Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Hey NURSE! Stories from my time at the county jail

This will, most likely, be my last post about my time at the county jail. Which is why I've resisted writing it for so long. After this, there isn't much more to say about the subject.

Don't worry though, I'll still write posts about my crazy adventures as a nurse.

When I tell people I was a jail nurse, they ask if I was ever scared of the inmates. I tell them no, the inmates were easy. First of all, it was county lock up. They were locked up for drunk driving, marijuana charges, failure to pail child support or just being a disorderly conduct regular. It was not prison. Most people were doing a year or less. Mostly for being a dumbass.

Also, the inmates want things from you. So they are charming and nice.

The problem with working in the county jail was the guards. Let me state that I would never, ever, ever want to be a guard. It's all watching the inmates, wearing horrible polyester uniforms and being underpaid. It's shift work and boring.

It's also a highly masculine group. All crew cuts, dick jokes and guns on the hips. Even the women were masculine, mostly butch lesbians. The guards didn't like the nursing staff. We were viewed as interlopers. Tending to the inmates with bleeding hearts.

For me, it was an uneasy relationship at first. As a nurse, I carried a disdainful moniker. However, I am a lovely and chipper individual. It's hard not to like me. Also, I don't bristle at dick jokes.

What made the biggest difference was that I never tried to be part of their boy's club. I never tried to be tough, hard or mean. In fact, I was kind and caring. These are areas I excel at. I also kept my head down and worked without complaint. This eventually broke down a number of barriers. A number of the guards softened and would seek out my opinion. Perhaps there was even respect.

Well, perhaps not.

Part of my job was to triage emergencies. On certain shifts, I was a lone nurse with no back up. If an inmate had a problem I couldn't handle, I would have them sent out to an ER. The guards didn't like this. To send an inmate out means a lot of work for them. They couldn't block my decision, but they sure as hell could try.

Such was the case with a pregnant inmate who reported spotting in her seventh month. This was not something I was qualified to treat. I wanted her out and in the hands of an ER. A lead guard, a man in his fifties, visited my office. I liked this guard. He and I would talk about turkey hunting. Which is more difficult than it sounds apparently.

We stood in my office, facing each other. He was trying to explain how it wasn't possible to send her out. I was tired, about 8 months pregnant with my son. I was very aware of how I appeared to him. Some chick nurse, pandering to an inmate, bleeding heart blah blah. He did his best to intimidate me. He was a good foot taller, much beefier and lest we forget, black gun on the hip.

But here's the thing, he couldn't stop me. Guards could not overrule me. I knew this. So I let the guard go on about how this inmate was lying and had lied to every nurse. How she was playing me for a fool. How I was forcing him to waste his guards' time. His anger flushed through me and I had to sit down.

But I didn't care. I didn't care if she was lying. I didn't care if she was faking. I didn't care about any of it. She was my patient and I had made the call. It wasn't about her, or me. I am a nurse, I get things done for those in need. The guard wasn't going to stop me. I was plowing through his wall of no and he knew it.

After this incident, things soured considerably. It just wasn't fun anymore. I think the concrete walls were getting to me. But, this was one of the last jobs I had as a nurse. I was climbing my way towards nurse practitioner. I was kind of done with it anyway. I left the job about a month later.

I eventually found out the inmate was lying. She would use the ER trips to smoke dope. Against my better judgement I felt insulted by this. I had been used. My powers of good were used for evil.

I eventually saw that guard again. At a grocery store no less. He yelled out "Hey NURSE!" Which is how I was usually addressed at the jail. We said polite hellos. He bought a box of coronas and one lime on top. Then he walked to his car.


There is not one person undeserving of care, no matter the lying, cheating, stealing, killing or the ugly. It can be challenging for me. But, I try to remember I am hard wired for mercy, kindness and caring. These are my gifts and no better place to use them then as a nurse.

4 Left a message at the beep:

GeologyJoe said...

and just like that, post done.

Mrs. Hall said...

thanks for your help Joe!

Green Girl in Wisconsin said...

Despite the occasional moment of people taking advantage of you, I bet many were touched by your kindness!

Lotus07 said...

"However, I am a lovely and chipper individual.....try to remember I am hard wired for mercy, kindness and caring."....yeah this pretty much sums you up.

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