patient stories, spirituality

Significant Exposure

My first needle stick injury took place overnight in my first job: a trauma/surgical stepdown unit in Madison, WI. I was sticking my patient for labs around 4am (a normal task). When it came out, I saw my glove was open with blood on it on my right index finger.

It was embarrassing, frustrating, and nerve-wracking to go to my hospital’s Emergency Department and report the story. My risk was low to begin with, and the patient was negative for any blood-borne diseases. My significant exposure was insignificant.

My second significant exposure took place while I was a travel nurse in California. Something got in my eye, and the rest of the details I honestly don’t remember. I think it was urine. I had to go to the overnight Occupational Health and get my eye flushed out.

My next significant exposure took place several months ago when I was taking out an IV at my workplace. After I pulled it, I felt something go into my left eye. I ran to our eye wash station and washed them until I thought I was going to drown on and off for 5 minutes. When I came back to the department, my co-worker asked me if I was high because my eyes were so red.

It was embarrassing, frustrating, and nerve-wracking to go to Occupational Health, washed out my eye with a better solution, and was consoled that the risk of it being blood in the spray was near nothing because it did not burn when it went in. Too, the patient was a elderly with a clean history and no drug use. My risk was so negligible that testing was not warranted. My significant exposure was insignificant.

My last significant exposure was a couple weeks ago month. I was called to help out with an agitated, uncooperative, and overall rambunctious patient who came in after a drug overdose and did not like the Narcan she was given to reverse the drugs’ effects in her body. She was missing teeth due to cocaine and whatever other street drug. She had track marks on her needle from some sort of IV drug use. During a radiology test, she was flailing so much that she dislodged her lip earring right in front of all of us, and it fell into her C-collar (a device used to stabilize the neck). I was exchanging her C-collar for a smaller one about 20 minutes later, and I felt a stabbing into my right thumb. I took off my glove and swore. It went through.

It was embarrassing, frustrating, and nerve-wracking to go to my charge nurse. I cried as I told her I was stuck. All of a sudden, I went from training a new nurse to being that new nurse’s patient. My colleague became my provider. I went from being frustrated with lab for patients to being frustrated for myself. Before I left work, I knew the patient was HIV negative. However, when Occupational Health called me the next day, I learned she is Hepatitis C positive. For the first time, my significant exposure was significant.

Through no fault of my own, I might have contracted Hepatitis C. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that my risk of 0.1%, based on a 2017 study by Egro et al. It’s extremely low, but so is the risk of side effects after Lasik surgery, and I have those. They’re supposed to go away after weeks to months, but mine never did, so I don’t trust being on the preferred side of a medical statistic.

I am scared. I have known since nursing school Hep C is more common than HIV transmission and it was a risk of the job. But liver failure sounds awful, and I don’t want to be on a chronic antiviral. I also do not want to have Hep C and possibly transmit it to my future children. I got my blood drawn the day after exposure and will again 6 weeks afterward. I will not feel completely safe until the 6 weeks are up.

I am angry. I’m angry the doctors I worked with did not sedate her more or ordered such a high dose of Narcan. I am angry the radiology technologist did not catch the bloody earring. I am angry she made such bad choices in her life that led up to her being in my ER.

I am so incredibly frustrated. I don’t want this disease when I have done nothing wrong. I don’t use IV drugs. I don’t have risky sexual encounters. I take care of myself. Why it is that someone who uses IV drugs, has obviously done risky things, and has neglected herself in almost every way might radically change my life?

I feel pity for this woman. How pathetic she was, fighting and flailing despite everyone surrounding her trying to help her. How pathetic she was, screaming that the tiny, temporary stab of a needle hurt, leading me to think she has no pain tolerance whatsoever. How pathetic she was.

But that is where my compassion ends: pity. I have no love whatsoever for her. I also do not harbor any hate, so there’s that. But Jesus calls me to love my enemy, not just not hate them. How I am supposed to love her? How is it fair that Jesus calls me to love her? How do I do that?

How does Jesus transform His pity for others into merciful love and compassion? How does He do it? What does He see in pathetic persons such as this patient that I do not? How do I love this woman whose every disease I might bear through no fault of my own?

It’s fitting that in reading Bob Rice’s Between the Savior and the Sea, a fictionalized account of the Gospels, I read about Jesus revealing how He is the Suffering Servant Isaiah described to His disciples.

He grew up like a sapling before him,

like a shoot from the parched earth;

He had no majestic bearing to catch our eye,

no beauty to draw us to him.

He was spurned and avoided by men,

a man of suffering, knowing pain,

Like one from whom you turn your face,

spurned, and we held him in no esteem.

Yet it was our pain that he bore,

our sufferings he endured.

We thought of him as stricken,

struck down by God and afflicted,

But he was pierced for our sins,

crushed for our iniquity.

He bore the punishment that makes us whole,

by his wounds we were healed.

We had all gone astray like sheep,

all following our own way;

But the LORD laid upon him

the guilt of us all.

Though harshly treated, he submitted

and did not open his mouth;

Like a lamb led to slaughter

or a sheep silent before shearers,

he did not open his mouth.

Seized and condemned, he was taken away.

Who would have thought any more of his destiny?

For he was cut off from the land of the living,

struck for the sins of his people.

He was given a grave among the wicked,

a burial place with evildoers,

Though he had done no wrong,

nor was deceit found in his mouth.

Isaiah 53:2-9

Jesus did not deserve to suffer for us, for me, for her, but yet He did without complaint. He left Himself exposed, willingly. It was our pain He bore, our sufferings He endured (Isaiah 53:3). He bore my punishment, bore my shame, bore my pain, bore my diseases. Am I not called to do the same for others?

I really need to watch what I pray for! I’ve been praying for a heart like Jesus. All I can think is that despite the frightening situation, He’s given me a very obvious opportunity to experience what it is to suffer for others, even others that are despised or others that I don’t like. Oh, Lord, You funny, funny Savior of mine, please use this opportunity to give me more of Your heart. No matter the outcome come mid-September, Jesus, I trust in You.

Even If – MercyMe


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