Today, My Patient Tried to Commit Suicide

I swipe my badge at 1859, one minute early, not bad. I cheerfully smile at the tired faces of my coworkers all scrambling to see who they are passing their patients off to. I’m a few cups of coffee in and ready for the long haul. I don’t sit, I quickly write my room numbers down, so I can get my day shift friends home to their families. I look up medications, check orders and make my plan of attack for the night. A few day shifters stay late charting and the hustle and bustle that we call shift change has subsided, that is until we hear the staff emergency siren go off overhead, it’s 1945. We rush down the hall to discover a suicidal patient trying to escape.

“Mary” is fifteen years old, a good five inches taller than me and well over two hundred pounds. She is screaming that she’s “ready to go”. Mary’s been on our unit for weeks now, has broken two beds, been restrained daily, and rejected by all the psychiatric facilities in the area. My mind quickly shifts my two-month-old patient having seizures down the hall, and I wonder if the bolus of Keppra from the pharmacy has arrived. I attempt to focus on the task at hand, helping Mary safely get back in her room unharmed. We try redirection and bargaining with little success. We call security again, no one comes. Mary defiantly walks back into her room, sits in her recliner and begins to tear at her toe nail yelling that she’s going to rip it off. While trying to console her, I get a call that my new admission has arrived, my 5th patient. No seizures, please little guy, don’t seize. We have no choice but to carry Mary from the chair to her bed, the only way to keep everyone safe is to restrain her. Third call to security, no answer. Our arms are red from Mary’s pinching and grabbing. We dodge her attack, each secure a limb, count, and on three lift her from the chair to the bed, we restrain and give emergency meds. Fourth call to security, they finally answer and arrive just in time for us to lock the restrains. I wish I could say this wasn’t a daily or weekly occurrence but that wouldn’t be true. Just another day at the office.

My Keppra bolus has arrived, sweating and shaking, I prime tubing knowing I must put on a smile for two parents worried sick about their baby. My arm is red and throbs but my heart hurts worse. Mary came to us after trying to hang herself. She was sexually abused multiple times by her father and now lives in a shelter. How many more times will I have to do that? Will she be okay? Does she have one person in this world that cares about her? It’s 2100, I feel like I’ve been awake for a week. I stillhave ten hours left of my shift. Keppra is running, I walk into the room of my new patient with another cheerful smile on my face and hurt in my heart. “Hi, I’m Cat, I’ll be your nurse tonight.”

I slide into my bed the next morning, next to the love of my life and my sweet little schnauzer. Who is taking care of my co-workers and the doctor who helped us restrain Mary? Did my co-workers feel sad and exhausted? Were they sore and physically worn down like I was? According to one study by the R​obert Wood Johnson Foundation’s Interdisciplinary Nursing Quality Research Initiative,​ approximately 18% of hospital-employed nurses experience depression, double the rate of the general population. Studies also suggest that physicians are nearly twice as likely to commit suicide compared to the general population.

My thoughts drift to one of my co-workers who committed suicide last year. A hard working nurse on our floor with fiery red hair and a lot of personality. She transitioned to the float pool and I now realize that was not a good fit for her. A beautiful nurse who was closed off at times and needed the support of the close-knit family on our unit. I sat at the table across from her at our Christmas party. We all laughed and smiled, never knowing she was days away from taking her own life. We just silently stared at her obituary hanging in our workroom, one of us gone too soon. Could we have helped or prevented it? John M. Grohol, PsyD, the founder of says,​  “Medicine is a profession that doesn’t give much thought to mental illness. It is not within their realm of treatment.” Health practitioners are concerned with what we can touch and feel, lab values and reports. While those are valid, what about the intangible things like stress levels, anxiety and depression?

While we can’t take responsibility for anyone else’s actions, we can ask the hard questions, offer support, and advocate for ourselves and the people we are in the trenches with. It starts with vulnerability and expressing our concerns. I’ve started doing coffee talks in my area, opening up a forum with a therapist for nurses to come to talk or to get things off their chest. I also started an online community, a safe place where nurses are free to be real and know they are heard and supported. We hear the quote, “To the world you may be one person but to one person you may be the world.” I can’t save everyone or cure mental illnesses, but I can be a light to at least one person and that’s what I am dedicated to do. More to come on self-care and truly nurturing your soul. But for now, give yourself some love and grace and let someone you work with know how much you care. There is hope and it starts with us.

Cat became a nurse in 2013 after graduating from the University of Colorado with her BSN. She’s always worked in pediatrics, first at Children’s Hospital Colorado and now back in her hometown at Children’s Hospital of Michigan. Her true passion lies in helping nurses with their own self-care. She is the self proclaimed Nurse Whisperer with a mission to help nurses find purpose, presence and balance Her ultimate goal is to help nurses live a life they love just as much at work as they do at home.

Her motto is LEAP. LAND. LIVE.
LEAP take a chance on yourself – LAND confidently on your own two feet – LIVE  a life by your own design

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