Tuesday, July 5, 2011

A Psychiatric Worker’s Worst Fear

The worst fear a psych worker can have happened to me last Tuesday night – the fear of losing a patient by suicide. The night shift just started and on my initial rounds, this patient was just in her room not giving a clue on what she was going to do next. While I prepared to do vital signs on all the patients, this woman asked another staff member to open the shower for her. A few minutes later, I heard a commotion and three workers rushed to the shower room. Upon opening the door, we saw the patient hanging from the ceiling. She had torn the pieces of cloth that are used to tie hospital gowns, knotted them together, put a noose around her neck, connected the other end to a sprinkler on the ceiling and jumped from one of the plastic chairs in the shower room. She was beginning to gag when we got there and the only thing I had on me to cut her down was a pair of nail clippers that I always have in my keychain. I cut the cord from the ceiling first, then the ligature from her neck. Fortunately, she had no trouble breathing when we sat her down on a chair and her vital signs were normal.
 That just goes to show you that if someone was really serious about killing him or herself, they would find a way to do it despite the precautions we practice, like taking away shoelaces, belts, and sharp objects from them. We were lucky when we found the patient while she was just in the process of doing what she did, which also happened to be the time of my next rounds. If that happened in between, it might have been a different outcome. The patient would have been out of a life and I’d have been out of a job.
Like I said, that’s what I fear the most in my job – finding a patient dead due to suicide. When that happens you might feel responsible because you were not able to prevent it. After all, keeping patients from harming themselves is our main responsibility.  I’ve found a few patients dead before but those were from natural causes or they had underlying medical problems. Even though I felt bad about losing them, at least they didn’t do it intentionally or deliberately.

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