A Patient Hit Me: Why I Say Anti-Assault Prayers


By Debbie Moore-Black, RN

I thought it would be easier than ICU nursing. After 33 years as an ICU nurse, I had to leave. I just couldn’t take the pounding on the chests of little old men and women. Hearing and feeling their ribs crack while CPR was performed. I couldn’t handle these poor patients who should have had a peaceful death when the inevitable was near.

Family members with expectations of miracles. Denial. Rationalization.

And I had to take a break from my favorite dedication to ICU nursing.

Morally, I could not assist in keeping an end-stage multi-organ failure patient alive artificially anymore.

So I chose behavioral health as my last “swan dance” — thinking it would be an easier passageway to retirement.

But ICU nursing and behavioral health nursing are apples and oranges. Both have incredible complexities.

He came to us from jail. He knew the tricks to get out of jail … temporarily.

He smeared his feces on the walls in his jail cell. He started to talk about the FBI being a chip in his brain and suicidal ideations. And they knew they would have to admit him to our hospital’s intensive management behavioral health.

He had a long record: domestic abuse and violence. Rape. Assaults with a deadly weapon.

Upon entrance to our unit, compared to his jail cell, we were nicknamed “The Hilton hotel.” Your own bedroom, with a bathroom and shower. Three meals a day with interval snacks and refreshments. Medications to calm you down, help you sleep and help stop the voices in your head. To help you to relax. Loads of group therapy and gym time. Anything would be better than being in jail.

Before entering this behavioral health unit, I always said my “anti-assault prayers.” Sometimes they worked well for me, for us. But these patients were so random. Anything could be a trigger.

On this particular night, Sam started to act out. He was already very intimidating. He’d stare at the nurses — a fixed glare. He’d have verbal fights with fellow patients. And then came the chair-throwing and tossing over tables in our community room.

We immediately called our public safety officers (PSOs) to assist the staff and to protect us and protect the other patients.

I readied my syringe, Haldol, Ativan, and Benadryl — the trifecta.

We could not verbally redirect Sam to go quietly into his room.

So the PSOs held onto him and guided him to his room.

He physically fought his way into his room, attempting to fight off the PSOs while shouting out obscenities.

And then a calm came over his face.

I had to give him an injection.

He stood perfectly still. He rolled his sleeve up and said, “OK, I’m ready.”

A PSO stood on each side of him.

Sam stood perfectly still and stoic.

For a brief moment, we chose to trust that Sam was willing to take this injection in his arm.

With my alcohol swab ready, I wiped his arm and then began to aim the needle.

The perfectly still and calm Sam got his fist and aimed at my jaw out of nowhere.

I saw his fist coming toward me, and I remember saying, “Oh no.”

The strength in his fist made my entire body crash to the floor. My eyeglasses flew out in the hallway.

A PSO on each side of him — and we didn’t see him coming at me until it was too late.

Our biggest mistake was that we trusted him.

He then began to physically fight the PSOs. And he was steadied, another nurse gave him the injection, and the patient went off to the seclusion room.

I was immediately wheeled down to the emergency department. I was uncontrollably crying and shaking. I couldn’t talk. The physician thought the patient had fractured my jaw. I had contusions on the right side of my face. And I couldn’t move my mouth.

They wheeled me in for a stat CAT scan of my head.

Beyond the contusions, the CT scan was negative. I was lucky.

I took two days off of PTO.

And I was back.

But things were different. I was fearful of any of these patients. I realized he could have done so much more damage physically.

But mentally, I was now damaged.

I was deadbolting my doors at night at my house.

Waking up at 0300 seeing that fist come at me repeatedly. Dreams of unidentifiable men breaking into my home.

Obviously, I was experiencing PTSD.

And I have sought some long-term therapy.

I pressed charges against this man, but that also became a fear. He could find me. He could look up my address.

My one comfort is knowing that my male rat terrier dog protects me.

And though he is small, he would go at someone’s jugular for my protection.

It’s not an easy job.

This is just another real reason why I will retire from being a nurse within one more month.

If the lay people only knew the physical and mental abuse we take 24/7.


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