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Love Tap--An Essay on Domestic Violence

Updated on July 15, 2010

Daylight--and the boldest coffee available is brewing on the Labor and Delivery unit. Irene (name changed), the charge nurse, is cleaning up the assignment board, as the phone rings. It's the ED (emergency department). They want a labor nurse to go down for fetal monitoring on a woman that has just come in by ambulance.

"What's the story? And can you go by the way?" Irene asks.

"Story's pretty sketchy. I don't think they know much yet. But they said it's a trauma. Maybe it's an MVC? {motor vehicle crash} And yeah, I'll go down," I say.

"Trauma? Well, plan to get comfy, you'll be down there for a while. Call when you need a break. And give me a heads up if I need to call NICU."

"Will do," I say, and head down the hallway with the fetal monitor.

"She's not in the trauma bay, she's in gyn, behind that curtain," says the scattered, and flustered clerk at the nurse's desk in the ED.

I head in the direction that the clerk is pointing, and found my patient. At about 8 months along, she was strapped to a back board, wearing a neck brace, and had bruises of different stages all over her body. In her right hand she gripped a cross and rosary. She looked at the ceiling, and gave quiet answers to the questions coming from all directions--the ED-nurse asking if she had any allergies, the registration clerk asking about insurance, the police officer asking the time 'everything' started.

"Hi, I'm SJ. I'm here from Labor and Delivery. I'm here to check the baby," I said to her quietly, once the room had cleared.

Curtains in the ED are only closed briefly. It is a hub of unending activity, and intrusion. Everyone is in a hurry--it can be like medical bumper cars there. But for a moment the patient, this woman, and I are alone.

Eyes to the ceiling, moments later she asks so quietly I could barely here her, "is my baby okay?"

I get close to her, "is it a boy or girl?" I ask.

"Girl," she whispers.

"She looks great on the monitor. She's doing really well," I say. And a black, mascara-filled tear travels down the side of her face to the top of her neck brace. I have donned the face that can't be read. The poker face of the nurse who plays a very high stakes game. I have had this patient, this type of patient anyway, before. I already know that this patient is afraid she will be judged, afraid she will be asked too many questions, afraid she'll lose the baby, afraid of what will happen to her child's father. Her fear is an obstacle to treatment. I have the advantage of being the least threatening person in the emergency department. I'm not using words like--protective order, jail, or warrant for arrest. I'm not giving orders. I'm not the one with the rape kit. I'm just here for the baby.

Status post domestic dispute, multiple wounds see ED eval, no abdominal trauma. Vital signs stable. Gravida 1. Abdomen soft, active fetus. No VB, LOF, or CTX at present time. SVE deferred. Fetal heart rate reactive, category 1. Currently obstetrically stable by RN assessment. Will continue to monitor. This is who she is clinically.

In my mind, she is the woman who gets beaten by a man. She is a victim, and she is carrying another victim. In my mind, part of me is angry with her. But the pity outweighs the anger, and I am reminded of my own intimate experience with a woman living with an abusive man.

Why am I not here to help you pack? Did he install a slap magnet in you? Because I kinda wanna slap you right now. When did our friendship become social work? When did our friendship become analogous to running into a burning building? Why are you letting him do this? There is no love here. He's a bully. Love is good. Good words, good company, good sex. It is not demeaning speech, terrifying encounters, and rape. What next? Clearly you can take this, but I certainly can't. If you want to break my heart there has to be a better way, one that doesn't get you killed. I can't do this anymore...too many nightmares. Don't you dare excuse him. You can take that 'bad childhood' bull crap and shove it. Real men do not bully women, period. You don't deserve this--who told you did?

I knew not to say those things to my friend, and didn't. I know how unreachable domestic violence victims can be. I know how quickly that an outstretched hand from a friend becomes the taunt of an enemy in the mind of a victim. Inside I was screaming--the way you'd scream down the side of a building at a person that has already jumped.

For the women living with an abuser, if you believe that having his child will somehow calm him down, or call him to reason, it will not. Domestic violence only escalates with pregnancy. That is a fact, and tell a friend. Children do not solidify a relationship, they test it. An abusive relationship is a dangerous, and potentially fatal environment for a child. As a mother, even if your self-esteem is not high enough to protect yourself, a mother has to protect her child Loving a child is not enough, it's his mother's job to protect him. The best protection for an abused woman is to avoid a pregnancy, and if she is already pregnant, she should find a safe and permanent way out of the environment.

But this is dribble. Abused women tend to stay at all costs. How has domestic violence not become outdated yet? And if a daddy telling his kid he loved her more often as a child would keep a few women off our stretchers in the hospital, then Dear America, can we do that?

"This is my notice to the door--

I'm not taking it no more,

I'm not your personal whore.

That's not what I'm here for."

Queen Latifah on domestic violence (U.N.I.T.Y.)

"Who's there that makes you so afraid, you're shaken to the bone?

And I don't understand, you deserve so much more than this.

So don’t tell me why
He’s never been good to you.
Don’t tell me why,
He’s never been there for you.
Don’t you know that why,
Is simply not good enough.
So just let me try,
And I will be good to you.
Just let me try,
And I will be there for you.
I’ll show you why--
You’re so much more than good enough...

Sarah Mclachlan's song, "Good Enough" on being the friend of an abused woman.


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