When nurses become victims…
Her face bore the bruises that could not be hidden any much longer. The abuse had escalated.
A few months ago, her discolored arms were concealed underneath the long-sleeved tops; her face a picture of contentment and happiness. With beautiful twin daughters and a hunky young son, a thriving career, and a successful, seemingly loving husband, she was the antithesis of a battered woman.
She sat in her chair, her back rigid, and her eyes closed as she waited for the detective to finish his conversation with the social worker. As I waited by the door to come in to her room, I noticed the rivulet of tears running down her battered face.
I asked myself, “How could we have missed the signs?”.
My friend is also a nurse. As if that is some sacred reason why her husband would not use her as his punching bag. As if being a successful professional shielded her from the volatile behavior of an abusive husband.
Thankfully, the EMS brought her to another hospital. Away from the prying eyes of our own ED staff. Away from those who will make their own judgment. I could hear it already, those accusations that her businessman husband could not possibly have done this, and somehow she had made this all happen to her.
Elizabeth opened her eyes, and grimaced in pain with the effort of smiling through her tears.
“Surprise!”. She was still the ER clown, always with the jokes, always laughing. She had the most beautiful smile with a laugh that rang free and uninhibited in the nurses’ lounge.
Who would have thought that the carefree nature hid a troubled soul?
But here she is now, in an emergency room on the other side of town with a sprained wrist, a bruised face, and a broken heart.
Her husband was in a local jail, nursing a broken nose courtesy of a bat she wielded after he paused during the night of terror. After he punched his own 17-year old son who lunged at his father in defense of his mother.
The sight of her son writhing in pain was the last straw for Elizabeth. Finally, after years of abuse, she fought back.
The stories of torment came rushing out. I could only sit by my friend’s side, listening in horror at the unimaginable experience she had gone through, and at the same time, unable to process the image of Elizabeth with the usual patient we get in our ER.
Just yesterday, we had such a patient, an immigrant from an Asian country. She was unable to stand up to her husband, bound by her custom of obedience, crippled by her financial dependence on the man who controlled the purse strings, and who hid her passport.
Elizabeth stayed with the patient long after her shift was over. But there was nothing extraordinary about that. My friend was a nurse’s nurse who gave her all for every patient under her care. Her compassion to her patients was legendary, but now I understand the connection she felt with the battered women who come in fear.
When Elizabeth’s parents came, they looked stunned at the unraveling of the family that they’ve upheld as the model one in their family. And when they saw their daughter, I saw the determination in both their faces to never ever let this happen again. Elizabeth and her children will be returning to her parents’ home in California.
Five years later, as I was walking back to my car at work, I heard the familiar and unmistakable laughter.
Elizabeth ran to me and hugged me tight. With her now grown children smiling behind her, she looked extremely happy with no cares in the world. She was just visiting her brother in New York.
She smiled at my unspoken question and squeezed my hands. “I’m not with him anymore. We’re divorced, and he has no part in our lives. He’s living in another country now.”
She beamed, “I am happy. I am strong. Thank you.”
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