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Patient Abuse- speaking out, one year on..

I haven't known how to write this blog post, but I knew the time would come when it felt right, and I've decided that time is probably now.. I don't want pity, I just want to take control back. I want to express what happened to me on my own terms, because it's nothing to be ashamed of or embarrassed about (despite how it might feel) - after all, it was not me who did anything wrong!!!

It's 1 whole year since I was assaulted by a nurse. I'm not going to skirt around it at this point, I'm just going to say it as it is. I was treated abusively by someone who I should have been able to trust.

It all happened 365 days ago when I attended hospital for a routine neurology appointment. My appointment had been difficult for various reasons and I was massively struggling with the hospital due to post-traumatic stress resulting from some distressing experiences during my inpatient stay. It all became overwhelming shortly after my appointment and I collapsed in the waiting area and had a number of fits in close succession.

I bashed my face on the floor, was nearly treated for epilepsy (which I don't have), was hoisted off the floor by staff who it seems hadn't hoisted anyone except in training, all in front of a really really packed waiting area. I was taken into a side room and had loads of monitoring done, was thrown around a bit having my cardigan taken off me (due to a high temp), and the nurses were convinced a crash trolley was needed. I was far more aware than most of the staff thought, and bounced in and out of convulsive seizures for over 40 mins before a decision was made to take me to A&E/Resus (where my previous worst experiences had taken place). That was all difficult, but everyone had my best interests at heart- the worst was yet to come.

I got down to Resuscitation accompanied by a doctor who knew me well and she said she'd speak to the staff and make sure they knew what was going on and what to do and not do. Her and the emergency department junior doctor were incredible. They talked to me reassuringly, caused me no additional stress and talked to me a bit about what they'd been up to recently to put me at ease etc. They were great. Unfortunately others involved weren't.

As a result of seizures, I ended up laid face down on the bed, with my head to the side. I was frightened. I was left alone with no interaction for long periods, which I was finding difficult due to the environment and past experiences in that very room. Things took a nasty turn when a nurse came over, I heard her flicking through my notes (which obviously detailed all my diagnoses and 10 week long hospital stay with the same condition), and then she said 'who the hell fakes a seizure?!' before proceeding to try to get a reaction out of me and get me to 'stop messing around'. The nurse lifted the head of the bed to vertical, causing a crushing pain in my back and tearing pains in my abdomen. She bent a pillow around my face, smothering me. I remember being in that moment, desperately focusing on the sound of my monitoring trying to work out whether my oxygen level was still ok, and trying to keep calm. She was doing anything possible to get a reaction, but I was completely paralysed and powerless to do anything about it. She must've thought that if she was right I'd deserve it and she'd catch me out, and if she was wrong I'd be unconscious so would never know and she wouldn't get caught, but although my seizures are entirely real and genuine, they are non-epileptic and I remain completely aware throughout.

The consultant was later also completely inappropriate about/towards me, getting impatient with me, particularly when I was hyperventilating (which is actually something that happens sometimes as I come out of a seizure before things settle). The second I opened my eyes, he was asking me about making arrangements for my transport home. He also insinuated that I wasn't genuinely suffering. The second I was awake I was bombarded with questions and expected to do things I wasn't capable of.

You expect medical professionals to be educated about and understand your condition. You expect them not to jump to conclusions about you and your disorders. You don't expect them to think they know better than your specialists. You expect to be safe in their hands. You expect them to treat you with kindness and compassion. You expect them to do their best for you. It's rare, but unfortunately that's not always the case and abuse does happen.

A few days later, I told my psychologist what had happened. She was horrified and said she would have to inform someone, and did so with my permission.

The next I knew, a policeman rang me. It had been escalated several times within the hospital, and then the police had been informed.

I hadn't informed the police directly, but I did know that what had been done to me amounted to assault and was very wrong. I knew I had a duty to protect other patients from experiencing anything similar, which is why I told my psychologist and why I later made a formal complaint, but it was still really scary when the police rang.. I'd never really had anything to do with them before, and just the call and having to talk about what happened shook me up a bit.

The policeman came round having already done some investigations. He took some extra details from me, before returning to the hospital to interview and investigate further. He rang me regularly to keep me informed and was amazing throughout the whole time. I felt believed and supported and was treated with kindness and respect throughout.

Ultimately, it was my word against the word of the medical staff. I felt that theirs carried more weight, that I would be disbelieved, and the imbalance of power seemed so unfair. At the time of the police investigation, no-one was admitting to being the nurse in charge of my care, and although the consultant was identified, he hadn't broken the law, and didn't divulge who the nurse was. It felt very much like people were covering each other's backs. The police investigation was eventually closed due to insufficient evidence, but not due to lack of effort on the part of the policeman and he had informed the detective senior to him etc due to the seriousness. It turns out it's very hard to pin anything on anyone when you can't give a 100% definite description of the person who physically attacked you (my eyes were closed at the time, as I was seizing, and I wasn't sure enough that it was the same person who later 'looked after me').

The hospital's response to my complaint was pathetic and deeply distressing. I was distraught reading it- it was awful. It did get referred on to the safeguarding team, and I was offered a meeting with the consultant involved etc, but I've never felt up to taking things further because of the significant trauma involved. At this point, both members of staff were named and identified, but due to a lack of hard evidence, and difficulties with my own mental health, it just wasn't possible to pursue the matter further. It's on record though, and hopefully the people involved will have learned from it, and I seriously hope nothing similar will happen again.

It was a horrendous experience, and has really messed me up. As I mentioned above, I was already struggling with (quite severe) post-traumatic stress as a result of hospital experiences (including a few others where I was mistreated to an extent), so this experience was the last thing I needed. My post-traumatic stress sky-rocketed. I had my PTSD screening a few days after it happened with the psychologist I was already seeing, and there was no doubt that my score was sufficiently high to indicate clinically significant post-traumatic stress; I was scoring very highly in so many areas.

My PTSD has remained significant. I have real trust issues and see danger everywhere. I find medical appointments very difficult and hospital environments are challenging. I fear everyone and everything, because as far as my body and I are concerned, danger lurks places you wouldn't expect- someone I should have been able to trust really hurt me.

Where do things stand now? Well, I'm receiving ongoing psychological help. I'm suffering chronic back pain, that I have been too frightened to have properly assessed until recently, so I don't know how long-term/permanent that is likely to be (I see a physio specifically for my back for the first time next week, to see whether they can help- if not I'll need further investigations). I avoid emergency departments like the plague and feel I need to be accompanied for safety during a lot of appointments.

I refuse to continue to be a weak victim who stays silent out of fear. Yes I was abused physically, verbally and emotionally, but I refuse to be completely broken by what I've been through. They got away with it, and that's hard, but carrying fear and embarrassment and bitterness hurts me not them. I won't ever forgive them I don't think, but if either of them ever finds this, a sincere apology would mean a lot to me, and to be perfectly honest, I think I deserve that having not publicly named and shamed you!

Please don't tell me to move on and forget about it- I am trying, but it's hard to put something like this behind me, particularly given the other things I have been through. Please don't tell me I have overreacted, because you weren't there and don't know how it was for me, and I already give myself a hard enough time about it. I'd be so grateful if you could please just support me through the different stages of my recovery. It's been a year and it still feels recent in a way, but I hope with time I'll be able to process what happened and move on without it affecting me. I'm working on it.


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