Submitted by Euretta Sorenson

Tags: death healthcare workers trauma


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In February of this year there was a mass shooting at a clinic in my hometown. Five healthcare workers were shot, one of them died. As a Registered Nurse and fellow healthcare worker this has upset me to a great extent, and I am sure the majority of us feel the same way. Since then, I have been thinking a lot about all the things that we as healthcare workers are exposed to throughout our careers. Bullets should never be one of those things!

One of the main things we are exposed to is bodily fluids. Do you have any idea how many diseases come from bodily fluids? From the droplets in the air when a patient coughs to the blood from trauma or surgery to the bodily wastes such as urine and stool. To just name a few; Tuberculosis, chickenpox, flu, measles, Hepatitis A, Hepatitis B Hepatitis C, meningitis, Staphylococcus infection, HIV(Human Immunodeficiency Virus), CMV(Cytomegalovirus), and rotavirus. That is just a few in an exceptionally long list of diseases, many with hard names to spell and pronounce.

We have become incredibly good over the years at protecting ourselves from exposure to bodily fluids starting with the simple gloves to dressing up in what appears to be close to a space suit. (I will put my plug in here for handwashing. It truly is one of the best things you can do to help keep infections at bay. While I was doing patient care, I could not wash my hands enough!) I have cared for patients when just a pair of gloves was needed and I have cared for patients when I needed to put on a gown, gloves, mask, hair covering, and shoe coverings to enter the room. This is a scary time for the patient knowing they have an illness that could be so contagious and an uncomfortable time for the healthcare worker who has that little concern in the back of their mind, am I protected. It also is hard to give that human touch and compassion when dressed as a spaceman.

Over this past year with the pandemic, it has frustrated me to hear people complain about wearing a mask for a SHORT time while going into a store or participating in other activities around other people.  I would challenge them to try and wear a mask for 8 - 10 hours a day as many healthcare workers do every day to care for their patients, some of whom are these anti-mask people's loved ones. They certainly expect to be protected by healthcare workers but do not care about protecting others themselves.

Besides the obvious bodily fluid's exposures, healthcare workers are exposed to a wide array of emotions that come from people when finding themselves needing healthcare either from an illness to surgery, to trauma, or another situation. We deal with happiness, joy, surprise, sadness, grief, disgust, contempt, anger, self-destructive behaviors, violent behaviors, and the list could go on. I am not alone when I say I have been kicked, hit, spit on, yelled at and had items thrown at me.

I remember an incident when I was putting an intravenous line into a small child. The child's father was standing next to the bed. Rather than helping me and comforting his child he kept repeating over and over, "˜should I hit the mean nurse' and "˜should I beat up the mean nurse for you.' All I could think about was what kind of environment this child was in at home. Another uncomfortable time was at a hospital where a gang member had been shot and was in the emergency room. Sitting in the waiting room across from each other were members of both gangs. The security guards had locked down the emergency room which was the right thing to do but they were inside the locked down emergency room rather than monitoring the situation in the waiting room. I had many words with the head of security after that incident and for those who know me, you know they were not pretty.

Death is never easy news to give a family. Years ago, I had a patient in an intensive care unit that died shortly after coming out of cardiac surgery. The patient's family were in a waiting room nearby.  The surgeon and I went into the waiting room to inform the family of the death and after the surgeon told the family the patient had died, they all started screaming and I do mean screaming. The surgeon left the room and there I was with 3 screaming women. There was nothing I could say. I just backed up against the wall and let them scream. It seemed like it went on for an hour when in reality, it was about 10 minutes. In school you go through a number of classes on the subject of emotions and dealing with illness and death, but I don't think anything really prepares you for the reality until you are put into the various situations.

Besides dealing with the emotions of others you still need to work through your own emotions. Luckily for me I have been fairly good at working though separating the emotions of the workplace from my home life.  There have been times however that I have not been able to do that easily and have felt the emotional stress for some time.

I worked in healthcare settings for many years in many different settings. I have been exposed to many different scenarios but in all those years I have never been afraid that a gunman would enter my workspace and shoot at me. My heartfelt thoughts, prayers and sympathy go out to the victims and staff at the clinic of this recent shooting and to other healthcare workers across this country that have experienced this violence. Again, bullets should not be on the list of possible exposures!

Euretta Sorenson
June 2021