

“Ace, I think we should talk.”

“Yeah? What’s up?”

This was NOT the conversation I wanted to be having with a 17 year old.

“You doing okay with all of this?”

He quickly looked from my face to the ceiling.

“Yeah, I am.”

I could tell I was losing him.

“Do you understand how badly you are hurt?”

He looked me in the eye, and oh so quitely said, “Yeah, but I am not ready to talk about it yet.”

My hand went to his shoulder and gave it a squeeze.

“Ok, but when you are, you let us know, ok?  I want to make sure we are doing everything we can for you.”

I asked him if he needed anything right then and left the room, respecting his wishes, knowing that he did understand, neither of us having to say the words.  Somehow I felt that this kid was going to be okay.

Imagine my surprise when his furious, short, very fat aunt, who had been all smiles to me just a few hours before, threated to kill me.

Just like that.  In the hallway of the hospital.

“If you EVER tell my nephew he isn’t gonna walk again we will kill you!”

I had no idea that was what was what waiting for me when I followed her down the hall ‘someplace more private.’

It suddenly dawned on me.

I was a white nurse, caring for a black 17 year old kid, in the worst part of Philadelphia.  He was shot in a drive-by, his brother was a known gang member.  The family was looking for someone to blame.  An avenue for their anger.

I was it.

I don’t remember any more of the conversation, just that woman’s anger, and for the first time in my life, being afraid.

The conversation was short, and as I turned the corner, back to the the nurse’s station, all eyes were on me.  They had heard the raised voices, but not the words.  The manager and security were immediately called.  I had an escort out to my car in the parking lot that night.  The security guys meant well, but what were they going to do other than get shot too?  They didn’t have a gun.  They would have simply been two more victims.


For the record?  I am a gun advocate.  I have my concealed carry permit.  Unfortunately, hospitals are one of those ‘sacred’ areas in which guns are not allowed.  I know someone will correct me if that is an incorrect statement, but every hospital I have worked at has ‘immediate termination’ in their hospital rules if you are caught carrying.  Sounds like colleges and universities does it not?

Please don’t think I would be packing heat for a shift.  But hire someone who can.  Back up nurses when they are threatened, assaulted and injured by patients.  Don’t make them the victim twice.

Why is it ok for nurses to take this kind of violence?

My thoughts are on the families of the victims in Georgia.

You may also like


  1. Emily, so very true. Get tired of the very same thing. Next time you are down this way will take you to a great Bar-B-Que place here in town. And show you round our Trauma Center. Plus have some friends that work the Wing here that would be glad to show you around there. Jim

  2. This is so very upsetting. I think almost everyone who works in an urban ICU has experienced this type of fear at one point, usually with family members who are not able to accept the inevitable death of a loved one.

  3. Emily, I understand how you feal. I have been in simaliar situations while working inner city EMS in Detroit. I have heard things like “do something or it will be you laying there”. Or “he better get better or else”. Thank god nobody ever acted on it. In my situations, we just put on the dog and pony show even if the pt is dos. It has worked so far. By the way It great talking to you last night. Miss you. Shepp

  4. Wow, I figured this would drive some comments, but you guys are awesome! I was actually in a very good mood when I sat down and decided to write this. The article immediately triggered the memory I wrote about. In general, I think we as nurses need to demand more protection. We do not need to be the victims of our profession.

    Thanks for all of your comments. Have to tell you, as grateful as I am to be working back home, I know deep down that being back in a small town atmosphere doesn’t protect me, or any other person from this kind of violence.

    Here is to keeping each of us safe.

  5. Wow, that would be so upsetting. It’s good that you recognized why the woman was saying something like that, despite how frustrating those circumstances would be. It’s a good thing to keep in mind. I’ll try to remember to take a moment to breathe and try to recognize how the emotional situation of the threatener/insulter/whoever is affecting their thought process when I inevitably face a situation like this. I definitely agree with you, though, about the need for increased protection. I think it needs to be a collaborative effort, too. Everyone from the paramedics to the radiology techs needs to be aware and on guard.

  6. In the last year I’ve been kicked so hard that I literally flew out of the back of the ambulance. I’ve been bitten hard enough to break skin and leave a nice scar. And my personal favorite, when a dialysis patient swung at me because we were too rough when we moved him.
    None of these patients were drunk, or had head injuries, or low blood sugar or anything that could explain away what they did. If i listed all of those patients my list would get significantly longer.

    The best part… I do this for eight bucks an hour.

    And management at all three different companies all said the same thing… No charges will be filed.

    I feel for you, hon. I would have been scared out of my mind. I’m glad you’re okay.

    Now, to get my CCL.

  7. We have “Zero Tolerance” signs at Triage, and throughout the department. We have police on-call 3 min away. We live in small-city Ontario, where shootings simply aren’t as big an issue as in some neighbouring cities.

    And yet -the problems are the same. We’ve been bitten, slapped, punched, shoved and tackled. Management says “we support you” but encourage you to attempt “conflict resolution” with the offender. And the police? “They were (drunk, high on coke, sick, in pain) when it happened so the charges won’t stick”.

    Would you walk to the bank and punch the teller because you didn’t like your bank balance?

    Then why is it okay to abuse hospital staff?

  8. Em, This post gave me chills. I don’t know of a single colleague that has not found him/herself in some sort of similar position. It’s down right pathetic that we accept this as people and as a profession. Back at the VA, things ran a little differently, maybe it’s the fact that EVERY SINGLE STINKING ONE of the patients has been trained to kill, and PTSD diagnoses are as prevalent as IVs, but they ran a pretty tight ship there. The security guards are bona-fide-M9-packin federal cops, and half the hospital staff are trained in “PMDB”, that is “prevention and management of disruptive behavior” “violent patient take down maneuvers”. Funny though, that the same governing body that says “no guns allowed” arms it’s employees…dontcha think?

  9. According to a survey done by the Emergency Nurses Association a couple of years ago, over 80% of their members reported being assaulted at least once in the prior three years.

    According to the feds, healthcare work is in the top ten most dangerous when it comes to on the job violence.

    It ought to be a felony to assault a nurse in the same way it is a felony to assault a fireman or a cop. It is in some states, but not others.

  10. Thats crze!! That she thought it was ok to verbally accost you for telling her nephew the truth, and facing reality. Yes, SCI appear worst at the beginning and improve with time when the shock subsides, but something that traumatic is usually permanent. False hopes are very damaging, its far better to do better than expected than be in denial and face the truth months later. You were absolutly right to what you did, and I would never have predicted that response from her. I too am a gun advocate, and am stunned that the guards don’t have guns, there should be at least a few that are specially trained and armed. Granted, I don’t want to see a guard with a gun on the L&D floor, but but certainly near the entrance and ER.

  11. wow wow wow you guys are amazing. Thank you for all of your responses. I’m not quite sure what else to say here about it, but am going to go put up another quick post along this line.

  12. I can’t imagine being threatened like that. Another nurse that I used to work with always seemed to attract the violent patients and was kicked across the room once. I honestly don’t know if I could remain objective if someone truly meant to hurt me. I think my reaction would be to defend myself but can’t actually imagine it.. How sad that people can’t figure out that we are just trying to help them.