I saw the tweet shoot across my phone during a meeting. Someone had walked into Brigham and Women’s Hospital and shot a surgeon. I did not know the story. I did not need to read the details to feel the familiar terror creep into my heart. It is not something that nurses often talk about. In the privacy of break rooms, during whispered conversations and in our own minds we admit that patients sometimes scare us.
Death, birth, illness, surgery, dementia, sleep deprivation, drug induced psychosis, and alcohol withdrawal are examples of the dangerous landscapes that healthcare workers navigate each day. I have been a nurse in many different situations and types of patients. Labor and delivery is one of the most volatile units in a hospital. Emotions run high when mothers and babies are involved. Babies do not always go home with their mothers. When child protective services is taking custody of a newborn, there is a palpable stress on the unit.
Nurses are an easy target for angry parents. Nurses are blamed, by parents, for reporting mothers who test positive for illegal drugs. Threats against nurses and doctors are common in these type of situations. Threats can lead to actual violence. I have been physically hurt by angry patients. I have seen nurses punched in the face, choked and pinned against walls. In the back of my mind I am always planning my escape route. My internal alarm goes off when I see a father stomping across the unit. It makes me uncomfortable to see the poster banning guns from the hospital grounds. Its a daily reminder that we are defenseless against a shooter that disregards that posted warning.
Hospitals practice disaster drills, one of which is an active shooter drill. We prepare for the worst. We hope we never have to face what Dr. Michael Davidson did on January 20th. The investigation in the Brigham and Women’s shooting is still ongoing. We do not know the relationship between the doctor and the shooter. Regardless of the relationship, it will not decrease the worry and fear that healthcare workers live with in order to do their work. Our mission and passion is to care for patients. Patient safety is our top concern and what we base all care around. On days like today, we are reminded that we need to also worry about our own safety.
As I was writing this post I recieved another tweet. The surgeon has died. Dr. Michael Davidson, your colleagues around the nation are thinking about you tonight and mourning your loss. Our thoughts and prayers go out to his family in this sad time.