Contempt Prior to Investigation

Updated: May 22




Monday, November 18th, 1985- Lawrence Taylor, linebacker for the New York Giants, tackles Joe Theisman, quarterback of the Washington Redskins, snapping the quarterback’s leg and ending Joe’s career. This Monday Night Football video is how I teach students about compound fractures. The image of the leg breaking, and the story around it, make it unforgettable.


I recently witnessed my own ‘Joe Theisman incident’ in my garage. During the COVID 19 pandemic, my husband and I have been learning rhythm roller skating as a way to relieve stress. My husband was working on his ‘G Slide’ when his wheels went in one direction and his body went in another. His 220 pound frame slammed down onto his leg,resulting in his foot limply dangling off to the side of his leg like a rag doll. His right ankle was dislocated and he had three fractures in his ankle and fibula. After undergoing ORIF (open reduction, internal fixation) surgery, requiring two screws and a metal place, he was sent home to heal.


Once home, we hopped on the roller coaster of his anesthesia-induced “post-op pontifications” and knee scooter wheelies. We then trudged through the onslaught of pain and eventual opiate induced intractable vomiting that comes from taking pain meds on an empty stomach. These events led me here, to aisle twelve, at the local hardware store, staring blankly at hose adapters.


I am looking for a device to connect a detachable shower head to our bathtub faucet so I can give my husband a bath with his cast on. After waiting for assistance for 10 minutes, the owner appears. He says something about there being different thread sizes and me needing to bring in an additional portion of the faucet in order to find the correct adapter before he can provide assistance. I can’t hear him because I am fixated on the fact that he is not wearing a mask.


As he continues to speak, the message is filtered through my judgmental mind while the following internal narrative begins…


“Seriously Dude, I am exhausted. I have barely slept in the last 5 days, my husband is in pain and I’m just trying to get this stupid faucet thingie so I can give him a bath. It’s obvious you don’t care about people because you aren’t even wearing a mask in the middle of a pandemic! It’s clear that you don’t care about the health of others and you certainly don’t respect nurses. On top of that, I get the sense that you have absolutely no interest in helping me. You know that I know nothing about faucets so stop trying to make me feel stupid. What a jerk*.”


When I finally notice a silence in the air, I verbally respond, “ok, well I guess I’ll be back in 20 minutes.”


Feelings are information.


While driving home I take some deep breaths and try to reflect on this interaction. I realize that this is the first time I’ve been alone since my husband’s injury. I am tired, I am angry, and I am afraid. One of the curses of being a nurse is your knowledge of all of the possible post-op complications. Often, when I am in fear, I resort to judgment and anger. So I ask myself, "who/what is this really about?"


After driving home and eventually removing the additional faucet piece, I return to the store exactly 30 seconds before they are scheduled to close. I am greeted by the owner, who stays open 15 minutes late to make sure he finds the two adapters I need. He then takes the time to remove them from the package and attach them to the shower head I have brought to the store. I soften as a sense of shame washes over me.


I thank him and joke that, “I’m a nurse, not a plumber.” He lights up and tells me that his daughter is a new nurse. It turns out that she recently graduated from the university where I used to teach and she works at the hospital where my husband was so wonderfully cared for (I would love to tell you that she was my husband’s nurse, but I wasn’t that lucky). He tells me how proud of her he is, especially during this pandemic.


This person, who I originally perceived to be an insensitive, uncaring jerk*, was actually a selfless, helpful human being and a proud father. Had I not been given the ‘gift’ of having the time to reflect as I drove home to obtain the missing faucet piece, this interaction might have gone very differently. Whether it be in the clinical/work setting, or in aisle twelve of your local hardware store, taking the moment’s pause to recognize your feelings as information, can move us from contempt prior to investigation toward true human connection.


*Actual term used, might have been a bit more colorful ;)



Image courtesy of Engin Akyurt


I wish that every school involved with training our country’s future medical professionals would follow what Julie Lepianka is promoting. I wish that compassion and communication were the natural models because every one of us will face our own time in a hospital, whether as patients ourselves or watching over people we love dearly.

Rachel Clevenger, M. Ed, PhD,

Editor in Chief, Private University Products and News Magazine

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