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This Poem About Nurse Abuse Will Make You Cry

By Shelby Zomcik, BSN, RN @shelbyz3

Trigger warning: this article discusses multiple forms of trauma including workplace violence, sexual assault, and mental health. 

Violence against nurses has been in the spotlight recently with the tragic murder of a home health nurse, but it has always been an issue and needs to be addressed.  The two stories I tell in this poem are my lived experiences, and I posted the news articles about the occurrences in the description of the YouTube video.  

I didn’t think I had so many emotions around this, but as evidenced by my ugly crying at the end, I can only compartmentalize so much.

I know one poem can’t change our healthcare system, and I truly do love being a nurse, but I get anxious walking in the doors every day of my job, wondering if this is the day I get killed.  And it should not be this way.

Thank you so much for your support.

Youtube video

I’ll never forget the first poem I wrote you, 8 years ago… it was called Stopped Hearts, and it was love at first sight.  You know the feeling… walking in the door, getting butterflies in your stomach, thinking, “this… this is where I want to be”.  I was young, naïve, and ready to save the world.  And at first, I felt so loved!  The handwritten thank you notes, the shiny pins, the pizza parties… All my hard work was finally paying off.  

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But then the cracks in the walls started to appear…

The thank you notes abruptly stopped.  My shiny pins began to rust.  The pizza went cold.
You told me I should smile more.

And then one night it turned physical.  I watched as my coworker was held hostage with a scalpel to her neck, and sure, you weren’t the one holding the scalpel, but you had left me unarmed and unprepared, always telling me to just “use a calming voice to de-escalate the situation”, but how can I be calm when there is blood dripping down my friend’s neck? 

And sure, I managed to save my friend, with a beating heart, and shaking hands, and the one can of pepper spray we had.  The rest of that night we took turns using the emergency eye wash station to clean the scattered maize out of our eyes,
and the bathroom, to cry.

And when you finally strolled in the next morning, I wanted to scream, “Where were you?”, but I held my tongue.  And in your best practiced and professional tone, you assured me- wait no- you gaslit me– you told me I was safe, that everything was under control, that it would never happen again, and
I believed you.

After that night you love-bombed me with thank-you notes and warm pizza, you told me how much you appreciated me, and I… fell for it.

But when not even two months later, another one of my coworkers had her pants ripped off in an attempted rape and got her jaw broken by someone who I knew was violent, I lost my calming voice.  And when I asked you, “What are you going to do to keep me safe?” you said, “What could you have done to prevent this?”…

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After that, the butterflies in my stomach that used to flutter entering the door turned into panic attacks, and instead of thinking, “I can’t wait to save the world”, I thought, “I can’t even save myself”…

They say the grass isn’t always greener on the other side, but damn, the grass here is dead and on fire, so I ran.  I moved across the country, in search of a better life, in search of safety, hoping that maybe things would be different.

And sure, the scrubs I wore were a different color, and you had a different face, a different suit, and tie, but that mahogany desk you sat behind looked eerily familiar.

But maybe that’s just my trust issues, and you said things would be different, and everyone deserves a second chance… right?

And things were OK for a little while, we got along…  and sure, some nights I still got punched, threatened, kicked, groped, beaten, and bruised, but that’s just part of the job you would say… and I guess I did sign up for this.

And then The Pandemic came.  And I felt trapped.

But you, and my friends, and my family, you cheered me on, you applauded me, strangers banged pots and pans outside their windows for me, you called me a heroYou started writing me those handwritten thank you notes again, and I finally felt like I was truly saving the world.

But those rose-colored glasses were quickly torn off my face with chants of “COVID isn’t real!” and “Let us live our life!” while I… I was living a nightmare.  While they were looking for toilet paper, you had me looking for body bags.  While I was trying to keep our patients alive, you stayed locked in your Ivory tower, refusing to come down…

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All I wanted was to feel safe, and all you had to offer me was one n95 that you told me not to lose because that was the only one I was getting.

But this was an unprecedented time, so I swallowed my fear, put on my mask, and did as you said- hoping that this experience might change you.  But it seems that the only thing COVID has changed is that you…you, the healthcare administrators, the chief nursing officers, the floor managers, the hospital CEOs, YOU, got millions of dollars, and I… I got PTSD.

The Pandemic is over now.  And I still work for you.

Maybe I’m still hoping that I can fix you, hoping that one day you’ll care less about your bottom line, and more about the 1 in 4 workers who are physically assaulted under your roof.  Maybe I’m just naïve in thinking you might one day take my safety seriously, in hoping that I can still open your eyes, so finally, you might see me, while I work in your IC…U.

I have been a nurse for 8 years nowI still want to save the worldBut I don’t think I can.

 



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