real life

'I'm an ER nurse, and I'm in an abusive relationship with my job.'


I am in an abusive relationship.

I need help.

I need to leave.

I don’t know if I can.

Finally. I am ready to leave. If I am going to live, I have to leave. I know. I have said this before. But this time is different. They said it would change, time and time again. They said they’d never lay a hand on me again. This time, I was punched in the face. It’s my fault, they said. It’s my fault because I chose this.

Enough is enough.

Finally, I am ready to leave the ER. I know I have said this before. This time is different. This time I really mean it. I chose to be an ER nurse. I did not choose to be emotionally and physically abused every single day I go to work. I must have slept through Real Nursing 101, where they cover incessant abuse. And how to live with it.

I did not choose to have patients yell at me every day.

I did not choose to have a man wiggle his privates at me.

I did not choose to be spit on.

I did not choose to be urinated on.

I did not choose to be bitten.

I did not choose to be hit in the face.

I did not choose to have my life threatened.

Over and over and over again.

Sometimes, the hospitals will pretend they care. They will tell us how sorry they are that this happened to us. They will hire more security to protect us. Security that is not allowed to touch the patients. Security that refuses to remove a patient who is violently threatening staff and other patients.


Seems like security is on the patient’s side. Obviously, we were in the wrong, not the patient. We chose to help these patients. We chose to work in the ER.

A patient hurled a phone at a child. A child. He was told by security not to do it again. He was not removed from the area. He screamed vulgar insults. But don’t worry, he was not going to throw the phone again. He promised security he wouldn’t.

They were drunk. It only happens when they’re drunk. It isn’t who they really are. It is the alcohol.

It’s always the alcohol.

They said they’ll never drink again. They apologise. They apologise for drinking, no empathy for the swath of pain and destruction their behaviour has brought. They swear they will never drink again. They say I love you. I need you. Nothing changes.

I need help. Big help.

I am going to leave this time.

People are often under the influence of some type of substance. When they are sober they say they are sorry and they will not do that again. I don’t believe them. They say they aren’t responsible because they were high when they punched me in the face.

The police do nothing. Attacking a healthcare worker is a crime. But nothing is done.


“He didn’t leave a mark, so we are sorry, but we can’t arrest him.”

They aren’t sorry.

“Ok,” I say. “I apologise, officer. My fault for calling you. I will wait until my nose is broken before I call you again. I am sorry for bothering you.”

I am ready to leave.

I need help.

I tried to leave before. I found someone who was nice, safe, and appreciated me. But I missed the old reliable. Maybe, it WAS my fault. I made them mad. I won’t do it again.

A person can only be called a c**t and a b***h so many times before you believe it. I just smile and offer them a sandwich. De-escalation they call it. The patient is always right.

Maybe I was a b***h. I mean, it’s true. I didn’t offer the patient a sandwich before I asked about their medical ailment. What was I thinking?

“Ma’am, Would you like ham or turkey? Mustard and Mayo?”

Patient satisfaction scores are based on the number of sandwiches we give out, not the quality of medical care we provide.

OK. I changed my mind. Maybe it really is my fault. They promised to never do it again. They said, I love you. I need you. I want to believe the promises: Things will be better. They won’t call me names. They won’t put their hands on me. I miss them. I believe the promises this time. I really do. I chose this. I chose to stay. I am not going to leave.

Never mind.


I am an ER nurse.

I don’t need help anymore.

This post originally appeared on Nurse and Nomad and has been republished with full permission.

If you would like more of Susan Weston, you can find her on Instagram or Facebook.

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