In this fallen world, violence is everywhere. Nurses, police officers, and first responders know all too well the trauma associated with Intimate Partner Violence (IPV) or domestic violence. Domestic disputes among patients or visitors increase the risk of injury for nurses (United States Department of Labor, Occupational Safety and Health Administration, 2015). Domestic violence calls present some of the most precarious and potentially deadly situations for which police officers are trained. “Domestic violence has been found to constitute the single largest category of police calls in some cities” (Theresa's Fund, 2019, para 1).
Violence can affect our homes. I've shared spaces with women and children whose lives are impacted by IPV. In one situation, a few friends gathered in a safe place. Melissa* poured out her anguish and anger. Her body shook, tears streamed down her face. I approached, asked permission to hold her, and then wrapped my arms around her. There were no words. What had happened to her was not okay. A silent embrace was best in this tender moment. Later, those around the table would remind her that she was not at fault. However, abusers tell a different story. “It's your fault I lost my temper.” “If you hadn't ....” Blame is shifted to the one being abused. We had to remind Melissa of her worth. Over the course of more than a year, we encouraged her to “wear her brave” as she came to terms with leaving a physically and emotionally abusive marriage. Fear had kept her immobilized.
Once she left, restraining orders were needed. Only a trusted few knew her safe place. Already thin, she lost more weight. Sleep was nearly impossible. These were dark, dark months. Several of us checked on her regularly in person and via text message. Would she make it out the other side? We prayed and prayed. And loved and loved. She's still finding her way. In this issue, McCarthy and Stagg offer nurses insight for care in “When Partners Turn Violent: Understanding Causality & Signs” (pp. 24-31).
Veterans of war also understand the effects of violence. In “Out of the Foxhole: Spiritual Support for Veteran Nursing Students” (pp. 52-56),Wynn writes, “Combat veterans often encounter spiritual challenges as they confront violence, anguish, and death on a level unfamiliar to civilians.” When veterans return to their families, the horrors of war follow them home. Sleep is fleeting; finding purpose, elusive. Our son served as a United States Marine in Afghanistan. When he returned to our home, his bedroom was located directly beneath ours. Sometimes his dreams woke us. We often heard him call out during the night. In addition, he wrestled with finding a new purpose. For more than a year I worried. Would he find a renewed sense of purpose? How long might it take? To what might he turn? Would substance abuse fill the void?
Later he'd attend college and find it awkward. A 21-year-old returning from war does not fit well in a dorm. Several years later, he graduated from the police academy. He found his way out of the foxhole! As a police officer, one of the few times he's had to draw his gun was in response to a domestic violence call.
Healthcare professionals recognize that there are no easy answers to any of these situations. Medicine does not stop an abuser from abusing or ease the traumatic memories of veterans returning from war. The scars associated with violence often take years to heal. Sometimes healing is elusive, the injury too deep.
King David had scars. He was a veteran of sorts. When his son Absalom turned against him, David experienced war at home. Hear the cry of his heart.
How long, Lord? Will you forget me forever?
How long will you hide your face from me?
How long must I wrestle with my thoughts
and day after day have sorrow in my heart?
How long will my enemy triumph over me?
Psalm 13:1-3, NIV
When direct nursing interventions aren't enough, what can we offer to individuals who've experienced violence, whether at home or in war? Hope. A loving embrace. Courage. Truth. Presence. Options. Patience. Understanding. Nursing is about caring, and nurses do this best.
United States Department of Labor, Occupational Safety and Health Administration. (2015). Preventing workplace violence in healthcare
. Retrieved from https://www.osha.gov/dsg/hospitals/workplace_violence.html
* Name changed to protect privacy.