In Which I Write About The Incident

So you all know that I landed my dream job, right? I was an ER nurse in a Level One Trauma Center for a grand total of four months. Well, through a series of unfortunate events I am no longer there. I bet you all are wondering what happened.

I got fired.

And quit.

And basically had a bad breakup with my job.

Now that sufficient time has passed and I've finished crying and the nightmares are pretty much over, I can tell you all about it. Mostly.

You see, this isn't going to be a gristly recounting of The Incident, but of the aftermath: the time I spent questioning my abilities and wondering if I had a mental disorder and laying in bed not eating and all of the requisite craziness that happened following The Incident.

And my decision to leave that job, while it hinged on The Incident, was actually made many weeks before It happened. I think I had mentally checked out way before that hobo tried to kill me.

So, I can tell you that as far back as I remember I have wanted to work in an ER. I steadfastly refuted everyone's assessment of my abilities that maybe I wasn't suited for the chaos and danger and heartbreak of an ER. I put my head down and plodded along, ignoring everyone's advice because fuck them. My paramedic friends, my teachers, my fellow nurse friends all told me the same thing... but I had made up my mind that I was going to work at the Trauma Center and god help anyone who stood in my way.

So, after a year or so of knuckles to the grindstone hating my jobs and dreaming of The Promised Land I finally got an interview. And then, the job offer. I DIED that day, oh my God, my dreams had finally come true!

But then I started working there.

And I hated it.

But I refused to admit to myself that I hated it. Because if I admitted that, then I would be wrong and everyone else would be right.

It was horrible. Everything was horrible. The things I saw I can't unsee. Dead children. Dead babies. Traumatic amputations. Brains. Screaming families. Death.

And the violence. I had been bitten, threatened, punched, scratched. My coworkers told me to make sure I documented everything for when-- not if-- I ended up in court.

I bet you're thinking, MoJo, it can't be that bad. Seriously, you can't possibly have seen all that in four months.

But I did. And it haunts me.

I spent many breaks crying in the bathroom from fear, from stress. How was I going to handle this and not kill someone? How was I going to handle four patients, all of whom could be actively dying, and make sure I got everything done right? And how was I going to do this and hold on to my compassion for my fellow human beings? Because I didn't just lose faith in myself in that ER. I lost faith in humanity.

And then, The Hobo. And his knife. And the cops and the guns. The Incident. I have never been in such fear for my life. I was scared for my life. The enormity of that moment still hasn't fully registered in my brain, even today so many months later. I could have died that day.

I was fired the next morning when I reported for work at 0700. The conversation basically went "We're going to release you from probation." "Oh, good, because here's my resignation I typed up last night at 3am because by the way I haven't been to sleep yet."

They were cool about it. They told me that I was very smart and professional but that they knew it just wasn't for me. And I told then I knew, too.

But the damage had been done. I was full of doubt. I didn't know if I even wanted to be a nurse anymore. How could I have worked for something for so long and then, once I got it, fail at it so utterly, so miserably?
I was ashamed, embarrassed, humiliated. I was angry. I was hopeless. I was relieved. I cried for two days. Remembering even now brings tears to my eyes because I'm still not over it. Part of me wants to call them and ask them to please give me another chance, if only to prove to myself that I'm not a failure.

The other, sane, rational part of me says "You set a goal, you achieved that goal. If it doesn't work out, you set other goals and then get to work achieving them. That's life. Get over yourself."

I could tell you that I have a new job now, in an ICU, and that I pull ER shifts now and again in my little 79 bed hospital. But I almost feel like the taint of failure will never leave me. I'm back on the bottom rung again because I tried to bite off more than I could chew and fell so far and so hard that for a time I didn't think I'd ever get back up again.

It's going to take time to rebuild my confidence. I'm sure I'll get there someday but I feel like much of what made me "me" was my brazen and unapologetic belief in myself and my refusal to accept anything but what I wanted. I feel like I've lost so much of that. I'm more tentative and hesitant now. I second-guess myself. Isn't that funny? What does that say about me-- that losing a job has damaged me so thoroughly? Did this make me crazy on top of hopeless and full of self-doubt? What the alternate fuck, MoJo?

So now I've begun the process of pulling myself up by my bootstraps and putting on my big girl panties and getting the fuck over it. This is part of the reason that I wanted a fresh start on my blog, to go along with a fresh start of my career and my "self."

Someday maybe I'll go back. After a few more years of learning, becoming more seasoned, growing as a professional and a person I'll go back-- not hat in hand, but with my head held high ready to take it on again. To get back on the horse that threw me.

Or, maybe not.

Either way, I'm taking you fuckers with me.



  1. Something to keep in mind: it's not losing your job that made you doubt yourself and your abilities. It's ALMOST GETTING KILLED ON THE JOB that made you doubt yourself and your abilities. Could you have prevented it from happening? Could you have prevented a death? Could you have made someone sicker instead of better? Could you have pissed someone off because you judged them incorrectly before you properly assessed them as a patient? Sure. You're human. But does that mean you're not a good nurse? No.

    A different scenario: let's say you're driving down a highway singing to the radio at night. Statistics show singing to the radio keeps you alert, especially at night. Takes too much brain power to sing to music to actually be able to fall asleep. No other distractions, but sure singing is still a distraction. And a truck drifts over the lane line and you notice too late and there's nowhere to swerve. The truck smashes into you, causing you to go careening over to the next lane, and you cause a 45-car pile-up on the highway. A few of those drivers land in the ICU. Sure, the truck caused the crash. But it was your physical car that did the damage. Does it mean it's your FAULT? Is there something you could have done to prevent it? Does it make you a bad driver?

    What are the chances you're going to jump back behind the wheel and go driving down a highway at night?

    Mojo, you're not a bad nurse. You're not an incompetent nurse. You just had the shit scared out of you in a specific place of employment that you weren't suited for. Eventually you'll be able to put the incident behind you. Eventually you'll find a job you love and that you excel at in the right kind of work environment. Eventually you'll have co-workers that sing your praises and patients that speak nothing but good things about you. Keep your head up. That day will come.

  2. you are NOT a failure, you gracefully let go of something that wasn't for you and that is brave. give yourself a break, and hang in there.

  3. Glad you are back. And I second what Jennifer says. Best of luck!

  4. I wouldn't take hating one ER as an indication that you're a failure, or even that you're not ER nurse material. I came very close to not making it at hood hospital 1, and had it not been for a new preceptor sweeping in and taking a chance on me, I'd definitely be on a floor somewhere. I also nearly started my career at the big, fancy level one trauma center in my area and most certainly would have choked there too, what with their six week internship for a brand new grad. The culture at every ER is so different. Trauma centers are usually the toughest of the tough, and they really should be scary for everyone, it's just that some of us don't have the good sense to be anxious when we really should be. I've seen nurses from all kinds of ERs, and I can tell you for a fact the ones from the big fancy teaching hospitals are not necessarily the best. What you're doing now ain't a cake walk either. Point is, you're still a badass. Just because one place wasn't the place for you to be a badass doesn't mean it isn't so. Keep your head up.

  5. I think every nurse as a moment of near career meltdown. I'm still getting over mine. If a job requires a lot of asshole shoes to acquire then probably you need to think twice. There's nothing wrong with not being as badass as we think we are btw. Pointy

  6. Girl sometimes it is a the stronger nurse that can realize she needs to bow out of a situation like that. Any job that puts you in that much stress and danger is not worth it, we all have our limitations and you are not a failure at all for getting out. Your ER co-workers are just as much at fault too for letting a new to the ER nurse flounder like that. In bigger ER's the lateral violence that occurs between co-workers is just as bad as bullying in our schools. I have been the victim of such violence myself. Take this "incident" and learn from it, make something positive come from it and make you a much stronger and compassionate nurse.

  7. You didn't bite off more than you could chew. You bit off the wrong thing, one which did not provide you any nutrition. Your ability to do the job is not in doubt and doesn't matter. Your mental health was vastly improved by you getting the hell out of there. It was not the right place for you. Not everyone can have their lives physically endangered and go on like nothing happened. I couldn't. In your place I would have told them to fuck off and get some damn security, that someone was gonna get killed there but it would not be me.

  8. FYI In TNCC they specifically advised you to never work full time at a level one trauma center---they recommended no more than a 0.6 (48 hours per 2 weeks) and then some other per diem job at a non level one/community ER. It's been shown to make people basically go batshit crayzee and/or become alcoholics/drug addicts.

    No one anywhere is good at ER after 4 months.

  9. HUgs hugs and more hugs. Just look at it this way - they (and you) have probably saved your life - and in the long run, your sanity. Good old saying, when one door closes, another opens. I thought I wanted to do L&D. And I signed on at a hospital that 'promised' me (verbal, not written) training - HA!!! 3 months of it and I hated hated HATED every single day! And one shift, they told me I they needed to float me to the NICU.....and 22 years later I am still loving working with those little ones!

  10. You did more good in that short time than most of us do in a lifetime and probably have some Post-operative Stree Trauma. As an old, retired outsider I see medical professionals as centers of sanity floating in a sea of chaos. Hope you have someone, or find someone you can talk to and is helpful. Is that your cat I saw in one posting? Do you garden? -- sometimes the smell of dirt, or wet grass, or burning leaves can be comforting. (A little zen there?)

    Some folks with POST have been helped with video games! I wonder if you tried one where you can create an avatar with different types of armor: armor that deflects; armor that reflects; armor that absorbs; armor that gets bigger when attacked...

    You wanted trauma, but it sounds like you wanted it in the MASH-type situation without shootouts in the OR. Are there military trauma units that exclude civilian complications where one can practice a profession without interference? (You do have to worry about the embedded unexploded devices, but they are rare I'd hope. And you'd probably have to be in the military...)

    Sorry about the rambling, but I have time on my hands...