As we started to settle into our new home in Colorado the looming event of starting another nursing assignment was before me. I have previously mentioned that my recruiter advised against going to Colorado due to low wages, and she was correct. The wage & stipend together were considerably lower than I had been receiving in IN and the cost of living near Denver was very high. The difference between income and cost of living certainly made coming to Denver a stretch on the budget; however, I was working within a 45 min drive to home.
The first CO assignment consisted of mostly night shifts, which I find has been the norm with travel nursing assignments. Nights are the hardest shift to fill with staff and therefore, guess who gets to work it!
The hospital I was assigned was clearly in the middle of needing a leadership change, this included both charge nurses and managers. I learned later these positions did all change. While I was assigned there my main contact person was the educator, this was a good thing as the manager had actually never returned any of my attempts to contact her.
Overall, this department was much like all the others; however, there was a large population of mental health patients who frequented this facility. One night we even had a police officer drive over 2 hours to bring a patient to this department “because this is where their doctor is”.The logic to drive that far to obtain treatment is ridiculous, the costs incurred far outweighed the benefit. But the reputation of the department was to house mental health patients because the hospital had a locked ward within the building and those patients were given precedence to be admitted first. Despite having a 5-bed locked unit, it wasn’t unheard of for another 5-9 psychiatric patients to be in the ED waiting for admission to the locked unit upstairs. Now, please don’t get me wrong when I talk about mental health patients. I am not saying anything against mental health, nor do I dismiss the urgent nature of their illness, and I do feel strongly that people who suffer with mental health are equally as important as say a trauma victim. The difficulty comes when a nurse, me, lacks the training or skill to care for this specialized population and then add issues of space, resources, nurse to patient ratios, and other demanding concerns that inhibit the ability to give good care. At the time, I felt so inadequate in my ability to care for this population, I lived in fear, I hated coming to work, and I always felt that I was doing a disservice to my patients. And as a travel nurse, I was often given the challenging assignments.
One night, while trying to assess a mental health patient, the patient became agitated, stood up on the stretcher and was yelling obscenities at me. The patient was screaming untrue accusations such as “don’t touch me there”. Of course, this wasn’t true, I wasn’t even close enough to the patient to touch them anywhere. I was paralyzed in fear; this was the first time in my career that I truly had no idea what to do! The security guard heard the patient screaming and came to my rescue, I didn’t even know what was happening until I felt hands on my shoulders pushing me from the room. I was so terrified, I was crying, and started to walk away towards the break room. The charge nurse asked me where I was going and out of instinct I said, “I quit!”. I went to the breakroom, sat down and mindlessly started to eat my food (it was 0100, I had been on shift 6 hours and had not had a break yet…). The charge nurse approached me and simply stated, “I’m going to have to report you for abandoning your patients”. I nearly lost my mind! Only moments before, I had a patient verbally attack me and potentially could have physically harmed me and this was the approach!! I knew then that I could not continue to be a travel nurse at this site; however, I felt STUCK! I was under contract, I needed the paycheck, and I couldn’t risk getting a bad reputation with the nursing agency or hospital administration. So I trudged through and finished my contract, wishing to never re-live that experience again!
Reflecting now, I realize the abuse I took during that assignment followed me a long time. I’ve learnt a lot since then and the future me won’t stand for this kind of treatment from anyone but there are still many stories between then and now…
Do you have a story that changed the direction of your career? I’d love to hear about it in the comments!
Please like, share, follow, & subscribe!
(Disclaimer: As always, I have left out any identifying details to protect the confidentiality of the patient, this story may not have taken place in or near the state or facility talked about in this blog post.)