Sunday, 31 May 2015

Bells In The Night


After I qualified as a staff nurse in mental health' I got a job in a prestigious psychiatric hospital in North Yorkshire. The hospital had only seven wards which were all  situated within a beautiful Regency style building in it's own grounds. The wards were carpeted and sympathetically decorated in a period style and  their day rooms filled with comfortable sofas and occasional furniture.
It was a pleasant place in which to work.
I was placed on the mother and baby unit , where seriously ill post partum women and their offspring were admitted for treatment, but most of the other wards catered for acutely mentally ill patients, patients with cognitive impairments and people suffering severe epilepsy..
Staffing generally was very good , but when there was an emergency situation on a ward then an alarm bell would sound and each ward would send a " runner" to help with whatever problem was afoot. No wards were ever locked.
I was telling some of the junior staff this story last night whilst on a break, as a sort of lesson of how Intensive Care is one of the few places in nursing that is probably safest from assault and injury ....things in the early 1980s could be very different!
I remember one night at the hospital when  at around 4am the alarm bell sounded. I was one of five nurses  who responded to the call,
The emergency was on the epilepsy assessment ward , a ward staffed by both general and mental health nurses. On duty were three nurses. A heavily pregnant girl, a young staff nurse just out  of training and an experienced male staff nurse. All three had been sitting in what was essentially a glass box which overlooked the dormitory of patients on two sides.
Out of no where, a powerfully built male patient had suddenly become agitated and  very confused and had hurled himself at the windows of the nurses station. He shattered  the glass with his body, and like an animal he went for the nurses inside. The male nurse hit the emergency buzzer then bolted out of the office to get help, but as he ran, the office door bounced shut , locking the two women inside. The pregnant nurse, with great presence of mind clambered over a desk and jumped through a window into the grounds to safety but unfortunately the patient caught hold of the young female staff nurse before she could flee.
By the time we arrived on the scene a couple of minutes later, the patient had fractured her jaw and had broken her arm as well as biting her badly on the side of the face.
This was the only time , I have been truly frightened at work Over the years I have been personally abused many times by patients and relatives alike. I have been screamed at, shouted at, spat at and in one case threatened with a broken teapot! but this situation with a brain damaged patient and a young helpless staffnuse still lingers long in the mind.
A scary story to share with a group of nurses in the wee small hours of the morning eh?

54 comments:

  1. Definitely too scary for the middle of the night!
    I look back that maybe I was very lucky during my career as I think A & E was mostly where we were abused. Of course in recent years it has been more relatives who have been verbally abusive.

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    1. I think we should limit visiting sometimes

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  2. Interesting how the care and treatment of mental health has changedover the years isn't it John? When I was a child folk with mental health problems were incarcerated in a large and forbidding institution just outside Lincoln, called Bracebridge Heath Mental Institution. I passed the site last week on return from holiday - the whole area has been converted into apartments - not before time as it really was a depressing place. But now, so many of the folk who would have been there are out in the community and many of them are unable to cope. I don't know what the answer is, and you are much more qualified than I to give an opinion on that.
    I know that out in the country, where I was brought up - and where I live now too - there is a reluctance to be open about any kind of mental health issue - it is brushed under the carpet and only spoken of in hushed tones. This used to be the case with cancer when it was whispered that so and so had a 'growth'. That fear has gone now and it is all in the open - I wish it could be the same for mental health problems.
    I had an interesting example only this week. I have developed mild epilepsy over the last five years - only two fits but am now on epilepsy drugs which i have chosen to take for the rest of my life so that I can drive again. When I mentioned to a dear old friend that I was taking an epilepsy drug (epilim) she was horrified and said she was sure it was not epilepsy and that I shouldn't call it that. Why not was my reply - better to face up to things in my opinion - there is no shame in it. Would be interested to hear your opinion. Sorry to go on a bit but it is a subject that interests me greatly.

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    1. I was diagnosed with a mild form of epilepsy in the late 1970s, when I was a young teenager. My consultant told me never to describe myself as "epileptic" because of the stigma attached to that word. It sounds as if things haven't changed.

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    2. " epilepsy" is such a generic word for a gaggle of symptoms and conditions pat! I wouldnt know where to start
      Having said that...many people look down of epileptic sufferers forsome odd reason

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  3. That is very scary. We've in our family recently had a chance to see psychiatric hospitals from the side of the patient, and it's such a hard world for all involved. I admire the people who are willing to work in what seems to be an impossible situation too often.

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  4. But what happened next ? How did you get the girl to safety & the patient calmed ? it must have been terrifying. Did she continue to nurse after the attack ? Did the patient get good medication ? So very sad.
    I remember a school friend being sent for assessment for epilepsy at a the hospital for mentally ill; a place that just for what it was had several nick names. Sadly he died as a very young man.

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    1. As i remember she went to hospital with two nurses in the ambulance,,, the male patient who literally came around to some sort of normality moments later sent to a &e in a following ambulance , he had multiple cuts

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  5. A fascinating yet terrifying story to tell in the dead of the night. I'm glad you shared it with your blog audience.

    Whatever happened to the staff nurse who was so viciously attacked? If I were her, I would have been very reluctant to return to work.

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    1. She went off sick for nearly a year as I recall. She never went back to work on that ward

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  6. This is why I have such respect and admiration for nurses; not only are they there to heal, but also to cope with unimaginable situations.

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  7. What a terrifying story to tell in the middle of the night. Bad Penny asked all the questions I had as well. Nursing staff are something special as you have reiterated in this post. Bless you all. xx

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  8. What a terrible experience for that young nurse to carry through life. Why wasn't her assailant in a straitjacket or a padded cell?;

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    1. He was epiileptic not mentally ill..he just had a fit and unexpectedly became violent yp

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  9. Must have been terrifying for those poor nurses. Sometimes our jobs can put us in harms way, working in a womens refuge for many years I have had my scary moments. One night in particular with a very angry man trying to break in. I got the women and children into their rooms and all 5' 1" on me sat on the stairs with a very heavy torch in hand. Luckily the police turned up and scared him off. I have huge respect for those nurses and think they should be paid a lot more than bloody bankers.

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  10. The UK needs investment bankers as much as it needs nurses. The UK would be a poorer place without them and then there would be less money for the nurses than ever.

    A&E gets this sort of thing every Friday and Saturday night in Norwich John. They have recently introduced bouncers on the door I believe.

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    1. Yes we need bankers, but the obscene amount of money they are paid, even when they f*ck up the economy is in my opinion is wrong.

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    2. They were a symptom not the cause.

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    3. We have a security guard and the police stationed in our a and e .

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  11. Utter respect for anyone that works in that field. It's something I'm sure I couldn't do.

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  12. This is hard to tell . . . For 16 years I worked on care of the elderly wards. I finally decided to train and was on the in-service training. During one of my placements I was working with patients with learning disabilities and one day I was asked to just sit with a group who were 'working' folding cardboard for a firm. I sat among these people and chatted. The person in charge suddenly grabbed at one of the young girls and shook her, claiming she was being disrespectful! I reported all this later and was asked to make a statement, which I did. It went to tribunal and I was called as a witness. By this time I gathered I was being set up to get rid of this member of staff. No one knew about the 16 years of experience I had had previously, and I was asked if I had known about a previous fracas during the day involving the staff member and the girl. I did not tell them about my 16 year experience where I had been hit, kicked, spat at, had faeces thrown at me and generally been shouted and abused. In all the years I worked I have never retaliated. . . ever. You just do not, right John? I honestly felt that they had set me up, yes, he was wrong to do what he did and I am ashamed sometimes that I did not speak up. Of course they used the fact that I was an inexperienced 'student' and therefore could not understand the dynamics that go on between staff and patients. Maybe wrong not to say, anyhow he was dismissed. It is very hard to work for the NHS.. Love Andie xxx

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    1. There are bad apples in every barrel andie.
      Good for you!
      I have only been involved in one case like yours.........its very hard to stick to your guns eh?
      Good for you

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  13. Almost as depressing as '1864' was last night! Sheesh, it was hard-going!

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  14. Thank you for going back and sticking with it, that would have been enough for a lot of people to have gone onto a life as a Scotch-Egg maker.

    I could hear the hospital pages, mostly trauma incoming by air or ground, one night at 2:00 AM it was "58 year old male patient, with very long gray hair, wearing only a hospital gown, running down the hallways, stop him if you can."

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    1. At the hospital i mentioned, i was very adept at catching absconding patients as they legged it down the long drive into the city!

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  15. My friend Bets works in a group home for disturbed individuals so I've heard the stories of punchers and biters and nurses who work at it so long and then leave because their 'customers' are so difficult. I told her once she needed to start hitting them upside their heads with a brick and she said "we're not allowed to take bricks to work." Me? I'd take a brick.

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  16. My friend Bets works in a group home for disturbed individuals so I've heard the stories of punchers and biters and nurses who work at it so long and then leave because their 'customers' are so difficult. I told her once she needed to start hitting them upside their heads with a brick and she said "we're not allowed to take bricks to work." Me? I'd take a brick.

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  17. The worst thing is that it sounds like every protective and reactive systems were in place. My partner worked in disabilities and I am well aware of what can happen when there is a momentary lapse of observance, not that I am suggesting this happened in your case, but you really have stay on your toes.

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    1. 4am is always the dead time in hospital
      Its the time sick patients pass away
      It is the time disturbed patients play up

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  18. I had some scary moments when working as a "craft Instructor" in a large psychiatric hospital in the seventies. I retrained a few years later and my previous experiences were nothing compared to working alone as a field social worker with adults with head injuries and similar difficulties in their own homes. I'm with Chickpea too re. working with families who live with domestic violence.
    Good on yer for the job you do.

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  19. Many moons ago , I had PND the full blown looking for the numbers in your baby's hair , wondering why nobody else could see he was the antichrist type . it puts into perspective the grey fields I live in mentally from time to time, so I always realise 2 weeks is the magic rule , Oone night an older lady psychiatric nurse told me that if in two weeks
    I still wanted to die, it was fine I could . Mentally 2 weeks is a lifetime , but it's kept me going for many years and I thank her still

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    1. In my experience
      Mental illness directly following childbirth is the most florid, severe and upsetting of all illnesses.
      Most however, recover

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    2. Agree Kate, I have a '7 day rule', maybe I should extend it to 14, but so far it has worked for me for about 30 years, thank you

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    3. I too have have the 7 day rule.
      Especially with young children, like a change in schedule, food or nap time, do the same thing for 7 day and it become
      norm. I too work on the 7 day rule, it will get better, stick to it...works for me.

      cheers, parsnip

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  20. I have the same questions as bad penny. I want to know the rest of the story. Also I wonder why epilepsy is treated at the mental hospital? Nurses are heroic.

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  21. Terrifying story John. No wonder that usually you talk about the minutiae of life here on your blog - gentle Trelawnyd, its characters, flower show and animals . Some starkly real moments in life are too difficult to comprehend. Thank you for sharing such a vividly explained story.

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  22. Nurses are really front line . I did my social work placement whilst completing my Social Work degree at the acute mental health unit at a very large hospital . The nurses were amazing and really dealt with many challenging situations and patients . Frightening indeed with drug induced psychosis and all manner of pyschiatric disorders .

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  23. Don't know how you do it - very special people, one and all.

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  24. when I hear Code Violet at work it gives me the chills...even a small elderly woman with dementia can take you down...

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  25. I work in the health records department of a mental health facility in Canada. These incidents are referred to Code Whites here. We frequently have nurses on modified duty come to our department to work; most often they are here as a result of physical assaults from patients. We have heard some very disturbing accounts. While the physical damage can be quite serious, they also have to deal with the psychological implications, which can last much longer. It's hard to strike a balance between patients' rights and workplace safety.

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    1. Lets not forgetbthat the abuse can go the other way sadly

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  26. This is why most large ER's in the US have police there most evenings. Nursing, with it's various physical demands, is one of the more dangerous professions around.

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    1. I dont think i could work on accident and emergency
      Ive walked through a& e at night......i often looks like a war zone

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  27. And don't forget the rest of us who just wonder when it will happen - again... We are relatives, neighbours, friends, and we have no training. We just try.

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  28. what made you decide to specialize in mental health? Maybe a future blog post subject?

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  29. After six months on the night shift in a post surgical ward I learned to hate the full moon. Strange things happened.

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  30. That is a scary story. Pediatrics seems safer to me.

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