Rape and the ER patient

I know I’m sitting here on this stool because I can feel it under me. I see my patient across the room but I cannot easily take in the image. My brain feels like it has stopped functioning. I can’t think and all I can feel is the stool and my heart pounding in my ears. Somewhere in my brain I hear myself praying for wisdom, for guidance and for composure.

I am the sexual assault nurse examiner on call and was called to the ER at 2:15 am by the nurse manager, “There is a young woman here that appears to have been assaulted…the only details we have are disturbing.” A sheriff met me when I arrived in the ER. “She ran into the ER half naked, bleeding and disoriented…she has yet to tell anyone anything and when she was brought to this room she ran to the corner and sat just as you see her now. We still don’t know her name.”

My patient is not a child, but yet not an adult. She is on the floor, sitting against the far wall in the corner with her knees pulled up and her arms wound tightly around them. Her face is buried in her knees and her long blonde, stringy hair is cascading down over her low legs. Her dirt and blood-covered, feet are exposed. She has no shirt on and her shorts are ripped. Her arms have scratches, dirt and dried blood on them.

I have been sitting here on this stool for 20 minutes. The clock is loud, each tick annoying me. She hasn’t moved or even shifted her position. Shock. When I first entered the room, I did so very cautiously as not to scare her. I told her who I was and then I sat. I told her I would sit with her as long as she needed me to and that she could take her time in talking to me. Time has brought me out of my initial fear fog and I am feeling more myself.

Just as I am about to speak I notice my patient is lifting her head to look at me. Her hair is partially covering her dirt and tear stained face. In a mere whisper she asks me, “Am I safe here?”

“Yes you are. There is a sheriff right outside this door and he will NOT allow anyone in unless I, or you, say it is okay.”

Slowly she edged her legs out in front of her and covered her chest with her arms. “May I move to the counter and get you a blanket?” I asked her. A quick nod yes. I slowly retrieve two blankets. “May I cover you or do you want to cover yourself?” No response. I unwrap the blankets and go to her. I cover her. She then grabs the blanket around herself tightly. “Thank you.”

“So, once again…“My name is Bobbi, and I am the nurse who was called in to take care of you. When you are ready I can help you off the floor and you can lie or sit on the stretcher…or we can talk while you stay on the floor, it’s up to you.”

She again is lost in her mind and doesn’t move or utter a sound for what seems like an eternity. Finally she again looks at me and asks me, “Have you ever been raped?”

I take a deep breath and tell her “no, I have not.” I watch her measure her words as she shifts her eyes to the floor. A giant tear escapes her left eye and misses her face altogether and splashes on the blanket, “I pray you never are.”

I will not share the details of the heinous act that happened to this young woman. My exam time with her was 6 hours. Her life touched mine in a profound and lasting way. She wrote me a letter 2 months after the rape and told me how grateful she was to me for my kindness and for my nursing skills. (Unknown to me at the time…she was a nursing student.) She told me she had moved to another state with a relative and still wasn’t sleeping, but felt safe. She asked me to pray for her. She had dropped out of nursing school for now and wasn’t sure if she would return.

Today is the anniversary of that meeting…4 years ago. I see it in my mind and feel it in my heart as if it were yesterday.

Bobbi McCarthy

About Bobbi McCarthy

Nurse for 23 years right here in Maine, currently in the new Augusta regional hospital as a charge nurse in the ER. Nurse educator for the last 2 years at UMA as adjunct clinical instructor. Wife, mother and grandmother.