How a Routine Patient Checkup Turned Violent for One Harrington Hospital Nurse

As a nurse, you’re already well aware that no two days of working with patients are the same. Whether you’re working in the emergency room, an operating room, maternity ward, or any other area of the hospital, you can never quite plan how your day will play out. One nurse working at the Harrington Hospital in Southbridge, Massachusetts, found out just how different one day can be from the other.

A Near-Death Encounter

Nurse Elise Wilson was working in the emergency room at Harrington Hospital like any other day. However, while carrying out a routine assessment on a patient who was complaining about wrist pain, the young man lashed out and attacked her. During the attack, Wilson was punched 11 times before the patient reached for a knife. When Wilson was recovering from the punches, she looked up to see the patient standing above her for a split second before he continued his attack. Instead of continuing to punch her, he stabbed her several times in her neck, arm, and other parts of her body.

During the knife attack, two of her nerves were severed, along with her brachial artery. Her injuries were severe, and she almost bled to death as a result. Fortunately, her screams attracted the attention of the security officer, who arrived at the scene and pulled the deranged patient away from her. From there, Wilson was miraculously able to stand and made her way to the trauma room before collapsing. Startled at the scene before them, her co-workers immediately began resuscitation efforts and prepped her for transport to a trauma center.

Once at the trauma center, Wilson had to undergo eight hours of emergency surgery to save her life. She then spent the next two weeks in the intensive care unit. During part of her time there, she was on a ventilator. Then, Wilson spent two more weeks in the physical rehab unit.

Specifically, she said:

  • The patient wasn’t yelling or swearing.
  • The patient wasn’t showing outward displays of anger.
  • The patient was acting distracted.

She added that during the attack, the patient stabbed her first in the neck. After that, she began screaming and banging her feet on the floor to attract attention.

The Recovery

Throughout her recovery, various family members joined her. Her daughter, who also happens to be an emergency room nurse, even took a month-long leave of absence to help care for her. Her son took care of the bulk of the media interactions and helped answer inquiries from the district attorney and police. Wilson is still recovering from the incident and is currently out on disability.

But what prompted the attack in the first place? The working theory is that the patient had a history of mental health issues. It’s believed that he was off his meds and was instead taking street drugs. According to Wilson, her attacker was angry at the hospital because he was at the hospital two weeks prior to the attack and didn’t get the pain meds he requested. She said his anger boiled over, and she was simply in the wrong place at the wrong time.

Pushing Forward

Wilson said her life has changed dramatically. Although she’s recovering, the injuries she sustained will have lasting impacts on her quality of life. For example, she can no longer zip or button anything on her own and can’t even grip a potato well enough to peel it. Her sense of touch has been affected, as well, as she can no longer feel things when she touches them, including her granddaughter’s cheek.

Nonetheless, Wilson has no intention of slowing down. After working for 47 years as a nurse, 36 of which were in an emergency room, Wilson is now dedicating her time and energy toward raising awareness for nurse safety. Her goal is to make hospitals safer for nurses everywhere.

What do you think? Has your department or hospital ever experienced an incident such as the one Wilson experienced?

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