For Jennifer Midgette, BSN, RN, an emergency department nurse supervisor at a hospital outside of Dallas, getting attacked by a patient at work impacted her life in so many ways. Determined to advocate for others, she is courageously sharing her story. She hopes her fellow nurses and other co-workers will realize they're not alone and will readily seek assistance when it's needed.
Why did you become a nurse?
My mother was a certified nursing assistant who always wanted to be a nurse and help people, and her dream was for me to become a nurse. Initially, this was not my dream, but when my youngest child spent a week in the NICU as a newborn, I made a pact with God. If He spared my child, I would become a nurse. Happy to honor my promise, I returned to school and eventually graduated cum laude with a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN). Ironically, it was the same year my youngest graduated from kindergarten. I was never a good student in high school, but being older and the mother of three kids, I had a much different perspective on life. At nursing school, it all clicked. I had found my calling.
How did you choose emergency nursing?
I entered emergency nursing with a passion to care for others. Inspired by accompanying my mother to a nursing home during my childhood, I hold patient advocacy in the utmost regard, considering it a paramount priority in providing care. In addition to my work as an emergency department nurse, I am a Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner (SANE) for a nonprofit that supports a three-county region. To me, this job is not just about tasks; it's about caring for people in need. There are times in people's lives when things get messy, and I want to help them overcome their circumstances.
What was your experience with workplace violence?
I was a charge nurse at the end of a shift in 2018 when the triage nurse brought back a patient I had cared for a few days prior. This adult patient had come in with their mother previously but was with their sister this time. They seemed uneasy, so I stayed a short while to assist the assigned nurse and make the patient comfortable. I greeted the patient and made eye contact, and they seemed to remember me. I remained seated and conversed with the patient so they would feel more at ease. The sister left the room. My co-worker administered an injection, pulled the curtain shut and left the room. I advised the patient that we would monitor them for 15-20 minutes. The last thing I remember was asking if they would like apple or orange juice, and then everything went black.
I can't tell you how long it was before I became aware of the pain I felt from being hit repeatedly in the head. I was on the floor with the patient above me, and I could feel blow after blow to my head. I could hear myself screaming for help. At one point, I could see under the room's privacy curtain out into the hallway and hoped to see shoes coming to help me, but there were none. I remember the despair I felt, and it went black again. Suddenly, there was a terrible ripping and burning sensation to the back of my head, followed by a loud crash. That was from the handful of my hair that the patient tore from my scalp as they were thrown off me by two paramedics who happened to be down the hall and ran to help when they heard the commotion. I was left with bruises around my neck, ribs and face, a terrible headache, neck pain that lasted several weeks and a 3-inch bald spot on the back of my head where my hair had been ripped out.
When my family arrived a short time later, the first thing my 17-year-old son asked was, "Do you get combat pay?" That comment stuck with me because I remember being told, "That's just part of the environment." This is not part of an emergency nurse's job description, but we encounter it more than people want to admit or discuss. We don't get combat pay, but I feel like I should sometimes.
How did the attack affect you?
The incident didn't affect just me; it also impacted my family. They did not know what to do for me, or how to help, although I am so grateful for my husband who kept me going even when I felt I couldn't move forward. Part of me felt so guilty. I have a good family, friends who love me, a career, but emotionally, I felt nothing.
My bumps and bruises healed in the following weeks, and my hair eventually grew back, but the attack has stuck with me. My hospital provided referrals to workplace injury medical providers and counseling, but mentally I wasn't progressing - I was stuck. It wasn't until I connected with a peer support team that I was able to overcome the dark place I was in. Not only did they validate the feelings I was having, but they also reminded me about trauma-informed care. I knew how to address my patient's trauma, but had never considered how to apply the same concept to myself. They helped me learn to use my nursing toolbox for my own well-being.
What steps did you take to heal and change the course of your feelings?
After I got the help I needed and began feeling stronger, I committed to turning my experience into a catalyst for positive change. I've become a vocal advocate for healthcare workers' safety, emphasizing the importance of education on reporting our rights without fear of retaliation. Sharing resources and promoting trauma-informed care, I want to influence workplace safety processes and raise awareness, using my experience to help others heal. The Texas Chapter of the International Association of Forensic Nurses gave me a platform to safely share my journey to help other nurses and survivors of assault.
I am still driven to serve, and I know that events like what happened to me happen in emergency departments and hospitals all over. I want to be an advocate for nurses and promote change here where I know it is needed. Now a nurse supervisor, I open conversations about self-protection and safety measures with my staff. I even participated in a video interview about my assault to be used in my healthcare system.
What advice do you have for other nurses if they are attacked?
Trauma-informed care is pivotal immediately and post-assault. I know healing is a process and takes time and that our fellow nurses need to be supported, not just for reporting, but the entire healing process. I recommend seeking peer support. Get connected with someone who has been through a similar situation. Physical wounds heal, but the mental and emotional wounds can linger if not cared for appropriately. Being a member of a peer support team helped me find my way back.
What can nurses do to protect themselves?
As a nurse advocate, I want to help nurses empower one another and enhance workplace safety:
- Report it: Nurses should be empowered to file police reports when assaulted or allowed to step away from verbal abuse. Taking action is crucial to prevent these behaviors from continuing.
- Lead by example: Ask your workplace to post signs about unacceptable behaviors. Patient and family anxiety can be high in the hospital. Sometimes a reminder is helpful. As healthcare professionals, we also have to model the behavior we expect from them. Our healthcare systems also have to back anti-violence workplace initiatives.
- Have an alert system: If there's not one already in place, work with your employer to develop a process to alert the team about potential threats from patients or visitors. Conduct drills and create an action plan for when a violent encounter happens.
- Enhance de-escalation training: De-escalation techniques are valuable and can often help keep a situation from getting out of control. But sometimes situations escalate suddenly without warning. Stay alert and be prepared.
- Share resources: Find and share resources for debriefing after incidents of incivility or assaults. Supporting your team's well-being is essential for a healthy work environment.
Do you have anything else you want to convey?
My prayer throughout this process has been, 'God, please don't let this go in vain,' and I think that prayer is being answered. My peers know I am here, and I offer a safe and confidential space. I tell my peers and patients, 'I've walked a similar journey, and I hear you.' Every day, I try to share with others that they matter and add value to this world.
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