I was leaning over my patient, listening to his lung sounds, when his hand tightened around my wrist. “Why don’t you get in the bed with me?” he said.
That’s the arresting opening of “The Squeeze,” the Reflections essay by nurse Danielle Allen in the September issue of AJN. Such scary experiences happen, as many nurses can attest. What behaviors cross the line? Who decides? After all, nurses put up with lots of challenging behavior. What’s unacceptable, and what constitutes a real safety issue?
Complicating these questions may be the responsibility a nurse feels to not let down their equally burdened nursing colleagues. No one, as Allen writes, wants “to be that nurse. You know, the complainer, overly sensitive, not-a-team-player nurse.”
Allen vividly evokes her encounter with the patient, the varied responses of nursing colleagues later, the emotional aftereffects of the event, and the larger question she finds herself asking about what can be done to keep nurses and other health care workers safe.
Acknowledging that “no protocol can ever be foolproof,” Allen writes:
This incident wasn’t the first time I’d experienced or witnessed violence in nursing, and almost every nurse I’ve talked to has their own story. So the question is, why is violence a commonality in nursing? And how do we collectively change that?
Such questions may need to be asked, lest certain experiences of violence and threat that are far from ordinary come to be accepted as “just part of the job.”