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Assaultive patient 'just tired of waiting'
ED nurse suffered a dislocated jaw
For emergency room nurse Rita Anderson, RN, CEN, the assault was as sudden and unpredictable as a stroke of lightning.
She was at a major trauma center, making rounds with a physician at 11 p.m., when a 16-year-old girl lying on a stretcher said she needed to go to the restroom. Anderson immediately stopped her rounds to check with the girl's nurse. When she learned the girl couldn't get up to use the restroom, she began looking for a curtained area where she could have privacy to use a bedpan.
Anderson, a petite nurse who weighed about 115 pounds, was about to push the stretcher of the girl, who weighed almost 300 pounds. She leaned over to explain that they were moving to a curtained area when the girl suddenly sat up and socked her in the jaw.
The punch sent Anderson flying backward toward the nurses' station. It dislocated her jaw and caused her to miss about a month of work.
As chair of government affairs for ENA, Anderson had lobbied for a New York law that made it a felony to assault an emergency room nurse. But when she called the police, they hadn't even heard of the law. They eventually arrested the patient, but prosecutors allowed the case to expire beyond the statute of limitations.
Meanwhile, on the day of her assault, before she realized the extent of the damage to her jaw, Anderson continued to work. The girl eventually told Anderson why she had hit her: "She said she was just tired of waiting," Anderson recalls.
Today, Anderson still works in an emergency department in a community hospital in suburban Phoenix. She hasn't had another serious incident, but other types of violence are endemic.
"Nursing as a group has almost accepted it as a part of practice, that you're going to get hurt or bitten or kicked," she says. "To me, it's not an acceptable way to treat me. The amount of physical violence is bad, but the amount of verbal abuse that emergency nurses take is phenomenal. Not a day goes by that I don't get screamed at by someone, for things that aren't my fault."
Anderson continues to push for hospitals to provide the security and violence prevention programs that will keep emergency department staff safe. "I want nurses to understand that it's not acceptable to just let something like that happen," she says.