25: Superheroes

25: Superheroes

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Inspiration for Nurses


We make a living by what we get, we make a life by what we give.

~Winston Churchill

Jennifer was a nurse with a loud voice and lots of opinions, which she was more than happy to share with anyone who would listen. She spent many hours in my office lambasting our program and protocols, our agency partners, and anything else she found burdensome and annoying. And she channeled that passion positively as a Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner — a SANE.

A SANE’s task is nothing short of heroic. When she is called it means someone has been raped or molested and is experiencing the worst day of his or her life. Many nurses come in after working twelve-hour shifts, often pulled away from their beds in the middle of the night. They leave family events to respond to victims’ calls. Part of the job is to build trust and rapport with someone who has been violated in unimaginable ways. She is tasked with asking hundreds of very personal and probing questions and performing full body and, in many cases, genital exams, while attempting to put the victim at ease and giving him or her some modicum of control.

I’d never met anyone who could do this with such grace as Jennifer.

I observed her in action. She had a gift. Professional, approachable, honest and empathetic, she nearly always had her patients chuckling by the end of the exam.

One of my jobs in running the SANE program was to de-brief the nurses after they’d performed cases to make sure they were getting the emotional support they needed to handle the stress of their jobs. One morning I awoke to find Jennifer sobbing on the phone. As often happens with SANE nurses, a well-meaning friend had sent her an article about a horrific child rape in the Midwest.

“People send me articles like this all the time,” she cried, “as if I need more trauma.” She struggled for a deep breath. “I don’t know why this one hit me so hard.”

“You just performed an exam last night,” I soothed. “Your emotions are raw.”

“I’ve never felt this much rage before,” she countered. “How can I have this much anger and still be a good nurse?”

“Besides being a nurse, you are also human,” I said. “Feeling outrage over that kind of brutality is normal.”

“But I’m supposed to care about people, not despise them.”

“Remember the patient you cared for last night? She smiled and thanked you as she left the clinic.”

“Right. I admit, we don’t get many thank you notes from our victims,” she said sarcastically. “We don’t see them on the street and get a hug,” she added, obviously trying to lighten the mood.

“In your day job you’re taking care of people, changing lives, saving lives, and then you shift gears at night to deal with the truly horrendous. You bravely accept the challenges and the consequences, knowing it will weigh heavily on your heart and soul.”

“Yes, it does.” She took a deep breath.

“Jennifer, your presence in that girl’s life last night started her on the way to healing. You helped give her back the control that had been taken away. You were the first step in her recovery.”

“Thanks, Amy.”

“Jennifer, you and all SANE nurses remind me of the good in the world. Working with you has made me a better person.

“You are a superhero masquerading as an everyday hero.”

~Amy Rivers

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