In 1991 I had the shocking experience of witnessing the attempted murder of my patient. I was a Staff Nurse working in an Intensive Care Unit and the violent act was later described as a ‘gangland attack’. I knew nothing of the gangster underworld in my home town, having led a sheltered existence in a seaside village.
A patient was admitted to the ICU, claiming to have fallen through a greenhouse. The receiving doctors were suspicious that he had been stabbed, due to a single deep cut and no other injuries. The patient maintained his story. I attached him to a cardiac monitor and administered pain relief. His many visitors that evening spoke in hushed voices at his bedside. The team of nurses felt uneasy and suspicious of the situation.
The next morning I resumed his care. At 09:15 half of the staff on duty took their break, leaving the rest to look after the patients. I was catching up with paperwork, observing my sleeping patient as I did so. A visitor arrived, claiming to be my patient’s relative; I explained that he was sleeping but it would be possible to see him when he awoke. The visitor approached the bed and stood there for a few minutes before turning to smile at me.
I heard a blood-curdling scream from the patient, then I realised that the visitor was slashing him with a large machete. The visitor hacked at the patient who was now out of bed with his back against the wall. I could not believe what I was witnessing. All of the staff rushed to the scene, having been alerted by the screaming. The patient was disemboweled right in front of us and the side of his face was severed. Blood and pieces of tissue flew through the air with each stab of the knife. One of the nurses threw a chair at the assailant and then jumped on his back! They tussled with each other and he stabbed her too before fleeing the scene.
We were all severely shocked and distressed but went to the aid of the patient and our colleague. The police arrived and instructed us to stop mopping up the blood as photographic evidence of the crime scene was required.
The patient was rushed to theatre for emergency surgery and our less injured colleague was attended to afterwards. He had given us a false name and was well known to the police for acts of violence. He was owed money from a drug deal and had threatened to kill the son of his assailant who was in breach of payment. This was about a father protecting his son. We worked under police guard and snipers occupied the hospital roof.
I remember how badly affected I was; I feared attack or even being killed. There were sleepless nights and flashbacks and nightmares when sleep finally came. Such a terrible act carried out in the sanctity of a hospital was so difficult to understand and its psychological effects so little understood. Only the passing of each year helped my memories to fade. My nursing career ended after 35 years. I have certainly witnessed some strange and unexpected things and learned more about the good and evil traits of humanity than can be imagined.
© Angela Craddock 2021-07-10