Sometimes I’ve wondered if I’ve got a sign on my forehead that screams “ALL FREAKS, C’mon over” ! I’m sure that everybody has experienced the same sorts of people in different ways…and some days I’m not so sure. Maybe some of it has to do with being a nurse. People see nurses as helpful and nurturing, when we’re just as weird as everybody else- we just get paid to take care of the sick and vulnerable. And then there are the folks who would fit nicely on the side of ‘Criminal Minds’ that either gets shot or lengthy prison sentences. The spooky people. Not all are dangerous to others, but the danger to self thing eeks in there. Regardless, they don’t fit well into a ‘normal’ life.
Let me start with a director of nurses (DON) who had been one in a line of them at a very nice nursing home after the ‘good’ DON had gone on maternity leave. He happened to come along during a time when a new administrator was also getting used to all of us. Initially, he seemed a bit intense, but not pathological. One of my duties when I was working on the weekends as the RN Supervisor was to log in the discontinued medications that did little but take up room in the storage cabinets in locked medication rooms. I counted each pill on/in each card of pills (packaged at the pharmacy for nursing home med carts), bottle of loose pills, or made sure injectable medication vials had a reasonable amount left for what the sign-out sheet said it should have. Narcotics (or ‘scheduled’ drugs) had to be accounted for separately and documented on specific forms. It was mundane, but necessary. At one point, the DON asked me for the keys to the file cabinet in his office where we kept the ‘logged’ drugs. He was the boss, so I handed them over- no problem. Nothing seemed amiss about him wanting the cabinet keys.
A few weeks went by, and the nurses on the floors said that nobody had picked up the growing piles of discontinued cards and bottles of medication for a while; they wanted them out of the way. I asked the DON if he wanted me to log the meds in that coming weekend ( I think this was either a Thursday or Friday). He looked at me and closed the door behind me in his office. Gulp. He then pulled out a .44 semi-automatic handgun out of the desk. That alone was a huge, HUGE problem. Texas was pretty gun-friendly, but in 1994, guns and old folks weren’t a good pairing. He pointed the barrel of the gun (resting on his desk) at me as I sat down, and asked me if I was going to tell anybody about our little talk. Nope. My lips were sealed. Everything was very cool (as I’m imagining my body being found after the weekend, ripe and smelling up the place). He handed me the keys and told me to go ahead and log in the meds that were piling up. NO problem. Happy to do so. Can’t wait to get started. Did he want coffee with that?
But that weekend, I noticed that every last narcotic form I’d filled out had been rewritten in his handwriting, with no way to figure out what had been removed from the lists I’d been keeping. I had a very specific way of tying the bags when I was done, and how I kept the narcotic sheets separate. It was a federal law that this all be done according to the rules. I liked following the rules 🙂 I didn’t like having my work screwed with by a gun-weilding nutjob of a boss.
I didn’t like even knowing about the gun. But I was also initially scared enough that he would shoot me, run off with piles of drugs, and nobody know why I was found belly up until they start looking at the paperwork. By then, he’d be on some uncharted island in the South Pacific, in some hut powered by a bamboo bicycle generator and drinking coconut drinks. The new administrator didn’t know any of us that well, and I wasn’t super tight with the assistant DON, but I had to tell someone. The ADON ‘G’ was outside smoking late that next Monday afternoon after nearly everyone had gone home. I told her about the gun. She knew me well enough to know I wouldn’t come up with some sordid story about someone. We agreed that we’d both go to the new administrator in the morning, before the gunslinger got to work. We did, and told the newbie administrator. By that time, the DON had turned in his resignation, and it was decided he need not complete the two-week notice. He was free as a bird. I have no idea what else was done about reporting him to the board of nurses (not sure if mandatory reporting was in place at that time), but I was told (after he left) that before he left, he’d taken it upon himself to just stop some lady’s order for morphine- pills and injectable- and they were never seen again. That created a HUGE mess with calling the doctor and getting the stuff reordered from the pharmacy for the poor little lady who still needed the stuff. The floor nurses were going nuts counting everything that wasn’t nailed down, and making sure their names were clear (they were). I’ll never forget the business end of that .44 charcoal gray gun ‘looking’ at me. “Two in the chamber, ten in the clip”…. whatever that means, it didn’t sound good.
Another time at this same facility, there was a sweet certified nurses assistant who was noticeably quiet, but she got her work done and wasn’t an attendance issue. Those sorts tended to fly under the radar. She was probably in her early 20s, and a member of the ‘fashion isn’t my thing’ club (I also belonged to that club- no judgement from me). We all worse scrubs while working, so looked pretty much the same (in different colors and prints, depending on the department), but when she came to get her paycheck, she dressed ‘depressed’. That was my first clue. I’d talked to her several times, and we had a decent rapport. I could tell there were things going on, but didn’t have any reason to pry. Her work was acceptable. I was part of the nursing management bunch, but did patient assessments and staff training/infection control- not the hiring/firing/counseling stuff. Anyway, I kept an eye on her.
One afternoon, I got a call from the next door emergency room. They had the CNA there. Her friend wanted to talk to me. Seems this CNA had slit her wrists. I wasn’t sure why I was being called, but the friend asked if I could talk to the staffing nurse (ADON) and let her know that ‘L’ wasn’t going to be there for her next shift; ‘L’ didn’t want to talk to anybody. I asked where she was going when she was done at the ER (as in what psych facility is going to evaluate her?). She was being discharged home. With sharp things. By herself. I didn’t like that at all. I knew ‘L’ lived alone. She never mentioned any family or support system. OK, not good. When they left there, I needed to see ‘L’ with my own eyes, so asked them to come over to work, and I’d talk to her. She agreed via her friend.
In the meantime, I tracked down the social worker (from hell, normally) who was still there; I needed help with this one. And she got nice about it all, which I was thankful for. She got on the phone and started making calls re: acute psychiatric facilities who would do an impromptu assessment as soon as we got ‘L’ over to their facility. I don’t remember who the DON was at that time, but I think she was gone for the day (it wasn’t gun-boy). ‘L’ got over to the nursing home in a little while (wrists wrapped in gauze), and agreed to go with the social worker and me to the psych hospital, just to see ‘what her options were’. I was hoping they’d keep her for a few days, so she’d be safe. She was worried about losing her job if she checked in to a psych facility, but I told her that being checked out, and getting help was going to help her keep her job. Our administrator (before the one with gun-boy) was very compassionate. ‘L’ agreed, and the psych facility did decide to admit her. She was in and out of there over the next few months (once after I sent the police looking for her as she had uncharacteristically not shown up for work, or called), and ended up getting shock treatments. She came back to work eventually, and while a bit subdued, she was doing better. I learned more about her past, and she had reason to feel overwhelmed and hopeless. Everybody has a story…
Another coworker (an LVN at an acute care hospital working on the neuro floor) had some ‘issues’. At work, she was fine. Not employee-of-the-month, but she did OK when she was there. We were both fairly ‘young’ nurses- as far as time out of school, and also just plain young, in our early 20s. ‘A’ had all sorts of respiratory problems- mostly asthma. She had some attendance issues as a result, and the hospital had a ruthless attendance policy. She could be admitted in the hospital on oxygen, and it counted against her attendance record. Anyway, a few months after I’d been raped and beaten in a very publicized case, ‘A’ calls me and says she had been attacked overnight by a former boyfriend, and needed help getting her dog to the vet. Fido had been cut by the boyfriend’s knife per her report. I immediately agreed and went to pick them up. Something seemed ‘off’. Fido was frisky and happy to see me (his usual goofy, non-traumatized behavior). There was a tiny cut on his paw (more worthy of a bandaid than a trip to the vet), and ‘A’ had some odd looking cuts on her neck…the depth wasn’t something I’d expect from someone who had been seriously sliced by a rabid ex-boyfriend, and the way it went from deeper to more shallow from left to right looked kinda self-inflicted to me (she was right handed). But I didn’t want to believe that.
‘A’ told me she’d been whacked in the head, and felt horrible, but after going to the vet, how about we go get some lunch and maybe do some shopping. 😮 Everyone deals with stress differently…but it was another piece of the puzzle that didn’t feel right. But, I agreed. We spent most of the day together, and during that time she told me that the police had asked her for this guy’s photo- but she didn’t feel like getting it for them. WHAT? Not helping to apprehend this guy? I had no ability to understand that ‘reasoning’ at all. I’d been held in my apartment for 6 hours, finally escaped and called 911, and police ended up shooting the guy in my bedroom when I’d been attacked less than 7 months earlier. Why was she doing this?
I decided I needed to get home, and she suddenly begins to have symptoms of a concussion. Puking, head pounding, vision a bit blurry…. so she now needs a ride to the ER for a CT scan and neuro evaluation. The day was getting so very long (and more and more weird). She ended up being cleared for any sort of head injury, and told that basically she was fine. I dropped her off at her apartment, drove like a bat out of hell to get home, and turned my answering machine off when I got there. She could dial 911 in a real emergency when she was going to cooperate with an investigation. I was done. I was no longer working at the same hospital by that time, so rarely saw her… I’ll never think that she was telling me the whole story- OR stop wondering if the police had ever actually been notified of the ‘attack’. What made me even more mad was that the dog had been involved.
I got much more jaded when crises came up with some coworkers. I had my own stuff to deal with, and had also become much better at sorting through when someone needed help that was appropriate for a friend or coworker to handle. I had times when coworkers helped me through some lousy times, and most of that was when they offered; I didn’t seek them out. I was always very thankful for their time. But, I got careful about that as well, as crises junkies also like to be on the ‘helper’ end, not just the ‘helpee’. One in particular had been a huge support system during some eating disorder stuff that was pretty serious, but when I got better, she wanted nothing to do with me. That hurt a lot. There are a lot of people out there who are taking care of people who need keepers themselves. Or who help to fulfill their own self worth needs. There’s nothing wrong with finding satisfaction with helping people (professionally or on a friendship level), as long as the needs of those being helped are the first consideration- not some twisted need for being needed. Sometimes it’s a fine line.
I can think of others… these just stood out tonight. Stay tuned for the continued saga of the wacky side of nursing, and whacked nurses.