Musings on Compassion

When I was 20 and newly graduated from Nursing School, I went to work at a State Psychiatric Facility in New Jersey. After a brief orientation, I was put in charge of the evening shift (3pm to 11pm) in the acute admissions ward. Besides myself, there was one technician to give medications, four other aides, and upwards of 90 patients. The ward was segregated with one wing for women and one for men. Each wing had a ‘locked unit’ for the more disturbed patients who were mostly locked in a room all day and all night. There was also a lock on the door to the rest of the wing so when these patients were let out of their rooms, they were still locked away from the rest of the population. Being the compassionate person that I was back then, I would spend most of my time with those in the ‘locked units’.

One evening, I was spending time with a 16-year old who was in the locked unit. He had been admitted for observation and was said to have violent tendencies. He had been in the unit for maybe a week and had shown no violence. I had taken him out of his room and we were walking down the hall to the dayroom. Without warning, he grabbed me around the neck and dragged me out of sight of the nurses’ station into the dayroom. I don’t remember how long we were in there, but I do remember staying calm and explaining to him, over and over, why what he was doing wasn’t a good idea. I was finally able to convince him to let me go and I locked him back in his room.

Once out in the nurses’ station, I started shaking uncontrollably. A couple of the aides came in and asked what was wrong. When I told them, they wanted to punish the patient in some way, and once again, I was spending time convincing someone that what they wanted to do was not a good idea.

The next evening, I went back to the patient to spend time with him again and acted as if nothing had happened; he never tried it again and was gone a few days later.

I was thinking about this incident today and wondering if I was still the same person I was back then; I think I am in many respects. I am still compassionate in spite of all the people who have hurt me, physically, mentally, and emotionally, over the course of my lifetime. It would have been so easy to become jaded and close myself off to the rest of the world, but how much I would have lost! So no matter how much you have been hurt by others, you are hurting yourself more by becoming callous and putting up walls. I see so many people every day who I can only describe as the walking wounded. They have no joy in life; they are angry at the world. I feel so fortunate that I am not one of them.